by Ann Macela, paranormal (2005)
Medallion Press, $6.99, ISBN 1-932815-43-0
The Oldest Kind Of Magic is a rather unpolished debut but nonetheless Ann Macela manages to pull some kind of magic trick of her own since she actually gets a hardened cynic like me to smile and even giggle at times all the way through this happy Pollyanna fantasy romp.
At the heart of this story is a soulmate fantasy, but I adore how Ms Macela playfully pokes fun at the formula. Daria Morgan, our heroine, is 30 and still a virgin. She believes that this is because she's picky when it comes to men, so imagine her surprise when her mother reveals that this is because Daria has been waiting for her soulmate without realizing it. You see, Daria is a "practitioner". Or a witch who can cast spells and other magic woo-woo stuff, in other words. She learns that witches and their male counterparts warlocks will find their soulmates and then, upon the happy reunion, have their magic powers augmented significantly.
However, Daria is not amused. She refuses to believe that she is shackled by some old-fashioned concepts and by biology to carry out this "soulmate" thing. How about free will? Don't people have the right to choose? I have a pretty good laugh when Daria tries to find a scientific or sociological explanation as to why her people's magical abilities are boosted through happy sex with a happier soulmate. This story ends up showing that the soulmate thing isn't that bad after all since love is a wonderful thing, but it's still a blast to see an author who isn't afraid to have some fun with a tried-and-true clichéd storyline.
Our hero is John Benthausen. I can tell that this is a story full of cheer and optimism because no one in this story bats an eye at John's nickname, Bent. There's not even a "get bent" joke here. He is a fellow who is sent by his boss to put in order a company acquired by the boss. Currently, he is having a headache trying to salvage his latest assignment. He has done the necessary layoffs and cost-cutting, but nothing seems to stop the company from losing money. John can only conclude that someone must be doing something funny with the account books. He learns of Daria through a friend. You see, Daria has a reputation of being pretty much a miracle worker when it comes to her management consultant job. Only Daria and those close to her know that she uses her magic to help her get a sense of the people she is dealing with. But everyone who has hired Daria knows that she has a knack for giving her employers all the right advice when it comes to hiring or keeping the right staff member and, more importantly, discovering the various embezzlers, crooks, and other unscrupulous staff members. Bent realizes that he needs Daria's services.
He soon learns that Daria is exhausted and in need of a vacation (the use of magic can be really draining). No matter, being the flexible man that he is, he adjusts his expectations and decides that Daria will have an even better vacation if she has him as her vacation fling. However, Daria realizes that she likes him to the point that she even offers him free advice about her job. This understandably leads to the bad seeds in Bent's company to try to cause trouble for Daria. Meanwhile, Daria is determined not to succumb to the whole soulmate thing to make a point - she even refuses to mention the "soulmate" word, heh, calling it "X" instead - which makes her relationship with Bent even more happening.
The technique displayed by the author in this story is on the unpolished side. The conversations often come off too much like very obvious exposition monologues delivered for the sake of the reader. The characters often speak to each other in a manner that feels rehearsed or stilted. Because these characters - especially Daria, her sister, and her mother - share the same stilted ring in their conversations with each other, they all come off like either one same person or various people sharing one same thought bubble. The characters' "voices", I feel, is something the author should try and improve in her future books. Perhaps she should develop a style that suits her best for in her future books so that her characters can stand out as individuals in the story.
On the other hand, the author displays an easy and most charming ability to reel me into her story and get her sweet and nice characters to win me over so easily. A part of me still wonders how Ms Macela does that to me so effortlessly. Some scenes in this story are a little too sweet and sentimental for my taste, especially every time Daria talks to her cat in the way Sally Struthers will coo at people she is soliciting a donation from, but on the whole, I'm won over by the story. Daria is a likable heroine who is sensible and level-headed. Bent is also a pretty sweet and nice guy. Under any other circumstances, I'd say these two characters are so nice to the point of being bland, but in this story their personalities match each other's very well and they make perfect sense together.
All in all, The Oldest Kind of Magic manages to work its spell on me very well. There are rooms for improvement, yes, but still, I can't help but to be charmed by the author's cheerful buoyant humor and the unapologetic optimism about love running strong in this story.
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