|A funny thing happened on the way to the sequel to Mary Jo Putney’s A Kiss of Fate: she changed genres, she changed publisher’s imprint, and she changed her nom de plume.
Mary Jo Putney has had a long successful career as a romance author beginning with short traditional Regency romances. She progressed to longer Regency romances then on to historical romance series set in the Rregency period. More recently she wrote three interconnected contemporary romances before returning to historical romances. In 2004 she wrote A Kiss of Fate, a Georgian era historical romance with strong fantasy elements.
With Stolen Magic she moves even farther into fantasy. Her publisher is now Del Rey, a science fiction and fantasy division of Ballantine, and the name on the title page is M. J. Putney.
Simon Malmain, Earl of Falconer, comes to Castle Drayton on behalf of the Guardian Council. (The Guardians are human but gifted with magic power they use to benefit mankind.) Lord Drayton has violated Guardian law; Simon is there to strip him of his powers. Drayton, however, has created a trap for Simon. Using immense magic power beyond Drayton’s capabilities, he transforms Simon into a unicorn.
Simon realizes that Drayton’s purpose is to kill him and take his unicorn horn, a source of great magic. He flees. Another trap is set: simple Meggie, a maiden, is positioned in a clearing. Simon cannot resist her virginal innocence and is captured.
Meggie knows she was the cause of the unicorn’s captivity; she must find a way to set him free. As they escape, Simon is wounded. An unintentional contact of her blood to his returns Simon to his human form. He recognizes that something is not quite right with Meggie. Using his magic vision, he discovers she’s been ensorcelled. Simon is able to reduce the connection between Drayton and Meggie but not quite sever it. Meg is actually a beautiful young woman with great natural magic talent. She’s been held by Drayton for years so that he can increase his power by combining it with hers.
Simon and Meg journey to Lady Bethany’s house to seek help and advice from the older Guardian. It is decided that Meg will pose as Simon’s wife and accompany him to London where they will confront Drayton and force him to account for his actions before the Guardian Council.
Things, however, do not go as planned. Drayton is clever and has more power than is realized. He has plans to disrupt the future of England and western civilization. Meanwhile, Meg is discovering the dimensions of her powers, and Simon is still constantly at risk of being suddenly transformed into his unicorn self.
The four-heart rating given Stolen Magic requires some explanation. I debated between three and four hearts because I have mixed opinions on it. Stolen Magic is closely linked to A Kiss of Fate and does not stand completely on its own. The Guardian background was provided in the first book, and while it plays a significant role in the plot of this second, the rationale is mostly glossed over.
Compared to the depth and stature of many of Ms. Putney’s earlier books, I regard this most recent effort as M. J. Putney Lite. Character development is not a strength, and the story line lacks the complexity of many of her earlier novels. The fake marriage plot has been done and redone multiple times; Stolen Magic doesn’t improve on previous versions. The subplot involving inventor David White factors into Drayton’s evil scheme but isn’t of much interest on its own. The fantasy perspective is prominent and often overshadows other elements of the story. In spite of the switch in genres, the romance between Simon and Meg remains one of the best aspects of Stolen Magic.
However, regardless of what name she uses or what genre she writes, Ms. Putney is one of the most talented authors in romance fiction. I long for another work of hers in the vein of her wonderful Thunder and Roses, but Stolen Magic stands well in comparison with other books being published today. Those readers who have read A Kiss of Fate will definitely want to read this sequel. Those who are unfamiliar with the Guardian concept and the characters from the previous book are advised to start there.