The Phoenix Charm
by Helen Scott Taylor, paranormal (2010)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52828-5


Helen Scott Taylor's The Phoenix Charm is set in the same alternate British setting as her previous book The Magic Knot. It is a beautiful realm of magic, where mythical fae beings exist in secret worlds that only those blessed few mortals are able to discern. If you haven't read the previous book, I think you can still dive into this one just fine as the plot in this book is mostly unrelated to that in the previous book. However, there will be some drama arising from the hero's relationships with various other characters that may become confusing to the new reader. To be on the safe side, I'd suggest you read the previous book first before you tackle this one.

Cordelia Tink hides her paranormal nature and serves as the wise woman of the Cornwall population of piskies. On the surface, she will look like a stereotypical witch, albeit a young and hot one - she keeps a feline familiar, she has a bowl which she uses to divine the future, and she lives in a tumbledown manor. It has been two years since The Magic Knot took place, and all seems peaceful at the moment. Cordelia's only problem, and one that is pretty trivial if you think about it, is her infatuation on Michael O'Connor, the carefree womanizing twin brother of the current pisky king.

The fun begins when somebody opens a portal to Annwn, the Underworld (which in this story is fashioned after that in Welsh mythology). This brings the ire of the Twlwyth Teg, fae minions of the King of the Underworld, Gwyn ap Nudd, who show up in the royal court of the piskies to demand restitution. The king and his wife are currently locating their displaced kin in America, so Cordelia is in charge. But because restitution must be offered by one with royal blood, she is exempted. Michael rather glibly says that he's not in charge despite being the king's twin brother. During the confrontation, the king's infant son Finian innocently walks into the room...

Cordelia and Michael have five days to rescue Finian from the Underworld before the poor kid dies. It sounds like a straightforward mission, but it isn't, as they will have to bargain, parley, and ally themselves with various players in the Underworld who may have hidden agendas of their own. These players include Michael's enigmatic father who is definitely manipulating Michael for something, and Michael doesn't know whether he wants to find out what that something is. Nightshade is still around, and this time, the poor darling gets a second blow in his heart as his homoerotic attraction to Michael is thwarted in this book. Fortunately he manages to straighten up by the end - if you know what I mean - and I suspect that his book is next.

Initially, I am not too keen on reading The Phoenix Charm as I never particularly cared for Michael, preferring instead the poor dysfunctional Nightshade who is desperately looking for someone to love. But as the story progresses, I find myself thoroughly absorbed by it.

A chief attraction is the vividly drawn setting. The Underworld is a very interesting setting here, a realm of both quirky oddities and sinister danger. Ms Taylor can also tell a great story if she puts her mind to it, and here the story hurtles in a rapid pace toward the dramatic climax and the whole thing is too much fun to follow.

As for the romance, it is presented here much better than the romance in the previous book. In the previous book, love was portrayed as something determined by magic and destiny, and the author didn't really succeed in showing me that the characters would actually fall in love without artificial stimulants. Here, there is still an element of destiny or magic that robs the heroine of much say in the matter of who she falls in love with, but Ms Taylor also succeeds in showing me that Cordelia and Michael like and care for each other well enough that they could very well fall in love on their own without all that woo-woo stuff. The degree of characterization in this book is also improved. It isn't deep, but it's adequate in this case. Michael has some insecurities that make sense underneath his happy-go-lucky exterior. Cordelia is a more stereotypical damsel who needs sexual healing, but she is also a pretty smart and capable heroine.

It is later in the story, at around its final third act, that the story crosses over to camp territory. Convenient powers or revelations show up just in time to save the day. Meanwhile, poor Cordelia. She can hold her own pretty well for who she is, but the author won't give her a break. Cordelia cares for several secondary characters here, so the poor dear will find the bad guys continuously holding these characters or Michael's life hostage in order to get her to behave and put out. An all time low (or all time funny) is when we have a big ugly dragon threatening to stomp defiant Cordelia's little cat if she refuses to put out to that dragon. The dangers keep coming in this late act that the poor good guys are constantly running up and down trying to save the day. Poor Cordelia, no matter what she does or how hard she tries to fight back, keeps facing villains on steroids that will stomp all the poor cats in the land if she refuses to don a sexy bikini and play the Princess Leia to their Jabba the Hut.

I don't mind camp, and in fact, I actually have a wonderful laugh at the unintentionally hilarious non-stop mayhem of the last few chapters of this book. But the abrupt shift from sober romantic action-packed fantasy to Valentine's Day Looney Tunes special gives this book a disjointed feel. Not to mention, camp is subjective and other readers may not be amused by the same things that I found funny here.

Still, what's a little uneven bump in a story, eh, especially when I'm entertained all the same? This is the second consecutive book by this author, whom I had never heard of until I impulsively bought The Magic Knot last year, to make me feel as if I'd just been on a fun rollercoaster ride. Let's make it three times, shall we?

Rating: 88


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