Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6447-8
Paranormal Romance, 2003
There is a problem in Jayel Wylie’s latest book Wicked Charms. The twelfth-century medieval characters speak in a way that is more contemporary than medieval (the heroine says in exasperation, “This is hilarious!” when she is vexed, for example). One can also argue that the pretty airy-faery stuff in this book is actually unnecessary to the story – if anything, it serves more like a cop-out resolution (it’s all destiny, et cetera) to the characters’ dilemmas.
Aiden Brinlaw, the son of the couple in A Falcon’s Heart and brother of the heroine of This Dangerous Magic, isn’t so sure if he likes being a sorcerer. He can speak in faerie language, to which the first step to learning is to italicize everything, and he can change claymores into snakes and vice versa. The latter will be a useful skill to have when one is dealing with the tax people. He would rather be called a soldier. King Richard is away buggering Arab boys in the Crusades and Scotland has a new king that bought his title from Richard. This leaves the English population in Scotland somewhat in a limbo: the Scots now have a more free rein to harass them while they, the English, are no longer as free as they were to fight back.
When one of the English lords dies in the Crusades, Prince John orders Aiden to head on down to Scotland and secure Glencairn. Glencairn is now passed on to Princess Katherine, a fictitious character that’s created by Ms Wylie to be John’s sister. If Aiden can secure the castle from the Scots who are no doubt now eyeing Glencairn, Aiden can finally marry Katherine.
Unfortunately, there’s a woman in Glencairn called, simply, Mistress Evelyn that will ruin Aiden’s plans. Evelyn is the daughter of a Scots laird that is betrothed to the late lord of Glencairn, and she bore this man a child, Max. The man died before he could come home to marry Evie, so Evie and Max will have no right to stay on in Glencairn. However, Evie knows that she is an outcast among her own people for bearing an Englishman a child out of wedlock, and she is determined to seduce the new lord of Glencairn into marrying her. Therefore, when Aiden arrives and is enraptured by Evie that he plots his own seduction of her, he has no idea that the lady is plotting her own plans of seduction as well.
Aiden is a nice contradiction in that he is carefree and merry even as he can be very brutal in his selfish pursuits of pleasure. He is not cruel – deliberately – but his callous treatment of his female conquests (which unfold via discussions between Aiden and his squire) make me wince at times. The author knows how to make him so charming and smooth, and I must admit that his joie d’vivre is infectious, but at the same time Aiden is also selfish to the point of cruelty. Other silly women may be heartbroken by his games, but not Evie, never Evie. Now, this heroine is sharp. I have my doubts when the author introduces Evie by sending her and her maid to wander by themselves to look for a cow, but soon Evie shows herself to be a person that has a backbone of steel and a very sharp mind indeed. She is very aware of how powerless she is as a woman and she has no qualms in using what she has to secure the places of her son and herself in the scheme of things. She has flirted with her suitors and if she has to manipulate Aiden into falling in love with her deep enough that he will marry her, so be it. Little does she know that he is not a very easy man to manipulate.
The story drags towards the later portions of the story when the author tunes up the faerie magic elements, introduce the cast from her previous books that clutter the pages when Ms Wylie should have let Aiden and Evie work out their problems in peace, and frankly, give me a heart-to-heart talk between the main characters instead of all that claptrap destiny and soulmate stuff. If I want to see magic making people do stupid things, I’d go watch a David Blaine show. Thanks to the magic stuff and the author preferring to let Aiden’s family clean up his mess, I get Aiden and Evie – Aiden especially – acting like bratty kids stomping and pouting their way until Daddy Brinlaw comes in and orders a time-out. And just when I need to read about the characters growing up and being mature for once, the author instead wastes pages expounding on minor issues like Aiden’s gifts and faeries screaming and dancing to the air or something equally unnecessary.
As a result, while Wicked Charms have a great build-up of sexual tension, playful flirtation, and cunning games to keep me riveted to the story, its pay-off is just horrible because the author focuses on all the wrong things in her story.