Enchanting the Lady

Kathryne Kennedy
2008, Alternate Reality Romance (1880s [Victorian] England)
LoveSpell, $6.99, 292 pages, Amazon ASIN 0505527502

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

Enchanting the Lady is (dare I say it?) enchanting. Really, it's cute as can be, and it's clever and imaginative to boot. With a few adjustments, it could have been fabulous. In its present state, I'd call it fun – but flawed.

Felicity Seymour lives in an alternate version of Victorian London. It's a world where noble status is conferred upon those who can practice magic. Though magic is apparently a dominant, heritable trait, every potential nobleman must prove that he has the abilities associated with his rank. Felicity is the daughter of a duke, but as her testing approaches, she's more than a little afraid that she'll fail. She seems to possess very little magic. Raised by an aunt and uncle, she has felt almost invisible all her life. No one appears to notice her, so she knows her looks are unremarkable as well. When the day of her testing arrives, her worst fears are confirmed. Stripped of all rank, she is destined to live out her life in anonymity.

Sir Terrence Blackwell is a shapeshifter who can change into a lion at will. He's part of a class that is valued by the crown prince (because he can detect relic magic, a dangerous threat to royal power) but feared and detested by most of the nobility, who consider shapeshifters to be little more than animals. Other than their shifting abilities, shapeshifters cannot perform magic. But their power lies in their immunity to it; they cannot be fooled by illusions, and they can detect powerful charms. When Terrence first sees Felicity, he is astonished by her beauty, but he also notices that she has a taint of relic magic. He's unsure whether she is using the magic, or someone is using it against her. He resolves to get to know her better.

Terrence approaches Felicity at a ball while everyone else is ignoring her, and saves her from being trampled. The sparks between them are immediate. Terrence finds Felicity refreshingly candid, and unlike most nobles, she seems more intrigued than disgusted by his shapeshifting. She even goes so far as to ask him what happens to his clothes when he shifts, and whether he can shift naked. Charmed, Terrence decides to court Felicity – but he tells himself his main motivation is to discover the source of the relic magic.

Felicity's family is less than thrilled by the courtship. They are afraid of Terrence, and for some reason they seem to expect Felicity to blithely accept spinster status. She more or less ignores them and sees Terrence anyway. As they spend time together, Terrence notes that Felicity appears to be innocent and guileless. Unbeknownst to her, he comes into her room every night in lion form, and saves her from dangerous magic that is used against her. She believes that she is having vivid dreams. He also gives her a dragonette – a baby dragon that can protect her when he's not there. Alarmed by the direction of the relationship, Felicity's aunt and uncle spirit her away to a country estate. Can Terrence figure out what is happening – and learn to trust Felicity – before it's too late?

Yes…and no. Which is where the B- grade comes in. But first the good stuff, because there is a lot to love about this book. The whole concept of magical nobility is refreshing and imaginative. Granted, when it comes to paranormal/alternate reality romances, I tend to prefer the lighter side of things. Dark, apocalyptic world with werewolves and demon hunters do almost nothing for me. But nobility driving magical carriages made to look as if they are pulled by seahorses? Sign me up! There are many clever little details; Pall Mall becomes Pall Mage, and Mayfair becomes Mayfairy, for example. It's clever.

And one cannot help but like Felicity, who manages to be both a poor relation and a rich one at the same time. Her invisibility to others has made her modest, and is actually the result of a powerful spell (something Terrence knows, but doesn't let on). But the point is that living as a near nonentity formed Felicity's character in many ways. She's disarmingly honest (no one ever notices what she says, anyway) and completely modest. She also believes wholeheartedly in love.

Terrence is really not bad either. Though I'm not generally a big shapeshifter fan (perhaps I was scarred by the book with the werewolf that peed around the heroine's bed?) I didn't mind the lion aspect. Periodically Terrence makes rather leonine noises, and his lion-self is particularly tied to his libido - which works well.

The problem, in short, is Terrence's inability to trust Felicity. While it's somewhat understandable early on, one would think that her steadfast goodness and abiding love would convince him of her innocence. Failing that, he might at least conclude that her terrifying nightmares were evidence of foul play. Or maybe he'd notice that her aunt and uncle were complete jerks whose behavior was highly suspect. But Terrence ignores all evidence to the contrary, and doubts Felicity to the bitter end. The only possible reason for this is that it moves the plot forward, albeit in an illogical way. If Terrence trusted Felicity, they could have figured out the root of the problem (and source of the relic magic) together. Or, he could at the very least have warned her off and avoided danger. As it stands, Terrence's behavior makes him seem like something of a jerk, and it doesn't really jibe with the rest of his personality. Here's my nickel's worth of free advice: Every author should find a reliable, honest critique partner and ask them the tough question of whether or not their story makes sense. It's not a question an author can ask herself, because her own imagination and sense of where the plot needs to go will nearly always fill in gaps that are more obvious to others.

That said, Enchanting the Lady is still a fun book, and well-worth reading. Put aside the inevitable desire to shake Terrence silly, and enjoy the good parts. As for me, I'll be looking for Kennedy's next book, hoping that she keeps the great imagination and adds a little logic and common sense to the mix.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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