A Kiss of Fate, by Mary Jo Putney

>> Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mary Jo Putney used to be one of my big favourites when I first started seriously reading romance. I absolutely adored her Fallen Angels series, and I loved many of her other books. Titles like The Rake are still in my keeper shelves (not that I have actual, physical keeper shelves. I keep too many books and shelve them all together. But you know what I mean).

Anyway, in the past few years, around the time she wrote those contemps, I took her of my autobuy list. I actually haven't yet read the Bride series (not contemporary, but writen around that period). And I'm afraid reading the short story in the Irresistible Forces, the short story that acts as an introduction to the Guardian series, didn't really inspire me to go back.

So why did I end up picking up A Kiss of Fate (excerpt)? Well, I read the keeper review of The Marriage Spell at AAR, and though that one is actually part of a new series, Putney's brand of fantasy romance seemed tempting. And since I already had AKOF in the TBR...

Laird of an ancient, powerful Scottish clan, Duncan Macrae is committed to ending the ceaseless strife between Scotland and England. But he also has other, secret powers-those of a Guardian, humans with mystical abilities to control nature's forces and see into the hearts of others. From the moment he encounters independent young English widow Gwyneth Owens, his fiery spirit is irrevocably drawn to claim her as his own-a passion that will not only set his loyalty to his land against his sworn Guardian vows, but will also threaten everything he cherishes most.

Though Gwynne's father was a Guardian, she believes that she has inherited only her mother's beauty, not her father's power. Then one kiss from the dangerously alluring Laird of the Macraes ignites a hunger that shakes her to her soul-and reveals visions of a looming catastrophe that threatens England and Scotland both. Only by becoming Duncan's wife and betraying the man she loves can she avert disaster.

As irrevocable destiny and two mighty nations clash, Gwynne and Duncan must test their powers and passions past the most forbidden limits if they are to save their love-and secure the future.
To be honest, I liked AKOF more than I expected to. It was a very solid B for me.

AKOF is set in an alternate version of mid-18th century Britain. It looks just like our world, except that there's a group of people with paranormal powers, the Guardians, operating behind the scenes to influence events in a positive manner, but with as little interference as possible.

Our heroine, Gwyneth Owens, is part of a Guardian family but has no powers of her own, something that's been the source of frustration all her life. She's dedicated herself to becoming a keeper of all the information and history regarding the Guardians, something that's very much appreciated by the rest of her community (Guardians can't just operate on instict; knowing what effects things have had in the past is basic to their actions).

When Gwynne meets Duncan Macrae, he's instantly crazy about her, but she hesitates. Duncan is an incredibly powerful weather mage (a Guardian who can affect wheather phenomena, like his ancestors, the characters in the short story in the Irresistible Forces anthology) and Gwynne feels intimidated. Against her instincts, she rejects him, right until the Guardian Council strongly suggests that she should accept his suit.

And so Gwynne and Duncan go off to his castle in Scotland, while around them events threaten to go to hell. Charles Edward Stuart has just landed and is beginning his campaign, pitting Duncan's loyalty to the Guardian Council (which has decided that all things considered, Britain will be better off with its current monarchs) against his innermost feelings that his country deserves to rule itself. And among all this, Gwynne can't seem to be able to dispel the vague feeling that she will betray her husband.

AKOF has two pretty distinct halves. The first covers Gwynne and Ducan's courtship and marriage, as well as the development of Gwynne's powers, which suddenly appear after the wedding (more on this soon) and lasts up until they begin their married life in Scotland.

This part was nice enough, mostly because of Putney's talent as a writer. I'd forgotten how smooth her writing feels, how well it flows. And though it feels a bit underdeveloped, the Guardian universe is quite intriguing.

Ducan and Gwynne's relationship here is nice enough, too (pretty clear I liked this but wasn't particularly wowed by it, eh?). The only thing I didn't like was those powers of Gwynne's that developed after her marriage. It turns out Gwynne's Guardian talent is to be an Enchantress, a woman who can project power in order to captivate and fascinate any man, and that the reason why she didn't know until after her marriage was that those particular powers lie dormant until... yes, you guessed it! Until a woman first has sex. My eyes are rolling. Oh, please! I wish Putney had kept away from the silly magical sex. She seems fond of it, she also had it in the short story!

When we got to the end of this first half I was a bit worried. The relationship between Duncan and Gwynne seemed to be settled already (Duncan had been madly in love with her since he first saw her, and by this time, she had fallen in love with him, too), so my thoughts were basically "Oh, no, will the rest of the book be just political intrigue and Jacobite uprisings?"

Well, yes and no. The historical events do come to the forefront in the second half of the book, but it's not only that, because this has a huge effect on Duncan and Gwynne's relationship, and this part of the book ended up being much, much better than the first half.

The history is extremely well-integrated in the story. This particular period and place in history aren't my favourites to read about (the main reason why I was so worried at the halfway point), but Putney managed to make it not just interesting, but truly fascinating. And perhaps because I don't actively seek out books set here, Putney's point of view, which is pretty anti-Jacobite, felt fresh. The few books I have read really romanticize Bonny Prince Charlie and demonize the English, and it was interesting to read something different.

And these events create very compelling conflicts in both characters and have a devastating effect in their marriage. There's Duncan's struggle within himself to decide where the line is between acting to prevent needless loss of life and acting to aid the Jacobite cause, and to decide whether he should actually cross the line. And there's Gwynne's struggle to decide how she should react to Duncan's actions, whether she should act to stop him from making what she sees as a huge mistake, even though this will probably mean the end of her marriage.

I really liked how all this played out. It might be a bit of a spoiler, but I especially appreciated that, unlike in so many other romances, it turns out it's the hero who's been led astray by his instincts and the heroine who is right in what she did.

The first half was a B- for me (ok, but not great), while this second half was a B+. This makes the B I mentioned above. I'd like to see where Putney goes with this universe, and maybe know a bit more about those mysterious Guardians, so I'm going to read the next book in the series, Stolen Magic, ASAP. Unfortunately, there seem to be only these two books in the series!


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