Love In A Bottle
by Zoë Archer, historical (2006)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5738-7

The moment I finished Zoë Archer's Love In A Bottle, I experienced some minor doldrums because there was no way I could get my hands on her debut effort. I couldn't find it in bookstores and online bookstores all stated that this author's books are currently out of print. Why oh why do I have to be so unlucky to only discover this book - and the author - three years after its publication?

As you can tell by now, I'm sure, I adore this book. The story is a little bit different, the characters are unusual for the genre, and best of all, the author weaves a lovely little fantasy about how magical it is to fall in love. For the few hours I was reading this book, I couldn't stop feeling, if I am making sense here, which is why you are seeing the garish pink background that plagues all reviews of books I consider keepers.

Sophie Andrews is the youngest daughter of some minor gentry in Glouchestershire. She doesn't get along with her mother because of Sophie's preoccupation with botany. Since the two women tend to stay out of each other's way, Sophie generally gets to focus on her interest and spend time with her more scholarly Uncle Alforth. One fine day, she meets a traveling peddler, Ian Blackpool, who flummoxes her by being a peddler of clearly fake love potions and aphrodisiacs while at the same time seeming to share her interest in botany. It is when Ian and Sophie join forces to rescue Uncle Alforth that things get heated up between her and Ian. But since he is a mountebank while she is of minor gentry, they both know that nothing should happen between them. But the heart isn't always so sensible...

The plot is not the most exciting thing ever, but the story isn't about the plot, it's about falling in love. What does love mean? Ian had spent years wandering the world looking for a potion that make him fall in love. Sophie isn't so sure that love exists, since she is a woman of science. On paper, this story could have turned into a ridiculous and cheesy New Age mumbo-jumbo, but Love In A Bottle turns out instead to be a whimsical romantic fantasy.

Indeed, by the time the last third or so of the story rolls in and the characters start to do what I call the Avon Boyfriend Test - where the heroine will do all kinds of nonsense except marry the hero, even if it's the most sensible thing to do as she'd already slept with him, because she refuses to believe that he loves her - the characters' behavior still seem to be in character and I'm perfectly fine with the things they do. I don't necessarily agree with their decisions, but their actions seem like a natural progression of their character arc instead of some formulaic concession.

I'm a bit disappointed by how Ms Archer tries to turn Ian into a more familiar hero late in the story, because this effort of hers actually compromises Ian's character, turning him from a whimsical bad boy charmer into a spoiled emo brat who spent a lifetime dodging his responsibilities because he isn't man enough to grow up and act his age. Nonetheless, for a long time Ian is a charming, if somewhat inscrutable, character. Sophie is a far more better developed character: she starts out a stereotypical bluestocking type but as the story progresses, she experiences some growth. The author does a great job in showing me what is happening in Sophie's head, so even if I don't necessarily agree with Sophie's actions, I can understand why she does the things she does. Besides, Sophie may be a sheltered type, but she's smart, capable of taking care of herself to the best of her abilities, and even witty at times. She is also cognizant of her desire and she certainly isn't a ninny about procreation (she's a botanist and a woman of science, remember).

These two characters have a relationship that is... I don't know, it's hard to describe how I feel about their story in a single sentence. I smile, I laugh, and I think I may even shed a tear or two now and then, because I get so engrossed in their story that it is as if the world around me fades into insignificance while I am reading this story. I love it when Sophie starts describing the anatomy and love life of plants to Ian, making the whole thing pretty erotic to the point that I would probably blush the next time I see a botany textbook. I have a great time following them as they fall in love. I sigh when their desires cause them to forget common sense and do spectacularly stupid things. Oh, who cares about common sense - when it comes to falling in love, I guess we all deserve to behave like utter fools at least once in our lifetime. See? Even when Ms Archer has her characters do things that may come off as annoying in other books, here I'm more than willing to accept that it's just part and parcel of being infatuated twits. Ain't love grand?

Love In A Bottle takes me into the story and makes me feel as if I'm intimately aware of every emotion experienced by the main characters. It puts me into this amazing place where fairytale romance really does exist. Ms Archer really leaves me no choice here. I just have to adore this book - readily and gladly.

Rating: 93

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