|Ectoplasmic, charming, cute, unrealistic, delightful, anachronistic: all of these adjectives describe This Magic Moment. But some of them are contradictory, you say? That’s because Patricia Rice has written a frothy muddle of a book.
The year is 1755, and Harry Winchester has just become the Duke of Sommersville, a position he never wanted or expected. A fluke accident killed both his father and his older brother, and Harry has inherited a bankrupt dukedom.
Harry can’t figure out how the dukedom was bankrupted, nor can I. He believed the dukedom was worth £50,000 per year, a fantastic sum (just short of $10,000,000 per year in 2002 dollars). As Harry says, his father should have had enough funds to “have built London and Rome and had blunt left to spend.” So he should.
At any rate, not only is the estate bankrupt, but a grasping townsman is about to foreclose on the mortgages he holds so that he can sub-divide the land and build houses. Harry realizes that the only way he can delay this disaster is by marrying his fiancée, Christina Malcolm Childe, and using her dowry as a down payment on the mortgages.
Christina comes from a psychically gifted family, and her special skills are the ability to see the auras of both living people and ghosts. She is pleased to be engaged to Harry, whom she likes very much, because they have agreed not to marry until they are old – not that twenty-two-year-old Christina is exactly sure what ‘old’ is. Even though Harry is tolerant of her belief in the ectoplasmic, Christina suspects that marriage will interfere her ghost-hunting activities.
Nevertheless, when Harry insists that they marry immediately, Christina puts up a minimum of fuss, although she does stipulate that the marriage not be consummated until Harry loves her. Harry agrees but sets a deadline of two weeks. They marry quickly and leave immediately for Sommersville.
Harry is eager to ransack the ducal home, convinced that his father must have hidden his unspent thousands somewhere in the rambling manse. In the meantime, he doesn’t want to tell Christina that he is penniless and may lose Sommersville. He is afraid that when she finds out, she will return to the security of her wealthy family. Having Christina around is the only ray of sunshine in the gloom that is Harry’s life right now.
For her part, Christina is delighted to discover her own treasure at Sommersville: the manor is haunted by multiple ghosts. But what are the ghosts trying to tell her? And how can she make Harry take their messages seriously?
Christina is a charmer…a little immature, perhaps, and totally lacking in practical skills…but cheerful and determined. She can see by Harry’s aura that all is not well with her new husband, but she has no idea how therapeutic some physical comfort would be.
Together, Harry and Christina make a ‘cute couple,’ the sort of couple that, if you saw them at a party, you would poke your companion in the ribs and say, “Aren’t they adorable together?” They do have their problems – Harry refuses to romance Christina, and she is unhappy because he only tolerates her ghosts – but they deal with them sensibly. These two genuinely like each other from the very beginning, and their slow slide into love is delightful and convincing.
The question that bothered me repeatedly as I read was, Why is this story set in the 18th century? Everything about it screamed, Present era! Besides the unbelievable income, I had problems with any 18th century entrepreneur planning on building a new town in Sussex, well away from London and any other large town. (Bath and Edinburgh were expanded extensively around this time, but both were already population centers.) Christina’s mother even practices aromatherapy.
But the most important anachronism was what Christina wanted from Harry. Even after Harry learned to respect Christina’s ideas, he still wanted to wrap her up and keep her safe. That wasn’t enough for Christina; she wouldn’t settle for anything less than full autonomy. Frankly, if I had a Harry trying to shield me from danger, I’d let him. Harry was not only very attractive but also a thoroughly nice man who was far from over-bearing in his efforts to protect her. Even in the 21st century, being taken care of can be a Good Thing.
So cull through the adjectives and decide whether cute out-weighs unrealistic for you. If it does, you may find This Magic Moment a pleasant experience. For me, the anachronisms – especially the modern attitudes – distorted the story enough that I could not rate it higher than three hearts.
--Nancy J Silberstein