The Third Circle
by Amanda Quick, historical/paranormal (2009, reissue)
Jove, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-515-14603-5


Since I can't remember the last book by Amanda Quick that I'd read or when I read it, I figure it's time to pull another book of hers from my big pile of unread books. Amanda Quick is, after all, one of the most formulaic and repetitive authors in town, and as a result her last twenty or so books are best read in small doses between appropriately long time intervals. I'm in no rush to catch up with this author, as I now get her books only when I come across them in clearance sales, so there is no need for something as permanent as a divorce at this moment.

The Third Circle is part of the Arcane Society series, not that it matters because each book serves as a standalone story very well. All new readers need to know is that the Arcane Society is a supposedly secret organization consisting of people with "psychical" powers. It's "supposedly" secret because, when you read each book, you'd realize that everyone and her grandmother seem not only to know about it, its base, and its members, but they are most likely members as well. The Arcane Society is like the cool club that everyone is part of, but pretends not to be aware of because they all need to feel special.

In this one, we meet the hero, the "psychical hypnotist" Thaddeus Ware. (Could be worse - he could have be an ebonical astrologist.) As his special label would suggest, Thad can hypnotize people into doing what he wants. He says that he can't do his woo-woo on unwilling subjects, but that doesn't stop him from doing it anyway on everybody whenever it's convenient for the plot.

Now, you may be thinking that this power is broken, as it renders Thaddeus pretty much invincible. He could face a battalion of tanks with his arms and legs all tied up, and all he has to do is to order them to blast each other to save the day. Or, he could have simply ordered the bad guy to take a leap off a building. Powers like this require the hero to have the equivalent of kryptonite in order to create some kind of suspense in this story, but Ms Quick doesn't go down that route. Thad just doesn't use his powers when it's most convenient, preferring to do that kung-fu panda thing on the bad guys instead, which makes the hero either forgetful or, er, "enthusiastic".

His powers give Thaddeus a very obvious plot armor, however, and effectively kills any suspense when it comes to the hero's abilities to get a leg up over the bad guy's hydrant and let loose his mojo. This ranks up there with romance authors making their heroes immortal, blessed with quick healing factor that would make Wolverine look like an amateur, and in possession of that One Sword that Will Kill Anything That Moves. Which, unfortunately, is the typical mode of operation for authors of paranormal romance romps, such.

So, having established a complete lack of suspense in this story due to an overpowered hero, let's move on with the plot. So, Thaddeus breaks into the home of Lord Delbridge to steal a powerful crystal, the aurora stone, that had been stolen from the founder of the Arcane Society ages ago. He finds a body of dead woman instead, and he, in turn, is found by our heroine, Leona Hewitt.

Like Thaddeus, Leona is after the aurora stone. She believes that it had been stolen from her ancestor (who took it from the founder of Arcane Society - and she had every right to do so, of course) and her mother was killed for it, so you bet she wants it back. The two of them don't have time to bicker over ownership of the aurora stone, however, as a magical - or is it "psychical"? - trap is triggered the moment Thaddeus touches it. He starts turning into Ming the Conqueror! But luckily for us, we are all spared the cheese by Leona, who turns out to be a powerful crystal magic user. She manages to lead Thaddeus back to the light, and Thaddeus decides that she's now bound to him forever.

Love has to be told, rather than shown, in three quick jumps from That Sudden Kiss to The Sex Scene to the Happy Ending Last Chapter, as the focus of this story is clearly on the mystery of the aurora stone. You know, who wants to steal it, what these people are doing to steal it back, and what Thaddeus and Leona are doing to track down the missing crystal. There's a serial killer in the mix, along with a mad scientist, and there's also an evil counter to the Arcane Society, comprising people who want to go all woo-woo for evil. It all sounds pretty interesting, but Ms Quick executes the suspense just like she usually does - ineptly, without suspense.

I've already mentioned how Thaddeus is invulnerable, and often, the investigations are resolved by him telling his targets to blab the truth and forget about what happened after that. It's probably a bit more exciting that watching paint dry, but it's still boring. Leona is the standard heroine by this author - usually smart, but prone to stupid actions in the heat of danger - and she doesn't have much to do here other than to go all Counselor Troi on Thaddeus every time he goes all moody and in need of someone to touch him and make him happy. She gets a great scene in the end when she takes down some bad guys in one amazing show of psychical mojo, but that's about it.

The bad guys still blab all to the good guys in the confrontation scene, and while they have been very efficient so far (such as the ever present "killing the people who can identify them to the good guys seconds before the good guys show up at the scene" stunt), they immediately go stupid and dumb after they finish blabbing and die in a most undignified manner.

And when the villains' motives are revealed, I can only scratch my head and go, "Wait, so you guys do all that killing and what not for that? Are you kidding me?" Unfortunately, they aren't kidding, which is why they are all dead by the end of the book. Oh well.

On the bright side, this is one of the funnier books by the author in a while. I actually chuckle at several instances here, when usually I'd be just flat bored or wondering wistfully at how good a story would be if the author had focused more on romance - her strength - and less on suspense - her weakness. As usual, the author presents a clean and readable story, and her tendency to pepper me with her favorite jargon of the moment is minimal here. Still, the strong focus on suspense remains its biggest downfall, and the presence of paranormal elements that only serve to make things more convenient for the main characters only cause the suspense to flatline even more.

Rating: 71


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