Secrets of the Wolf

The Magic of Two
by Saranne Dawson
(Love Spell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52308-6
Saranne Dawson's latest fantasy romance is an entertaining blend of legend, adventure, and love story. The Magic of Two is the story of a lost land and the two people who set out to find it again, and drive out the demons that have inhabited it for centuries.

Jasmine is a drudge, and has been for over twenty years. Ever since her village was caught between two warring noble families and the inhabitants taken prisoner, she and her mother have toiled in the kitchens of a manor estate. When her mother dies, Jasmine is booted off the estate. Her only item of value is a necklace that she finds hidden in the hem of her mother's shawl. It's a diamond and an onyx, and seems to represent the two clans of people, the dark-haired Dartuli and the fair Latawi, who lived in a peaceful valley beyond a range of snow-capped mountains.

Jasmine is aware of the old tales, handed down in her family, of the destruction of the two clans by the demons who drove them from the valley several hundred years before. Legend says that only a Dartuli man and a Latawi woman, combining their magic, can drive the demons out. Whether she believes the stories is another matter. Demons? Magic? Yet she has strange dreams of the valley, vivid dreams of stone villages and grassy meadows, and white horses who seem to dance.

Quinn is a mercenary-turned-miner who has also heard the tales, but he believes the valley exists and is determined to find it. Of Dartuli blood, he needs a Latawi woman tall, fair-haired and possessing magic herself to break the curse. When he stumbles upon the penniless Jasmine, he knows at once that she is the answer to his prayers. Quinn has enough gold to undertake the quest. Now if he can only convince Jasmine that he isn't a madman.

Jasmine doesn't know what to think. The men she's known have been rough and crude, yet here is a huge, handsome man who treats her with perfect courtesy and gentleness. He cares for her when she falls ill, throws out her rags and purchases decent clothes for her, feeds her until she regains her strength. To her own surprise, she finds herself agreeing to accompany him on this wild goose chase.

Soon the wary woman and the intense, driven man are drawn to each other in ways they never expected. The only way they'll succeed is to trust each other completely, and that will prove to be their biggest obstacle of all.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author's portrayal of a mystical forgotten land. The journey to the mountains and the difficulties in finding an entrance to the valley are descriptive and suspenseful. Quinn is a delightful hero strong, decent, and driven by forces he doesn't fully understand, but knows he cannot resist. Jasmine's character is equally complex, and their love story unfolds slowly.

I did feel that there were some plot points that were left hanging, and the climax and ending of the book seemed abrupt, as though this had perhaps been a longer manuscript and had been cut. It suffered in that respect. The careful structuring of the first three-fourths of the book dissolved into a final section that felt rushed and somewhat unresolved. (There's a baby in the story, for example, that is somewhat integral to the plot, but the mystery of its birth is never explained, and that was a plot point that needed some elaboration.)

Those who have been waiting for a good fantasy romance would do well to grab a copy of The Magic of Two while it's still available. The sub-genre needs more works of this caliber, and this one gets a strong recommendation.

--Cathy Sova

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