Amaryllis by Jayne Castle
(Pocket, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-671-56903-1
****
I have a tremendous amount of respect for an author who can write in more than one subgenre of romance. Jayne Castle, who also writes under the names Jayne Anne Krentz (contemporary), Amanda Quick (historical) and Stephanie James (category), is certainly the jack-of-all-trades/master of many in the area of romance fiction. Readers who enjoy futuristic romances will find a lot to like in her latest offering, Amaryllis.

Amaryllis Lark is a psychic "prism" in the city of New Seattle, on the distant planet of St. Helens. Her abilities allow her to partner with people who have other psychic abilities. She's sort of like a camera lens; raw psychic powers need the help of a prism to focus. As a prism, Amaryllis is one of the best around, with a considerable degree of power herself.

Amaryllis is busy making a career for herself with a company called Psynergy, Inc. when into her life steps one Lucas Trent, owner of a mining and exploration company called Lodestar. Lucas knows that someone within his company is selling corporate secrets, and he needs Amaryllis' help to find out who.

Lucas possesses several psychic talents himself. A loner with no family, he's drawn to the somewhat straightlaced Amaryllis. Complicating matters is the fact that on St. Helens, single adults are expected to register with a marriage agency which will set them up with suitable mates. Psychic talents and psychic prisms are supposedly like oil and water never the twain shall mix. Lucas and Amaryllis fully understand this even though they quickly fall for each other.

One freedom that an external romantic conflict allows is plenty of opportunity for lovers to get to know one another as lovers, and Castle doesn't waste any chances here. It's fun watching Lucas and Amaryllis become more and more emotionally entangled while they steadfastly deny that they have a future together.

The corporate espionage is quickly settled, although the reasons behind the act are more complicated and entwined with other events than we are led to believe early on. Amaryllis gets an anonymous message which indicates that the death of her respected mentor, Professor Landreth, may have been a murder. Since Landreth was a self-righteous prig who is mourned by few, she decides it's up to her to investigate. Lucas tags along to keep her out of trouble. They get into trouble anyway.

Readers who are new to the futuristic sub-genre might want to start with this book. Castle tells an entertaining story, and she uses enough description and day-to-day details that the reader won't feel like they're on an alien planet. It's close enough to home to be comfortable.

There were one or two annoying flaws in the book. Castle seems OBSESSED with the words "ice" and "synergy" (or a variation thereof) and they are used incessantly throughout the book, to the point where it became a major irritant. Lucas drives a car called an Icer. They listen to "ice rock" music. His mentor was an old geezer called Icy Claxby. A secondary character rides an "ice-cycle". Lucas mines something called "jelly-ice". He's nicknamed The Iceman". After a while, it became almost unbearable.

The use of "synergy" was even worse, cropping up in everything from names to simple descriptions. Okay, I got the point that psychic talent and prisms (and Lucas and Amaryllis) needed to work together to achieve their potential. I didn't need to be bludgeoned over the head with it at every opportunity. Castle is such a talented storyteller that I felt she could have come up with plenty of other interesting words.

I also noticed a strong resemblance to a couple of plot threads from Castle/Krentz's other novels. Amaryllis' romantic background was virtually the same as Letty's from PERFECT PARTNERS. And the wealthy, enigmatic loner-hero has become a stock character in most of her novels. It's to Castle's credit that she can continue to make them so appealing.

I enjoyed Amaryllis small annoyances aside. And I sense a trilogy in the works. There are two men who would seem to fit the bill tucked in the covers of this book. Keep your eyes open. I don't think we've seen the last of New Seattle or St. Helens.

--Cathy Sova


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