TRR has reviewed several of Jillian Hunter’s books with wildly varying results. This tells me that either her writing is not terribly reliable or that she is a writer who appeals strongly to some and not to others. This is my first book of hers, so I’m going to presume that it is the readers and not Ms. Hunter who are inconsistent, and confess that, of these two categories, I fall under “others.”
Anthony Hartstone is the third Earl of Pentargon. He inherited the island of Abandon (near Cornwall) from his younger brother and is readying it for sale to the Marquess of Camelbourne to use as a private hunting preserve. Anthony isn’t selling the island just because he can’t be bothered to own it; in return, the Marquess has agreed to provide critical support for Anthony’s legislation against child labor.
The 160 inhabitants of the island, however, only know that he’s selling their homes, their livelihoods, and their very way of life out from underneath them and Anthony has not revealed his higher motives. For a week he’s managed to avoid a confrontation with Morwenna Halliwell, who wants to talk him out of selling, but she and her committee finally burst in on Anthony demanding to be heard.
The islanders believe that Morwenna, like all her family before her, has magic powers; she can bring rainbows to the sky after a storm, and cause flowers to bloom where nary a weed grew before. She is also said to be under the protection of the sorceress Morgan le Fay, sister of King Arthur.
In fact, every native of Abandon believes that the island is the last resting place of King Arthur, who was healed by Morgan le Fay and concealed in a secret cave until the time comes for him to live again and fight for Britain. He and his court rise in spirit each Midsummer’s Eve for the Wild Hunt - “a phantasmal chase across the moor.” Cornish lore also plays a large role in the story, which is full of wee folk, mysterious wax effigies, a portentous raven, talking stones, enchanted hollows, and a pellar (warlock) with spiky white hair, a purple silk cape embroidered with mystical symbols, moonstone jewelry and a half-blind crow.
Although I adore the Harry Potter books, I don’t usually choose romances based on a magical premise because I find that the whimsy is too often used in place of solid narrative or character development. There was nothing here to make me change my mind. Having stated my prejudice, however, I will say nothing more about the story, of which I may not be a good judge, and confine myself to the romance, where I am more confident of my footing.
Anthony’s physical attraction to Morwenna begins the moment he lays eyes on her and he never gets much beyond that. Every time he sees her, he immediately starts imagining what he’d like to do to her body. Since there’s no evidence of an accompanying emotional bond, his lascivious daydreams are neither romantic nor sexy. Add this to the fact that saying “I want to pound you into the sand” to a sheltered virgin is his idea of tender pillow talk, and it’s no surprise I didn’t warm up to him. Strike one.
It was equally difficult to get invested in Morwenna, because the information about her is constantly contradicting itself. One minute she’s strong and self-sufficient, a leader of her people, then she’s dithering or panicking, then she’s off on some hare-brained mission. This might have been intended to show her complexity of character, but without any explanation or justification it read more like convenient plotting than complex characterization. It was confusing and never allowed me to get a clear or even sympathetic handle on her. Strike two.
When they’re together, and not in a clinch, Morwenna and Anthony’s conversations tend to be inane, killing time without furthering the plot or advancing our understanding of them as people. The total result is that the romance is bland and unconvincing. Strike three. Sorry, Abandon, you’re outta here.