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Magic by Kimberly Cates
(Pocket, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-671-01494-3
****
Easily blending the fantasy elements of Celtic folklore with heartfelt human emotion, Magic is an enchanting tale of one woman's mythical desire come to life.

In the early 19th century in the years following yet another failed Irish uprising, Mary Fallon Delaney places all of her faith in the legendary Celtic heroes and heroines born in the days of the Druids and the Tuatha de Dannan. Spun out of the hopes, dreams, and tragedies of an Irish people, the Celtic legends are as real to Mary Fallon as the crumbling castles that dot the Irish landscape. One legend in particular holds her fast – that of Ciaran of the Mist – the warrior athlete so skilled with a hurley that he was tricked by the fairies and forced to live an unending life in Tir na nOg. But because Ciaran so missed his home, the fairies decided that he could be called back once every 300 years to serve the land of his birth. On her deathbed, Mary Fallon's mother passed a secret onto her young daughter – the ancient brooch belonging to Ciaran that would enable a "fey-kissed" girl to call him forward in times of trouble.

As far as Mary Fallon is concerned, that time has come. Captain Lionel Redmayne has arrived in town in search of a notorious smuggler and armed with a new idea for dominating the heretofore unassailable Irish mind and spirit: he plans to destroy the ancient castles, standing stones, and fairy rings that house the legends that keep "rebellious" thought alive. Mary Fallon knows this cannot happen. She climbs the hill to the legendary Ciaran's Castle of the Dancing Mist and speaks the words that are supposed to bring him forth.

Nothing happens…until a naked man with no memory steps from the mist.

Initially Mary Fallon is convinced that his strapping specimen must be her legendary hero, returned from fairies to help her stop Redmayne. But the man can't remember his name, has no clothes, no money, no place to live and can't even ride a horse. Fallon names him "Ciaran" just in case and then sneaks him past her overworked landlord brother into her home.

Desperate to uncover any clue that could lead to his identity, Ciaran ventures into town and quickly draws the attention of Redmayne, who quickly surmises that Ciaran is the smuggler he's looking for. Desperate to protect her hero, Fallon makes matters worse by declaring Ciaran her secret lover. When the smirky Redmayne insists the two wed, neither sees any way out of the arrangement.

Although their marriage is a sham, in truth Fallon and Ciaran quickly discover deep feelings for one another. Ciaran is stunned by his wife's capacity for joy, her willingness to better the lives of the local crofters, her unstinting faith in him. As the days pass, Fallon's belief that Ciaran as a mythical legend comes face to face with her desire for him as a man. While part of her wants him to be the Celtic warrior of old who will soon return to the mist, another part yearns for the common man who can remain by her side for life. The two fall deeply in love, and it is finally through outside forces that their fate is determined.

Author Kimberly Cates has composed a quietly luminous tale that is something of an ode to Celtic folklore. But her mist-shrouded castles give way to an all-too human love story, one of simple touches and passionate embraces, fear and joy, hope and despair. Fallon's strength and Ciaran's passion blend beautifully, although there were times I think things got a little too talky for these hotblooded Celts.

The author seems to stumble a step on her depiction of Redmayne, uncertain whether to make him evil or just world weary and cynical. The Englishman's fascination with Fallon seems somewhat misplaced for one so disgusted by the Irish. Yet these are small complaints at best.

For anyone looking for an enchanting touch of magic in their romance, this might be just the book to do it.

--Ann McGuire


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