Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58421-9
Historical Paranormal Romance, 2004
Not to spoil the story too much, I think I should let people know that Dark Enchantment is not a vampire story. It’s a story dealing with dark arts and sorcery. Having said that, this book is so underwritten that it comes off like a half-baked pie.
The plot is simple – the English mercenary in 17th century Paris, Jack Marstone, rescues a half-conscious boy when the latter attack two men trying to rape a woman in an alley. He realizes that this boy is actually a woman. Catherine de la Fer has no clear memory of her past, and while Jack hopes to send her back to where she comes from (with him getting paid a handsome finder’s fee, of course), he becomes intrigued by the mystery she presents as well as by her. Soon, they will both realize that Catherine is a pawn in some plan of Great Evil involving dark sorcery and such.
The problem with this story is the utter scarcity of canon. I am talking about the mythology – most paranormal stories have their own unique take on what makes their mythical creatures tick but there is no such canon here. Ms Harbaugh doesn’t describe anything in detail. The demons and monsters that attack our main characters are just that – “demons” and “monsters” with not even a little description as to what kind of creatures these are. Ms Harbaugh could have inserted so many different demons and monsters from so many European folklores, so it feels like a colossal waste that in this book, a monster is not a basilisk, horned devil, homunculus, or anything other than a “monster”. The lack of richness in detail and atmosphere prevents this book from being even a little interesting, much less fascinating.
What Ms Harbaugh does describe in detail is her characters’ tedious sense of honor and duty. At least Jack has his moments of roguishness and some sense of humor, but Catherine is a typically tedious “virtuous” ding-a-ling that cannot accept any help from Jack even when she needs it without finding ways to make herself overly beholden to Jack in gratitude. She is ridiculous. Also, despite being described as strong, she cannot seem to defend herself. For the three times in this book that she confronts the bad guys, counting the crucial denouement, she will collapse like some pathetic dainty tumbleweed and it is Jack that will have to sometimes literally crawl along the ground to save her. She is ridiculous and pathetic. And a total humorless bore, let’s not overlook that.
Too light on canon and too much on female melodrama of martyr manners, Dark Enchantment feels like an unfinished work. There is so much more the author could have done to flesh out this story and the characters more, but instead, she presents this. What a waste, really.