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Theresa Medeiros's Breath of Magic, published by Bantam, succeeds as a paranormal romance novel, a cover and a stepback. I initially resisted buying this book because it looked as if it were a time travel and generally I prefer time travel when written by science fiction writers. However, it was so well packaged and I have such a weakness for witches that I ended up buying it anyway.

The novel at first appears to be a standard time travel book where a bound woman, Arian, is thrown into the water by Puritans to see if she is a witch and is instead sent to the future in New York City via her magical pendant. Ironically, she lands in the midst of a contest conducted by a billionaire computer inventor-entrepreneur, Tristan, who is trying to ascertain if magic really exists. Medeiros adds many other elements into the story line and pulls it all together at the end by connecting the seventeenth century Puritans, computers, Tristan (and his former computer-inventor partner) to explain Arian's presence in the future. There are also many funny interludes because Arian can be a very ditzy witch paired off against the intensely focused Tristan. This is truly a case of opposites attracting.

The front cover, designed by Alan Ayers, is very clever because it suggests the witch riding a broomstick in the blue night sky against the slivered moon. Her magical pendant is slung around the stick. The wispy white shape with tendrils of pink is clearly a woman witch. Then the cover opens to the stepback.

It is a very realistic rendering of Tristan and Arian, looking just as I imagined them, high on her broomstick over the skyline of a futuristic New York City. This was painted by Pino Dangelico whose work we have previously admired. You can't see the broomstick in the stepback but Arian is seated in exactly the same position in which the vaporish shape is seated on its broomstick on the front cover. Having an abstract and then its concrete realization in the stepback is a perfect design contrast (poof! It's magic!) and sets off the novel beautifully. A detail from Pino's depiction of the characters repeats on the spine.

Ancestors & Reincarnation

I discovered two romance authors who managed to each give me two separate existences in two different time periods without making the lead characters enter into time travel. The heroine instead experiences the past through paranormal interludes. I like this plot device.

First there is Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker, published by Pocket Books. In modern times she is a widowed English barrister, Meghann, who is really Irish but had married into British aristocracy and become a Lady. Michael, the man she used to love, and left because he was linked with the IRA, is accused of murder back in Ireland and she returns to defend him. There is a woman ghost, Nuala, who has appeared throughout Meghann's life to help her and this woman ties back into sixteenth century Ireland and all of its unrest. Nuala has a love story of her own with Rory. She is an ancestor of both lead characters and lets the heroine experience, through her eyes and being, the life she lived that impacts on Michael and Meghann's present day situation in Ireland. Thus, the story constantly shifts between the two women and their respective time periods. Baker does this with such skill that the story and characters come seamlessly together with terrific final impact.

The cover on Irish Lady by artist/illustrator Peter Fiore is, in a word, nice. It is a landscape scene of Ireland with a small house. It is rendered in realistic colors against a light background. This is a typical mainstream-oriented cover. It evokes a setting in the story and nothing else. Frankly, this kind of cover does little for me other than look pleasing. The house shows on the book's spine. Some of these landscapes/story settings are rendered better than others.

This one is average. The reason publishers pick such a lackluster subject is that the cover offends no one and thus, theoretically, everyone might buy it. The flaw in this reasoning is that if it is already shelved in romance, like Irish Lady is, there are many readers who have already decided not to browse in that section of the bookstore. Only readers who already deem romance novels "acceptable" will go there. This was a terrific novel but I would have preferred a cover with a lot more dramatic impact, like the story itself.

Susanna Kearsley's Mariana, published by Bantam, is set in England. Julia, a present day London woman, is drawn to buy a sixteenth century house in a Wiltshire village. The house seems to call to her. Once she moves in, she finds herself transported to the past and becoming Mariana, the woman she was in the seventeenth century while in this very house. She experiences Mariana's life, when she finds herself in Mariana's body, as scenes from the past replay - including her love for a man above her in rank, Richard DeMornay. Julia suspects that one of the Wiltshire men must be Richard's reincarnation since a love like Mariana's and Richard's could not have died. Julia tries to figure out who Richard is when she is not experiencing Mariana's past life. These past scenes alternate beautifully with the present ones.

I liked the cover of Mariana, done by artist/illustrator Brad Schmehl, better than the one for Irish Lady even though it is a similar idea with the setting of the story also being visually depicted. Schmehl adds in other elements, however, to heighten our visual interest. The clock does add the element of time into the image which is an important facet of this story. The flowers around the clock look as if they are slightly wilting too which also suggests the past. Best of all though are the sheer white curtains which are blowing in the breeze suggesting the shifting veils of time. The mostly blue color tones are dark and the horizon is filled with ominous, blue-black thunderclouds, all of which are appropriate for a Gothic romance. A detail of the setting repeats on the book's spine and back. When this novel was published in England, before being published in North America, the cover simply had a house on it, much like Irish Lady's, and wasn't nearly as appealing as this cover is.

 

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