Kiss Of The Phantom
by Julie Leto, paranormal (2009)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22736-2


Like the previous book in the author's... Magical Well-Hung Gypsies series - yes, I made that name up but then again, I don't know what the series is called - Kiss Of The Phantom is not a good standalone book. You can try reading this without reading the first book in the series, Phantom Pleasures, but there is a continuous story line spanning these books and the author doesn't make it easy for newcomers to catch up with the background story about Valoren and such.

Then again, if I reveal the background story, I'd be spoiling Phantom Pleasures. To compromise, let me just say that once upon a time, there is a place called Valoren, created by England as a place for those Gypsies to stay far away from these English folks. It was not a nice thing to do, of course, but some of these banished folks didn't mind too much because Valoren was - is - located on prime land where magic flourishes. A naughty sorcerer did a very bad thing back in those days and ended up imprisoning our hunky Forsyth brothers in various creative ways. In this book, the third Forsyth brother, Rafe, gets his chance to flex his muscles.

And here is where the non-standalone clause comes in: the continuous ongoing subplot about what really happened back in those days develops further here. It's starting to seem as if there was more than meets the eye when it comes to what these brothers remembered to have happened back then. A female character who appeared as a villain in an earlier book gets what seems like a redemption arc here as well. If you do not read the previous books, you will most likely not appreciate these subplots, and they do take up considerable space in this book.

I find these subplots interesting. Unfortunately, I find them much more interesting than the romance, sigh.

Oh yes, the main romance. Mariah Hunter, whom you may remember as the ex-girlfriend of Ben Rousseau from the first book, is a pilot and flight instructor. She also moonlights as Lara Croft when the financial crunch hits her bad, and unfortunately for her, a missing trove of Mayan goodies caused a villain to be on her heels. When the story opens, she finds what seems to be an exquisite precious stone that can solve her problems in a place called Valoren. This stone is actually the prison of Rafe, and her touch causes him to be bonded to her somehow. They will explore this "somehow" as they try to elude the folks on Mariah's tail. As you can probably expect, Rafe's past will also catch up with him.

Mariah is a pretty competent action heroine and Rafe is a pretty nice hero. Rafe has angst and plenty of issues, as to be expected, but he isn't too whiny or self-absorbed here, which is nice. These two, however, encounter a plot device that I personally am not too fond of: every time Rafe casts what he calls "Romani magic", he must subsequently have sex or endure lots of pain and maybe even death. As the author puts it on page 119, "magic led to darkness, which led to sex".

Guys, if you are reading this, no, it doesn't work on the ladies in real life, so don't try that "Please! You need to have sex with me now because I just turned my best friend into a goat using Dark Romani Magic!" line in the bar. But if I am ever trapped in a movie with a leading man who looks like Hugh Jackman, you bet I'm going to try using that line at least twice in the first act.

Still, you may be wondering what the problem is. Sex is sex, right? Two gorgeous people, attracted to each other... so what's the problem, you ask? Well, you know, he fears of feeling too much for Mariah, Mariah worries about this, he doesn't want to take advantage of Mariah to "cleanse his soul", and I feel like the perverted lobster in the Disney adaptation of The Little Mermaid:

Sing with me now
Sha-la-la-la-la-la
My, oh, my
Look at the boy too shy
He ain't gonna kiss the girl
Sha-la-la-la-la-la
Ain't that sad
Ain't it shame, too bad
You gonna miss the girl

Rafe and Mariah start out with some pretty good chemistry and I'm hoping for something good, so you can imagine my sigh when Ms Leto pulls this "boink me, or I will die" stunt on me. In the context of this story, that plot device isn't that bad, but because I have so many sex-or-die premises in paranormal romances, I can't help feeling that the author has somehow reduced the resonance of the romance by introducing this trope.

But as disappointed as I am by the author's choice in this story, I have to say that the story is still a solid and entertaining read. The developing subplot threads are interesting, the build-up is solid, and the pacing is good. The characters are likable and their romance manages to be believable despite the hackneyed plot device that necessitates intimacy between them.

To sum things up, I find Kiss Of The Phantom an entertaining read indeed, but that is because I have read the previous two books in this series. I have no idea how this book will fare with readers new to the series, however, so take my final score for this book with an extra pinch of salt if you are one of these readers.

Rating: 85


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