Blue-Eyed Bandit

Lord of the Dark Sun

The Midnight Moon

The Renegade's Heart

 
Strange Brews by Stobie Piel
(LoveSpell,$5.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52650-6
*****
A fantasy novel achieves greatness when the author is clever enough to make the setting of the book seem plausible, no matter how alien or fantastic. A great romance includes engaging characters, a stimulating story and, of course, romance. Stobie Piel has accomplished both of these goals with her latest, Strange Brews.

The main characters in the book, Eliana and Damir, were reared and trained together from childhood by a wizard. They were rivals as children, constantly trying to outdo one another with magic and trickery, and these habits have continued into adulthood. Thus, distrust and suspicion are Damirís reaction to an invitation from Eliana.

Damir is correct to be cautious of the meeting. Elianaís plan is to declare a truce, then serve Damir some wine containing one of her herbal potions. Damir outsmarts Eliana, and she drinks the brew instead, falling insensible to the ground afterward. An irritated Damir drapes Eliana over the back of her pony and takes her back to his cottage, hopefully to exact some revenge for Elianaís once again plotting against him. When Eliana awakes with no memory, Damir tells her that she is his wife, feeling that Eliana deserves whatever he dishes out since she was trying to slip the vile brew to him first.

The fake marriage is not the sex-fest Damir had envisioned, however. He finds he has too much honor, and too much liking for this new, gentle (confused) Eliana to deflower her dishonestly. Genuine love grows between them quickly, and Damir realizes he has probably loved Eliana all along. Soon the pair are combining their power to create a fabulous weapon and are making plans to save their world from a growing evil. Damir lives in fear that Eliana will regain her memory and their relationship will return to its former combative state.

Strange Brews has been well-disguised. Readers embarrassed by cheesy covers would definitely leave it on the shelf. The title is ambiguous and not indicative of the story. And if the reader gets past those two roadblocks, the back cover blurb would most likely chase them away. Itís a shame, too, because this is a fabulous book.

The fantasy part of the book is extremely well written. The author creates a world very different from our own, but makes it plausible by filling in details about their history, government, entertainment and gossip. The antagonists and secondary characters act believably and appropriate within the context.

The romance is also excellent. Damir breaks his own heart over Eliana again and again, as details about their past come to light through the opinions and statements of others. Since Eliana canít remember her past motivations, her actions as seen through the eyes of others take on new meaning. This makes some scenes very poignant. The love scenes are spicy and well described.

The climax and ending of the book work very well. Damir and Eliana want to remain together, but face a hopeless situation in which either or both of them could die. That resolution isnít entirely unexpected, but the readerís interest is held by an additional personal conflict which is believable and touching.

An intriguing plot, a rock solid conflict and a sizzling, yet tender romance make Strange Brews one of the best fantasy romances Iíve read in years. Stobie Pielís talents deserve a wide audience. Hopefully the publisher will help her along better next time.

--Wendy Livingston


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