Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-6472-1
Fantasy Romance, 2000
Nora Barr was a fresh-faced lawyer trying hard to keep her law firm open and her ethics impeccable when into her life waltzed a drop dead gorgeous hunk and his midget partner and a snake. This man claims to be Athelstan Blackstone, the one and only wizard who caused Sleeping Beauty to sleep nine hundred and ninety years ago. His midget partner’s Sancho Panza. The snake’s Malcolm. And together they all want Nora to help them file custody of the coffin bearing Emma, Ms Sleeping Beauty, from her evil guardian Ealhswith. Like all normal women would, Nora thinks they are all loonies and turn them down.
Then she gets a phone call later, from Sancho. It seems Blackstone and Ealhswith have destroyed a nice suburban neighborhood with their magics and Blackstone’s now going to be arrested for every possible felony under the sun plus arson and kidnapping (the two are fighting it out over Emma). Here’s the deal: Nora would be paid a very large sum of money to hide the coffin in a microbus in her garage for ten years. How’s that?
Now, ten years later, the loony bins are back in Nora’s life. Emma wakes up and is not at all pleased to find that her boyfriend has left her asleep for 1,000 years and kicks him out. Blackstone wants her back but hey hey, he’s sort of attracted to Nora. Nora, her blood boils whenever Blackstone’s in her personal space. But look behind you, here comes Ealhswith!
Utterly Charming has all the ingredients of a fun romp, and it is. The characters are a hoot, especially Ealhswith who gets all her inspiration and evil woman hysterics from movies. Ooh, no simpering milquetoasts like Buffy or Dana Scully for Ealhswith – this witch prefers to study how Cruella de Vil laughs. Then there are three hippie Fates who still couldn’t get over the insult of being cast as ugly crones in William Shakespeare’s MacBeth (Lady MacBeth, by the way, is Ealhswith’s idol). And there’s a medieval professor named Jeffry Chawsir, whom every immortal takes delight in pointing out, “Geoffrey Chaucer’s shorter than you are!”, hooking up with Nora’s kooky mother Amanda.
Uh, who’s the hero and heroine again?
That’s the big problem with this story – the romance’s anything but romantic. Blackstone and Nora don’t even click until the last chapter, and even then it’s an “Oh, it’s only 5 pages to the Epilogue! Quick, love vows now!” rushed exchange of kisses. And this is marketed as a romance? Zebra has a lot to answer for.
It doesn’t help that while Nora is fun and spunky, her attraction to Blackstone is never more than lust, pure lust at the sight of a well-filled pair of jeans. Hey, I love to ogle at a Chippendale centerfold, but you won’t see me going goo-goo eyes and falling in love with that cardboard picture in a magazine. And that’s what Blackstone is: cardboard. He is never real as a romance hero, worse, he is actually absent for quite many chapters. When he does appear, he’s acting all heavy-handed or just pure silly. Some of the things he do actually put Emma and Nora in danger too. And this a romance hero? Give me a break.
And the ending’s a farce.
I have a lot of fun reading Utterly Charming, but as a fantasy magical romp and not a romance. In fact, the secondary characters shove the two main leads off the stage altogether. But hey, this is the author’s first contemporary romance, and since it is so fun, it’s a good sign of great things to come. I hope.