by Connie Brockway, historical (2009)
Onyx, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-41629-2
So Enchanting is a historical romance with a touch of paranormal elements. Now, you know I'm a big Connie Brockway fan. I'm happy to report that this is a fun and entertaining, often laugh-out-loud funny, romp from Ms Brockway. The only issue I have with this story is that I don't buy the romance one bit because of the disappointingly spineless hero who doesn't know when to quit.
Fanny Walcott is the companion, guardian, and mother figure of the young heiress Amelia Chase. Their lives are very boring, since there is nothing to do in the village of Little Firkin as nothing changes there, but to an outsider, their lives are certainly not typical. In a most unusual arrangement, Amelia's late father had arranged so that every local in Little Firkin will inherit a very generous sum of money if Amelia lives to see her twenty-first birthday. People also say that Amelia is a witch.
Greyson Sheffield, our hero, spends his life exposing fraudulent mediums and charlatan psychics. When he is summoned by his "I'm too busy, so please do me a favor, will you?" brother to look into the matter of a letter warning Grey's brother that Amelia (this man's ward) is in danger, Grey and his nephew Hayden travel to Little Firkin, where Grey learns of Amelia's unusual circumstance. Also, much to his surprise, he recognizes Fanny Walcott as the widow of a fraud he exposed six years ago in London. Could she be behind the threat on Amelia's life?
Did I give you the impression that this is a serious romantic suspense? Actually, this is a comedic romp with a touch of cozy mystery. The mystery doesn't really dominate the plot. Also, there is no misunderstanding or misapprehension at play here: both Fanny and Grey are aware early on that he recognizes her as Francesca Brown, widow of the notorious fraud Alphonse Brown.
Fanny is a fun heroine, although I must confess that I roll up my eyes here and there when the author insists that Fanny is good at controlling her emotions. She's quite emotional here in this story and she is also rarely in control of a situation - even her maid doesn't listen to her - so her portrayal is actually very different from what the author describes her to be. Still, Fanny is a heroine who is certainly self-aware and she can definitely think and string some rational thoughts together. I like her. She's funny too. Meanwhile, the way she is affected by her paranormal gift and this shaped her entire life up to this point are certainly heartbreaking, giving her character a compelling sense of vulnerability.
This story also boasts a very adorable bunch of secondary characters. The setting is certainly a very fun and vibrant one. Despite taking place in a Scottish village, the paranormal craze that seized England's upper crust society in the late 19th century is pretty well depicted here.
Now, I don't know if Ms Brockway is inspired by Harry Houdini in her creation of Greyson Sheffield, but he is certainly a memorable character at first. Gauche, really blunt, and pretty much a walking faux pas, Grey has no time for fools. When he was a teenager, he saw his distraught father fall prey to con men pretending to be mediums again and again. When his father ended up bankrupting the family in his desperate attempt to reconnect with Grey's sister, Grey vowed to make it his calling in life to destroy these swindlers' schemes and make sure they are brought to justice.
The problem here is that Grey doesn't know when to stop being a stubborn mule. He also doesn't know when to stop behaving like a coward and running away at the first sight of trouble. It's bad enough that he ends up being the most foolish character in the story, but the author lets his mulish antics drag on for too long that I don't believe that he and Fanny are finally good for life just because he happens to show up at the last moment to rescue everyone from the bad guy. If I were Fanny, I won't forgive this silly fool so easily - I'd make sure that, at the very least, every time he leaves the house for the next six months, every male dog he encounters will vigorously dry hump his leg.
And speaking of the villain, I'm so disappointed by the identity of this guy. [spoiler starts] He ends up validating two insipid secondary characters' gruesome infatuation with each other, shudder. [spoiler ends] Besides, that fellow is a pretty cute fellow in his own right, so I'm crushed when the author mutates him into another silly villain who blabs everything to the good guys before eating our hero's shoe.
If the hero has quit that donkey act of his earlier, or if the author has given me another twenty or so pages where the characters hash out their feelings, I'd buy this romance between Fanny and Grey better. As it is, the rushed resolution dampens my mood considerably when it comes to this story. Still, So Enchanting is a pretty fun book on the whole. It's just not that enchanting thanks to the hero's recalcitrance and the disappointing identity of the villain.
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