has also reviewed:

White Heather

 
White Magic by Jaclyn Reding
(Topaz, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40855-1
****
This is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are several flaws, annoyances, and downright errors in this book, but somehow it all comes together for an entertaining read.

Lord Noah Edenhall (the younger brother of the hero in White Heather) is informed by a friend, Tony, that he is deeply in love and about to elope with a paragon of English womanhood. Shortly afterwards, Tony commits suicide. In Tony's room, Noah discovers a note severing the romantic connection signed only with an "A." Noah, who has a scandalous duel and broken betrothal in his past, is determined to discover the identity of the contemptible young woman who jilted his friend and caused his death.

Based on the clue of the sealing wax on the message, Noah finally settles on Lady Augusta Brierly as the likely author of the message. He sets out to meet her. Even though she doesn't seem to match his friend's description, Noah is intrigued by the uncommon young woman. Augusta, meanwhile, is determined to speak with Lord Belgrace, but Noah's constant interruptions interfere with her plans.

Augusta is in her mid-twenties, definitely on the old side for a single miss during the Regency period. She is far too occupied with her own pursuits to care much for society functions and romantic flirtations. Her mother had died when she was only a child, and at long last her diplomat father has recently remarried. Her stepmother, Lady Trecastle, is determined that her daughter, Augusta's stepsister, will achieve a glorious match and that means that Augusta must be socially active.

Augusta strikes an agreement with her stepmother that she will attend society functions on a regular basis thinking that she'll be overlooked and have the remaining time to herself, but Lord Noah seeks her out at every opportunity. Thanks to his pursuit of her, Augusta suddenly finds herself the object of notoriety and admiration. Her annoyance is tempered by her attraction to him, but she must find an opportunity to have a private conversation with Lord Belgrace and no obstacle is too great.

When both Noah and Augusta begin receiving cryptic messages in verse, they find themselves plunged into mystery and danger.

Even though this is the second in the author's trilogy, having read the first is no prerequisite to enjoying the second. Necessary background from the first book is briefly supplied, and the plot mostly stands on its own.

This is another example of a plot which is primarily driven by the Big Misunderstanding, a major peeve of many romance readers. In book after book, the whole mix-up could be solved in a brief heart-to-heart talk between the characters. This case, however, is the exception to the rule: the misunderstanding is understandable. He suspects her of dishonorable behavior; she's irritated that his interference is hindering her achieving her goals. In their positions, few people would hold a tell-all session.

Their unlikely attraction is also understandable. Lord Noah needs a woman whose experience and comprehension is broader than a girl right out of the schoolroom. Lady Augusta needs a man who won't expect her to conform to society's model of a proper matron. He's intrigued; she's attuned. They're right for each other. You know it's only a matter of time until they realize it.

I did feel that the secret of Augusta's private interest was kept overlong and overdone. It's not until nearly the end of the book that the reader learns what's keeping her up late at night and is so important. Her relationship with Noah had long reached the point that she could have said, "Look, Noah, here's what I'm doing and if you don't like it you can take a flying leap."

But at least Noah doesn't go through endless soul-searching wondering if he can handle Augusta's unusual interests. He's long recognized that she's different; now he knows just how different she is. It's nice when you know that the heroine's gotten not just any but the right man.

Not to spoil the suspense, but I thought the motivation behind the villain was the weakest element in the plot. It's disappointing when an author who has created such an original heroine as Augusta relies on an established romance convention rather than doing something new and imaginative.

There is one rather glaring error near the end of the book. Augusta's stepsister identifies herself as if she were Augusta's full sister. Perhaps her father's title would have permitted her to be addressed as "Lady" (there's no mention of him), but unless her mother's second husband has the same surname as her first husband, she should have a different last name from Augusta. Since the basics of surnames haven't changed in the past two centuries, I wonder how both the author and her editor could have overlooked such an elementary detail.

If you're looking for an enjoyable story and are willing to overlook a few problems, I can recommend White Magic.

--Lesley Dunlap


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