Second Sight, by Amanda Quick

>> Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Second Sight is the first novel in Amanda Quick's Arcane Society series. I never doubted I was going to read it (it's a JAK, duh!), but I confess I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the whole concept. I worried it might become like that Vanzagaria thing she used to do... boring mumbo-jumbo that only takes time away from the romance.

Financially straitened and on the path to spinsterhood, Venetia Milton thought her stay at the remote, ramshackle Arcane House would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engineer her own ravishment. She was there to photograph the artifacts collected by a highly secretive organization, founded two centuries earlier by an alchemist. And the alchemist's descendant-her employer, Gabriel Jones-has the eyes of a sorcerer...
But despite Venetia's intent to seduce Mr. Jones and move on, she is shattered upon her return home to read in the press of his violent demise. Using the sizable fee Mr. Jones paid her, Venetia establishes a new life, opening a gallery in London. Of course, posing as a respectable widow makes it easier to do business, so-in a private tribute to her lost, only lover-she assumes the identity of "Mrs. Jones."

Her romantic whim, however, will cause unexpected trouble. For one thing, Mr. Jones is about to stride, living and breathing, back into Venetia's life. And the two share more than a passionate memory-indeed, they are bonded by a highly unusual sort of vision, one that goes far beyond Venetia's abilities as a photographer. They also share a terrible threat-for someone has stolen a centuries-old notebook from Arcane House that contains a formula believed to enhance psychic powers of the kind Gabriel and Venetia posses. And the thief wants to know more-even if he must kill the keeper of the Arcane Society's treasures, or the photographer who catalogues them, to obtain such knowledge...
I thought AQ's latest couple of books were a step in the right direction, going back to emphasizing the romance over the mystery, but Second Sight was a bit of a step back. Not a huge one, but still, a bit more of the mystery than I would have liked. I still mostly enjoyed the book, and it did work as a comfort read, but I can't rate it any higher than a B-.

After the death of her parents left her small family in economic trouble, Venetia Milton knew she had to shoulder the responsibility. She was going to have to take her hobby of photography and turn it into her family's support.

When a mysterious client offers her some excellent money to photograph some artifacts at the very isolated Arcane House, Venetia finally sees the way clear to financial security. With that money, she'll have a stake to open a fashionable London gallery and cater to the upper classes. But she also knows that she'll have to do that as a widow and that her reputation will need to be impeccable. So the secretive atmosphere of Arcane House seems to her the perfect place where to have the only sexual experience that she'll ever have in her life.

Yep, right at the beginning, we get one of those heroines who go all "oh, oh, I want to have a special memory to treasure the rest of my life!". I'm sooo tired of that particular plot device, but I admit Quick did make Venetia's actions believable. So anyway, Venetia's host at Arcane House is Gabriel Jones, the son of the man who runs the Arcane Society. Gabriel is also very attracted to her, so when she tries to seduce him, he's an extremely enthusiastic participant.

I actually quite liked the book's opening, though I wish we'd seen something more from Gabriel's POV there. There's that scene in which they have sex for the first time (and for a scene practically between strangers, it was very nicely done), and then we see he's thinking of Venetia as "his future wife". Ok, fine. But why? Tell me a bit about why he wants her for a wife. Is he just looking for a wife and thinks she will do? Is he terribly attracted to her? We don't find out until MUCH later.

But about that "future wife" thing he does.... what's that about Quick's heroes' possessiveness that just works for me? In that first scene, when Gabriel gets all "you're mine" and even makes Venetia say that she's his, I was all a-flutter. Even though if a guy did the same thing in a similar situation, I'd be so out of there! Even though with many other authors, a similar thing would make me more uncomfortable than anything else. Even though in older JAK books I haven't liked that kind of thing, either. But here... wonderful!

Uh, ok, sorry for the disgression. I've written way too much already and still haven't gone beyond the beginning of the book. Right, then, so Gabriel and Venetia have just finished with their lovemaking, but before they can take it upstairs, they notice there are two men stalking the house, hiding in the bushes. Gabriel's reaction is instantaneous. He rushes Venetia through an escape tunnel and sends her away with his servants. Then he runs back to Arcane House.

A few days later, already back home, Venetia sees a small paragraph in the newspaper about the mysterious fire at Arcane House that killed a one Mr. Gabriel Jones. Venetia is gutted, and as a kind of homage to Gabriel, when time comes to choose a name for the "elegant widow" identity she'll have to assume in London, she settles on Mrs. Jones.

But obviously, Gabriel isn't dead. He just faked the whole thing about the fire to catch his enemies off guard (it's all about some convoluted plot starring an alchemist's stolen formulae. Convoluted, as I say, but pretty boring, and I'm not going to go into it here). But when he realizes what Venetia has done, he knows he'll have to give up the game. She doesn't know it, but using the name Jones has only put her in the villains' sights.

And so Venetia gets the surprise of her life when she's innocently reading the newspaper and comes across an interview with Mr. Gabriel Jones, where she learns that he miraculously saved his life after falling off a cliff and being washed away by a tumultuous river in the Wild West, during their honeymoon. He just had amnesia, see, which is why he didn't return sooner. But now he's remembered his darling wife, and he means them to be reunited. Considering that (obviously) the whole Wild West thing is something she made up, Venetia is understandably startled by this and believes it must be someone who means to blackmail her. But she's even more startled when her "husband" arrives at her house and she sees it's Gabriel.

After all the necessary explanations are provided, it's decided that they will continue with the fiction that they're married (nothing else they can do, not if they want to keep Venetia's reputation clean), and that Gabriel will move into the house she shares with her brother and sister and aunt. He will move into the attic, of course, and pursue his investigations from there. But Venetia is an Amanda Quick heroine, after all, so of course she's going to want to investigate, too!

Ok, so what's the good here? Hmm, I don't think I can really isolate anything, because the good stuff is very mixed up with the disappointing. Take the romance. I liked Gabriel and Venetia together. They had very nice chemistry, and their banter was written with AQ's trademark humour. I also liked how Venetia helped Gabriel deal with his psychical talents.

What????, you say. Psychical talents? Yep, Gabriel has some kind of "hunting sense" and Venetia sees auras. And it feels as badly integrated to the story as it feels badly integrated to this review. Yes, these talents do play a role in the mystery, and yes, in Gabriel's case, they do play a role in his issues, but on the whole, this aspect feels half-baked.

The mystery aspect is more developed than that, and it's got some interesting angles, but on the whole, it was much less interesting than the romance and I resented that it took up so much of the book. And that it took so much of the hero and heroine's attention, really. After a certain point, whenever these two got together, all they did was talk about the mystery, and this bored me.

And then there were the things that were thrown in and then didn't go anywhere. The Janus Club, for instance. What was the purpose of this? It's intriguing, yes, intriguing enough that it's not the kind of thing you don't develop more! And how about the big secret about Venetia and her family's parentage? It doesn't go anywhere, either.

I've just gone to the author's website and taken a look at her upcoming releases. Her next contemp (yep, a JAK, not an AQ) coming out in January is also an Arcane Society story. *sigh* Yes, I will be reading it, but the whole Arcane Society bit will not be a draw!


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