Thursday, December 24, 2009
"So Enchanting," by Connie Brockway
Alternate Title: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
The Chick: Francesca "Fanny" Brown, a.k.a. "Mrs Walcott." After an imperious lord outed her and her con-artist husband as frauds, she found a job protecting an heiress in a tiny Scottish town. Six years later, the lord returns - will he destroy her reputation yet again?
The Rub: He thinks she's running a con - what would he think if he discovered her real magical powers?
Dream Casting: Anne Hathaway.
The Dude: Lord Greyson "Grey" Sheffield. When his brother-in-law asks him to investigate a threat made against his young ward, he travels to the small town where she resides with her governess - whom he instantly recognizes as the devious little mesmerist he nabbed six years ago.
The Rub: All evidence points to a dastardly scheme being afoot - and he's certain Fanny is behind it. Frauds don't change their spots - their adorable, spirited, pretty little spots...
Dream Casting: A young Liam Neeson.
Alphonse: I'm an experienced medium, believe me, I've watched Ghost, like, 30 times--
Grey: LIES! *fraud revealed*
Fanny: Gee, thanks.
Six Years Later...
Grey: I'm here to investigate a threat made against your rich, beautiful, and bubbly charge, Mrs ...Walcott.
Fanny, a.k.a.: "Mrs Walcott": Gee, thanks - the sequel.
Amelie, Fanny's Pupil: Hey Hayden, wanna start a secondary romance?
Hayden, Grey's Nephew: Would I!
Grey: How can I trust you? You're a lying liar!
Fanny: How can I trust you? I have an empathetic connection to animals!
Amelie: I'm so sorry Fanny, the threat was fake! Don't tell anyone!
Fanny: *double facepalm*
Amelie: Whoops! Spoke too soon! I'm being shot at by a crazed stamp collector!
Every Other Character In the Book: *UNITED FACEPALM!*
Grey: Take THAT Stamp Nerd! *kicks ass* I love you Fanny. Even if you can emotionally influence animals.
Grey: Yes. I'll love you no matter what - unless you collect stamps.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Orgasmless Widow
1 Emotionally-Repressed Paragon of Justice Hero
2 Really Dumb Lovers
Several Horny Animals
1 Drunk Footman
1 Fake Magic Power
1 Real Magic Power
1 Ambiguous Magic Power
1 Evil Stamp Collector
1 Very Bad Husband (Deceased)
The Word: This novel, my first try at Connie Brockway, started out really strong. Lord Greyson Sheffield, a straight-laced crusader dedicated to bringing down fake psychics and spiritual mediums, busts a seance held by Alphonse Brown and his inexplicably lovely wife Francesca and outs them as frauds. Unfortunately, while distracted by Fanny's hotness he accidentally lets Alphonse escape. His reasons are personal as well as moral: after Grey's half-sister died, his father threw away his fortune, his credibility, and his son's respect chasing after mediums and fortunetellers in an effort to track down his daughter in the afterlife. Grey grew into a man who despises deceit in all of its forms, especially when perpetrated against the innocent and gullible.
Alphonse's flight (and subsequent Death by Train soon afterward) leave Fanny with nothing but bad memories of the man she eloped with. Unbeknownst to the general public, Fanny actually is psychic - she possesses the power to influence animals when she becomes emotional. She's ashamed of this power, ever since the day when, in a 12-year-old rage, she inadvertently set a pack of dogs on her older brother. She eloped with Alphonse after he convinced her that he valued her strangeness, only to discover soon afterward he only wanted to use her power to help his cons.
However, she soon meets up with a distant friend from her hometown with an interesting proposition. Thanks to some strange and unexplained phenomena that have taken place around his young daughter, Amelie, rumours spread that the girl is a witch and a group of religious fanatics have started making threats. He plans to move his daughter to a small, out-of-the-way town in Scotland and wants Fanny to serve as her governess. Fanny agrees because she sees it as a chance to start over with a new life - but she flatly refuses to reveal anything about her magic to the girl. She's spent too much time alone thanks to her strangeness.
As it turns out, Amelie's father is dying of cancer, and has placed some very particular terms on Amelie's inheritance to ensure that she remains out of harm's way. According to the terms of his will, Amelie will only get her fortune a) if she marries or b) if she remains in the town of Little Firkin until she's twenty-one. On top of that, if Amelie comes into her inheritance by adhering to all the terms, her father's will promises a legacy of 100 000 pounds to be divided amongst all 217 of Little Firkin's inhabitants - thereby surrounding Amelie with people who have 100 000 reasons to keep her alive.
Six years later, however, Lord Collier (Amelie's guardian) receives a letter warning of a threat on Amelie's life, and he sends his brother-in-law to investigate. His brother-in-law is none other than Lord Greyson Sheffield, who arrives in Little Firkin accompanied by his high-spirited but very silly nephew Lord Hayden. Lord Greyson doesn't believe there's a real threat - Little Firkin won't get a penny if Amelie dies before her 21st birthday, and it's clear that most if not all of the townsfolk are already living on expectations of their fortune.
However, he becomes decidedly more interested when he recognizes Amelie's governess as the con artist's wife whose hotness he appreciated all those years ago. He's immediately convinced that Fanny must be running some kind of angle. He can't understand why she would consent to confinement in a tiny backwater if she didn't have something else going on. From Fanny's corner, while she doesn't want to be outed by Greyson, she's also unwilling to let him steamroll over her, particularly since she's lived a perfectly upstanding, if boring life for the last six years.
While the novel starts out strong with two capable, if opposed protagonists and a bizarre but interesting plot, it loses steam as it goes along. Those expecting a flat-out paranormal may be disappointed - Fanny's magic is very subtle and mainly serves to give Fanny a motivation for repressing her emotions, as well as provide an emotional obstacle between her and truth-is-everything Grey, who continues to suspect Fanny of hiding something. While Fanny's initial distaste for her powers emerges from an incident in her childhood when she accidentally hurt someone, in the present she hides her powers because it makes her "weird," and once she gets her HEA she lets her powers roam free without any fear at all that someone might get hurt.
Grey, meanwhile, one of those Just the Facts, Ma'am Types who depend on logic because love is a delusion, yadda yadda, who nevertheless gets a gleeful kick out of pissing Fanny off. It's rather delightful, especially when Fanny starts giving as good as she gets - mainly by making fun of Grey's age (he's 38 - but truth be told he acts much younger). Sometimes they adhere a little too closely to type, and there are a couple of silly moments when small animals start spontaneously having sex around them because they're responding to Fanny's Magical Horny Vibes. However, they're both intelligent, capable, and motivated. They've both suppressed their feelings to protect themselves from harm, and they find an unexpected sympathy with each other as they learn to express their loneliness.
It's such a shame then that the book also decides to waste precious narrative time on their respective wards, Lord Hayden and Amelie, who don't have the combined brain power to operate a potato clock. Not only are we treated to their relentlessly silly secondary romance, but the book occasionally dips into their points of view so we can get a front-row seat to their unbelievable vapidity. They don't really contribute to the novel at all and their romance is set from the very start, so I don't understand why we need so many scenes of them fighting good-naturedly over who has the prettiest highlights. I suppose Amelie has a shade more depth because she has the drama of being a virtual prisoner in Left Armpit, Scotland thanks to Daddy Dearest, but she more than makes up for it with her childish selfishness - especially where Fanny is concerned.
While this novel is by no means terrible, it does lack focus, and I felt the paranormal aspect could have been developed a little bit more. As a result, the novel is merely a pleasant read, instead of a stellar one.