by Patricia Rice, historical/paranormal (2003)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20947-8
This messy story is filled with unexplained details that will puzzle readers that haven't read the author's previous Magic books. That is, if these readers can actually stay awake to notice these little details because this book is so slow and filled with subplots that seem to be inserted as afterthoughts. The only thing that saves this book from being a merely average read is the above average characterization of the hero.
Felicity Childe Malcolm comes from the long line of Malcolm women that have paranormal gifts. Felicity's gift is something like psychomancy (think Phoebe from the TV series Charmed), where she can glean scenes related to a person she comes in contact with. Needless to say, she keeps to herself a lot. She wishes to find a book filled with spells that can help her get rid of her gift and let her be a normal woman again. While she and her sister are traveling in Scotland incognito, our hero Ewen Ives ends up escorting them. From a Gothic castle to a village filled with secrets, Ewen and Felicity will follow the long inbreeding of Malcolm women marrying Ives men. The backstory of the Malcolm and Ives clan is not fully expounded here, so readers may have to do some backreading if they want the whole picture.
I really like Ewen. He is a spoiled and carefree playboy that has never shouldered responsibilities. When his recent project fails badly and affects the livelihood of an entire village, he bankrupts himself trying to make amends and now has to marry a woman from trade to carry on the project. Of course, this woman was his mistress and while he has no complains when he's sleeping with her, now he compares this woman with Felicity and naturally Trade Woman comes off wanting. Men, I tell you. Ewen is far from intelligent, in fact, there are times when I wonder whether his famed inventor reputation may be due to his great invention of the fabrication that is his brainpower. Nonetheless, he's also the character that shows amazing growth in this book. By the time he finally realizes what a selfish and useless oaf he is, the epiphany is glorious and his attempt to make reparations is almost as good.
Unlike Phoebe from Charmed, Felicity is a decent heroine in that she's actually smart. However, she exhibits a very annoying pattern in this book - she touches the bad guy or something unpleasant and immediately crumples to the floor, needing our hero's manly arms to catch her as she falls. Very annoying, really, and I would have loved to see her grit her teeth and stay on her feet and scream, "Get that bastard!" for once.
While the main characters are good, the same can't be said for the plot. The pace is excruciatingly slow because the characters tend to muddle around in circles, repeating their problems again and again ("I don't like my gift! I have to marry for money! I hate my gift! I'm a lousy boyfriend to her!"). The main characters meet by chance at a tavern and the story doesn't actually improve, with sequel-bait Aidan, Ewen's mysterious friend, providing the deus ex machina moments. There's an "Oops! We're compromised! We're getting married" thing, a book of erotica, Ewen's failed project conspiracy subplot, and other secondary plot elements that are introduced, so much so that Felicity's initial quest becomes all but forgotten later in the story. While the author has to be commended for letting Ewen take the responsibility for a lot of his carelessness and selfishness, she however absolves Ewen from taking the blame for the biggest misfire that started his path to self-awareness. This seems like a huge cop-out to me, not to mention that the actual villain is predictable and stereotypical.
Really well-written characters in a plot that sets up at least three more sequels while at the same time never resolving many of its subplots all make The Trouble With Magic a tough book to lay a final verdict on. I enjoy it, although the slow pace and messy plot can be difficult to plough through at times. The pay-off, I feel, is worth the effort. But there's no denying the flaws of this book. I guess the best I can say is that this book is worth a read because of the strong character development, but at the same time, it is probably better to start somewhere else if one wants to experience the best this author can offer.
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