The Legend MacKinnon

Tease Me

Legend of the Sorcerer
by Donna Kauffman
(Bantam, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-553-57921-5
Erstwhile Loveswept author Donna Kauffman definitely has the right stuff. The critic in me found several flaws in Legend of the Sorcerer, her second single title for Bantam. But the reader in me didn't need perfection and was swept up in the emotional pull of the novel.

Jordy Decker is about to depart from her Florida vacation to face a cold, hard reality. The talented sculptor had lost her Virginia business when her former best friend embezzled money from their partnership and then counter-sued Jordy. But as Jordy inspects her vacation photos, she realizes that she has been given the wrong envelope. Instead of sunsets and oceans, she finds disturbing pictures of an unfamiliar woman who appears to have been severely beaten.

Meanwhile, on a secluded Florida Key, Malacai L'Baan ponders his alternatives. The reclusive writer of best-selling fantasy novels has received several disquieting and vaguely threatening e-mail messages from an unknown fan who calls herself Margaron. Unwilling to upset his elderly, eccentric grandfather Alfred, he has tried to ignore them. But now Margaron indicates that "Cai" needs to pick up some photos she has left for him. In no time at all he and Jordy cross paths and realize that the photos she mistakenly received were meant for Cai. They seem to be an all too real threat that Cai must act to appease Margaron -- otherwise the battered woman in the pictures will suffer even more abuse.

The taciturn writer refuses Jordy's offer of assistance, but Jordy is tired of letting other people run her life, and she won't be denied. Then Alfred takes a shine to her, and Cai has little choice but to let her into his life. The mystery behind Margaron's e-mails and the pictures is dangerous and beyond rational belief, as one of Cai's fantasy tales about a Dark Pearl comes to life. Are Jordy and Cai ready to believe that the fictional Dark Pearl is a genuine, priceless orb that will lead to a climactic battle between good and evil?

Donna Kauffman's previous novel, The Legend MacKinnon, packed three romances into one volume that featured a ghost, a time traveler and an immortal. Somehow, she wove the combination of six main characters and the various paranormal threads into a cohesive, if busy, whole. Perhaps by contrast, Legend of the Sorcerer seems a tad slow at times, with the plot just a bit too sparse. The suspense builds slowly, and the exciting fantasy elements only take off in the last third of the story, when Jordy and Cai learn the legend behind the Dark Pearl. Another "plot-sticker" is that too much of the mystery is revealed to Jordy and Cai by Alfred and his housekeeper, Dilys. I would have preferred that the hero and heroine take a more active role in uncovering the truth.

Despite these flaws, I genuinely enjoyed Legend of the Sorcerer, and savored each chapter. This is definitely an example of the whole being more than the sum of the less than perfect parts. Kauffman's style has similarities to those of Kay Hooper and Christina Skye, but she has her own voice and a true talent for creating emotional and sensual tension between her appealing lead characters.

Jordy is spirited, smart and tenacious. Kauffman captures her joy at rediscovering her creative spark after a grueling legal battle. Cai is a bit of a grump sometimes, but if you go for the reclusive writer hunk heroes (as I do), you won't be disappointed. The chemistry between the couple fairly crackles, as the two self-imposed loners realize just how much they need each other. And just when things start to look too serious, Kauffman throws in a whimsical touch such as Jordy's beloved pet goldfish Fred, who has an interesting disability.

There are few authors out there who successfully combine fun, sensuality and fantasy. Put me on the alert list for Donna Kauffman's upcoming releases -- I'm definitely a convert. I regret now that I didn't follow her career when she wrote for Loveswept, but I am anticipating with great delight the opportunity to scour used bookstores for her backlist.

--Susan Scribner

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