The Magic Of Two
by Saranne Dawson, fantasy (1999)
Lovespell, $5.50, ISBN 0-505-52308-6

This book is marketed as a futuristic, but believe me, this book is strictly fantasy romance. You won't find anything high-tech, and there is definitely no space ship or laser gun. What is the publisher thinking, I have no idea. Saranne Dawson is one of the few brave authors who continues writing fantasy/futuristic romances in a climate where the fad is historical romances, and while her books are uneven in quality, I always buy her books. Hence I did not hesitate the day I saw this book in the bookstore.

Sadly, The Magic Of Two is really uneven. The premise is good. Two outsiders journeying together to find their long lost homeland. You can make many emotional stories out of these sort of themes, and the best epics are always revolved around this theme. Unfortunately, the author has to make the heroine oscillate between a saintly child-like woman and a total wimp with no in-between, and the writing style, to be blunt, is irritating in the first half of the book.

Jasmine has just lost her mother and is evacuated from her home by her landlord (owner? - Jasmine seems a serf, but that is never made clear). She now wanders homeless in the streets until Quinn, our hero who gives up his job on a ship (he isn't a slave, but what he is exactly, again that is not made clear), finds her. He recognizes her as a possible fellow countryman, and brings her along with him.

Until they meet, the writing is awful. There's a He-man feel to the writing, with sentences going in a King Kong comes, King Kong climbs building, woman sees King Kong, woman screams EEEK manner. It is not only exasperating to read such simple sentences non-stop for pages, it also makes me feel as if the lead characters are total simpletons. Especially when their thought processes and conversations move in that said manner:

"I passed by your stall yesterday. There was a smell - some herb, I think. But I don't smell it today. Is there something you had then that you don't have now?"

It surprised her that her mother was so light, even though she'd seen her flesh falling away for months now.

"But we all need our dreams, then, don't we?" Jasmine thought that was the most profound statement.

And the best one, when Jasmine lost her temper just before she was evacuated from her home:

With the recklessness that comes when all hope is gone, Jasmine drew herself up straight. "This is a bad place - and you're a cruel woman!"

Huh? You get evicted, your mother just died of hard work, and the best you can say is "bad place" and "cruel woman"? I had a good laugh out of this one. When I was 10, I could do much better than that!

That is the main problem I have with this book. Jasmine is a wimp. A teary-eyed wimp who is always in need of rescue. In the streets, hungry, she feels guilty and all teary-eyed because she needs to steal a bun. Despite being a slave/serf who works like mad all day all night, she somehow remains free from bitterness, instead going on thinking insipid statements like It's wrong to have to look for cruelty behind kindness, typical hackneyed-Kung-fu Master type of thoughts. And don't get me started on the possibility of a slave/serf who toils all day having smooth pale skin and luxurious waist-length hair. I can never see her as a woman, instead a young little girl who needs the constant protection of Uncle Quinn.

The story improves a lot after these two set up to find their homeland. The writing becomes less stilted, and I find myself enjoying myself. Quinn gradually changes from a Conan-He Man hybrid to a man with vulnerabilities and strengths. I have to hand it to Miss Dawson, if she ever set herself to writing a full-fledged fantasy romance without the mumbo-jumbo greeting-card heroines, she will succeed well. Her plotting is one of the best. And the ending, let's just say it is a perfect conveyance of hope, glorious dreams of the future, and a grand happy ending.

If only the first half and the heroine are much better. As it is, The Magic Of Two is a wasted could-have-been of a fine fantasy adventure.

Rating: 47

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