Luna, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80203-X
Catherine Asaro is kidding, right? I wrote in the review of her novella in the anthology Irresistible Forces asking when the Carebear party will start. Well, it starts right here in The Charmed Sphere, a book best described as “My Little Pony Died From Sugar and Bad Romance Clichés Overdose”, which is what happens when people treat romance readers like idiots that cannot appreciate anything that doesn’t come in some pink ribbon gift wrap.
While the author’s previous books are intelligent and readable, The Charmed Sphere is a stupendously dumbed-down book. Repeat after me, people: romance readers aren’t stupid. We can appreciate complex world-building and principles, you know. We even go out of our trailer homes sometimes to get college education.
Set in Aronsdale, The Charmed Sphere is about a heroine, Chime Headwind, being plucked from a simple and mundane existence as a farmer to become the most powerful mage and to marry the prince of the kingdom. Wait a minute, haven’t I read this in the author’s novella in Charmed Destinies? Yup, Chime is the other person vying for Prince Muller Dawnfield’s attentions. Iris Larkspur, as readers who have read the author’s novella Moonglow will know, eventually hook up with a long-lost prince, leaving Chime and Muller to be free to act on their mutual attraction.
Meanwhile, the story takes on the atmosphere of a Walt Disney cartoon, complete with cackling villains and saintly advisers, while magic is just an extension of one’s emotions to be used for making light and healing. I find the whole pink, pink, pink fairyland fantasia setting nauseatingly sweet. Chime is portrayed as some beautiful blonde while Muller is of course handsome but there is nothing else in their characterization that go beyond the superficial. Their love story is filled with tedious bickering and tiresome misunderstanding. In short, this book feels like what someone will write if they are trying to cater to the stereotype that is romance readers: this book is filled with unthinking sentiments about the joys of being visceral at the expense of being intellectual, set in a world filled with pretty, pretty butterflies and magic ponies. Is that what the outside world think readers of romance want to read? What are we, some mentally stunted kiddies in adult bodies?
Sometimes, a glimmer of the author formerly known as Catherine Asaro, Good Writer slips through the gelatinous icing crust of this story, especially in the late legs of the story when people go to war and stop acting vapid for once. This reminder of what the author can and should do in this book only makes it even more excruciating to read.
The Charmed Sphere doesn’t even qualify as a decent book for young adults. All it has are pretty, pretty colors and pretty people running around acting vapid. It’s the literary equivalent of Ken and Barbie’s Malibu Dream House Party where the guests consist of the entire roster of characters from My Little Pony and Friends. I will never imagine that I will describe a Catherine Asaro book this way, but then again, I never imagine that she will come out with a book this bad either.