The Sword

The Song by Jean Johnson
(Berkley, $14, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-21929-4
I reviewed the first book in this series, The Sword, but havenít been back since. Jean Johnson has spent the last two novels industriously world-building, advancing the overall story of eight brothers with magical powers whose romantic fates have been preordained by a curse. While I enjoyed my trip back to Nightfall Isle, there was a bit too much of Kelly, the original heroine, and too little of Evanor and Mariel, the hero and heroine of this book.

Evanor has lost his voice - and his magic - during a crucial battle for his family in a previous installment. Since much of Evanorís magical abilities depend on his singing, itís a great loss. His brothers are unsure of what to do, and decide to hire a healer to tend to the growing population of Nightfall Isle. She is Mariel, a young widow with a little boy. Perhaps she can help Evanor, as well.

Mariel and Evanor are attracted to each other, but he wisely decides it would be a mistake to start an affair with a woman who will be working on the island, even though Evanor is pretty sure sheís his destined mate. As Mariel settles into her new life as healer, the novel turns to the political aspects of life on Nightfall Isle, and the external threats that could devastate the island. When Mariel devises a daring treatment that could repair Evanorís voice, he places himself in her care, and their romance heats up.

Morganen, the youngest of the brothers and the foretold last to marry, is carrying on a pseudo-courtship with a friend of Kellyís from her own time. They cannot meet, but communicate through a mirror. This teaser started in the first book, and seems partly designed as a reason to get readers to keep buying the series, as his story will be the last to be told. Iím not sure I appreciate the manipulation.

As for Kelly, the original heroine of The Sword, sheís turned into a self-important piece of work who struts around reminding everyone that sheís the queen, and saving the day now and then with her Earth knowledge and martial arts moves. Her bossy, know-it-all attitude was evident in the first book and hasnít toned down a bit; if anything, itís been amplified. Iím thoroughly tired of her and the amount of page space she takes up. Itís not often a reader wishes a heroine could be knocked on her butt, but Kelly could definitely stand to be taken down a few pegs. Better yet, send her on a long vacation for the next few books.

Evanor and Mariel, however, have quite a nice romance. Sheís a mother and a widow who loved her late husband, but is realistic about sex. Evanor could be her future, and the better she gets to know him, the more she appreciates him. Evanor has a bit of an edge, since he knows Mariel is his destiny - all he needs to do is convince her. They steam up the pages quite nicely in his efforts.

The Song is an entertaining romance and an interesting look at an author developing an alternate world. There is the sense that, other than the romance, the author may be running out of steam, with the brothers and their wives hanging around the castle and Kelly running the show. Since they are all basically stuck on an island, piling on more external threats may be all she can do to keep it going. But for now, readers who are willing to put up with a few annoying side issues will find this is a worthy addition to the series.

--Cathy Sova

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