Once Upon a Castle is akin to a literary Whitman's Sampler. There's a little something for everyone. Like to read contemporaries? One's here. Like historicals? They're here, too. Ditto fantasy, ghosts, a Gothic romance, sorcerers, knights, ageless love and more. Now, despite all the choices, I have only one complaint against this book. Each and every story is too short. From each story, I wanted more . . . more . . . more. I also think that those Whitman's Sampler boxes are too small, too. Call me greedy.
Spellbound by Nora Roberts is the only contemporary, but has its roots in a centuries-old relationship. Calin Farrell, a world renown photographer, has had unsettling dreams since childhood, dreams attributed to an overdeveloped imagination. What else could be the explanation when one dreams of witches and blood and battles?
Impulsively, Calin travels to Ireland and wanders serendipitously, he thinks. He ends up on the doorstep of Bryna Torrence, a stranger. Or is she?
Reluctantly, and with trust as the core issue, Bryna and Calin battle an age-old nemesis.
Jill Gregory's Castle Doom is a straight historical. Arianne has three days to rescue her brother, an imprisoned count, or their evil cousin will hang him and assume control. She's thwarted in her first attempt by Nicholas, the banished heir. Together Arianne and Nicholas have eighty or so pages to rescue Marcus and fall in love. They succeed.
Falcon's Lair by Ruth Ryan Langan was my personal favorite. It has a Gothic flavor that I've missed reading. Felicity Andrews' father, recently deceased, had been summoned to help an old friend. At loose ends, Felicity decides to come in his stead. She finds Lord Falcon and his son on their death beds. Each morning they seem fine. It's the afternoon relapse which disturbs her. Throw in a ghost, some despicable characters and you've got a whopping good yarn. I must warn those of you who didn't care for Deveraux's ending of Knight in Shining Armor or Rita Clay Estrada's The Ivory Key, this ending may be less than to your liking.
Marianne Willman's Dragonspell has a princess, a reluctant knight, charming inept sorcerer's apprentices and a magic stone, all combining to make an engrossing tale. Princess Tessalara sees her father murdered before he can officially pass on the Andun Stone to her, a stone which imbues the owner with ultimate power. The dastardly, murdering bad guy wants the stone and Tessalara. He's willing to use very violent means. Thwarting his plans are the spunky princess herself and our hero, Candor of Kildore. Oh, and the two inept apprentices. When these two accidentally turn themselves into frogs, the dialog is delightful.
"I don't have the froggiest...er, foggiest notion."
"...And you're not going to like it one ribbit!"
All these stories are Arthurian in nature; a quest is involved. Reluctant knights, virtuous maidens and really, really evil guys keep us involved. Some are so bad they're almost campy. There's just enough change from story to story that they didn't ever run together. The only connecting theme is that all take place near or in a castle. It contains plenty of variety, and other than the too abbreviated feel, all the stories are well-done. Each one of them could have been a single title, though. They're that engrossing and that entertaining.
The overriding feeling that I had while reading this anthology was that I was having fun. It's hard to ask for much more than that.