At Her Service

By Queen’s Grace

The Conqueror

The Ideal Husband

Knave of Hearts

Once a Bride

Twilight Magic
by Shari Anton
(Warner Forever, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-446-61755-5
Twilight Magic is the second book in a trilogy about three sisters who are the daughters of a man killed for treason against King Stephen in 1145. The story starts off strong but sputters toward the end.

Emma de Leon is at the palace in Westminster because King Stephen decreed it. After her father and brother were killed, the king sent her younger sister to Bledsoe Abbey and gave her older sister in marriage to the man who took over their home. Emma’s heritage is Welsh, being said to have descended from Arthur of Pendragon (yes, THE King Arthur). Emma might come in handy if the king needs to make a treaty with the Welsh. That legacy has left her with visions, which she sees in standing water. Her entire life, she has tried to avoid them, causing her painful headaches. But the pain is better than the knowing, particularly when some of her visions have foretold death.

Emma is shunned by most at court due to her father. She is determined to petition the King to get her sister, Nicole, out of the Abbey and worms her way into the audience chamber one day. It happens to be the day that a mercenary and soldier of William of Epys, a man named Darian of Bruges, is accused of murder. The accuser is Henry, Bishop of Winchester (and the King’s brother), and the evidence is the dagger found by the body that all know belongs to Darian. He needs an alibi. Since Emma had seen Darian in one of her visions and knew that he was to be her lover one day, she announces to the court that he could not have murdered the man because he was with her all night. This lie results in the King making them marry immediately, and then William banishes them to his estate until things die down.

Darian is less than thrilled to be saddled with a bride, especially one who is a noblewoman and above him in social standing. He also is determined to prove he did not commit murder. Darian is not just a mercenary; he is also a paid assassin and had been given the assignment to kill the man by the King, not something the King could acknowledge publicly. But someone else got to him first. Emma is not thrilled to be banished because she hasn’t gotten a chance to help her sister yet.

The story revolves around their journeys and Darian’s efforts to prove his innocence while protecting Emma. They form a tenuous friendship and ultimately more. There are villains and people who will help them. There is sense of the political intrigues of the times and a hint of the mystical, given Emma’s visions.

The story starts off strong, with a lot of action and plot set-up occurring in the first 100 pages. Emma seems like a strong heroine, albeit a bit naïve and impulsive, and Darian is a good man with a reason for becoming a mercenary. Despite the sense that mercenaries are generally bad men, Darian and his friends are portrayed as good men with nothing to do but fight, almost like knights, even though they are all untitled and in it for the money. As the tale ensues, the action becomes predictable and the story line settles into one that is rather dull. Things happen that continue to show Darian’s goodness and Emma falls for him. Emma is so self-sacrificing, she never even complains when she rides pillion on a horse for an entire day. Now, I don’t like whiny heroines, but anyone would have a problem with that!

Anton tries to make the story believable and compared to other tales I have read, this has a more realistic setting than many historical romances. However, there is still a feeling that these are contemporary thinkers. For instance, Emma has kept her visions a secret for fear of retribution. When Darian finds out, he acts as if this is something he encounters every day. While I appreciated his loyalty, it just seemed out of place.

Despite these distractions, I ultimately liked Emma and Darian as a couple. Because it is part of a trilogy, not all the questions are answered. The end result is a standard romance and a wish that Twilight Magic had maintained its momentum throughout the entire novel.

--Shirley Lyons

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