Must Be Magic must be a follow-up to Merely Magic, a book I have not yet read, because its quirky, charming premise struggles to come to light under a cast of what seems like thousands. In an effort to keep track of who is who, readers may lose track of the story itself.
Dark-haired Lady Leila Malcolm Staines is the black sheep in a family of blondes who all have some sort of unusual power. Her mother creates magical scents; her sister sees auras; her cousins all have powers as well. Leila, however, can do nothing particularly unusual or special, and this has haunted her all her life. Now that she’s a widow with a house and land of her own, she intends to pursue her hobby of creating special perfumes. Problem is, she hasn’t the green thumb to grow the roses she needs. For that, she wants an expert: Dunstan Ives. One of the Ives; the ones who are reputed to bring disaster to the Malcolms.
A precedent has been set: Leila’s cousin Ninian has married Dunstan’s older brother, Drago (see previous book). Dunstan is believed to have murdered his faithless wife, and the ton treats him with disdain. He’s a landless younger son, but a brilliant agronomist with plans for the cultivation of jumbo farm crops that might help feed the poor. When Leila offers him the use of her land if he’ll help her plant and maintain a rose garden, Dunstan reluctantly accepts.
Leila is mesmerized by Dunstan, but he keeps his distance. Soon she’s dreaming of what he’d be like as a lover. Then Dunstan spots her one day in plain gardening garb, minus the hair powder, and he doesn’t recognize her. She gives her name as “Lily”, and now Dunstan is lusting after two alluring females. (This, by the way, felt ridiculous; she brushes the powder out of her hair and puts on an old dress, and he can’t tell who she is anymore?)
Leila/Lily and Dunstan are quite hot together, even with the old “I’ve been married for seven years and never conceived so I must be barren” shtick, which unfortunately plays out in exactly the predicted fashion. Leila is intelligent without being reckless, and her insistence that Dunstan use her family’s talents and position to help redeem his reputation and solve the murder works well. Dunstan, for his part, makes the biggest impression not as Leila’s lover, but as a new father to a fourteen-year-old boy, his illegitimate offspring. Dunstan’s fumbling attempts to become a real parent to this likeable young man are endearing.
Leila does indeed discover her talent, and Dunstan is the one man who can help her learn to make good use of it as they work together to find the murderer.
The book stumbles, however, when it attempts to include every Malcolm and Ives as part of the plot, and likely to set up future books. It was laborious work to keep track of who was who, since there are not only siblings, but half-siblings, bastards, cousins, aunts, and parents thrown into the mix. They contributed little to the plot, and this felt like a rather heavy-handed attempt to remind readers that their stories will likely be forthcoming. Dunstan’s family is all men and they don’t produce girls. Leila’s family is mostly women. There is mention of some sort of Malcolm/Ives curse or tragedy, but just what it was, I never found out.
Dunstan and Leila do get the happy ending they deserve, and the author creates a very sensual attraction between them. Leila is no shrinking violet when it comes to sex, and in a nice twist, it’s Dunstan who is ensnared and seduced. Bravo that.
Must Be Magic will likely work best if you have already read its predecessor, Merely Magic. Otherwise, I suggest making a scorecard first.