|I heard Morrigan’s Cross described as “Nora Roberts’ vampire novel,” but labeling it that simply doesn’t do her latest release justice. Roberts throws in almost every fantasy element besides the One Ring to Rule Them All into the mix, but she’s such a great storyteller that she pulls it off. I finished the book in record time and immediately marked my calendar for October 3, the date of the next release in the Circle trilogy.
In the course of 300 brief pages, Roberts uses witchcraft, time travel, shape shifting, demon hunting, mystical fairy kingdoms and of course her favorite setting, Ireland, as she creates a poignant love story amidst a struggle between good and evil. The story begins in 12th century Eire, where the sorcerer Hoyt is mourning the loss of his twin brother Cian, who has been turned into a vampire by the queen bloodsucker herself, Lilith.
Hoyt is approached by the goddess Morrigan, who warns him that, centuries in the future, Lilith will lead a battle against all humankind that only he, and five others who will fight with him, can win. With the aid of a stone circle, Hoyt travels to modern day New York, where he finds that almost a millennium of being a vampire has made Cian rich, successful and coldheartedly cynical. Although they have a less than joyous reunion, Cian reluctantly agrees to join forces with his brother.
Hoyt doesn’t have to wait long to find the next member of their company. Glenna Ward, witch and artist, goes looking for the man who has haunted her dreams and finds him at the nightclub that Cian owns. Despite a strong mutual attraction, Hoyt and Glenna distrust each other’s magical powers and are reluctant to let anything distract them from their grave task. But as they travel to Ireland, complete the circle of six and work to strengthen the few physical and magical weapons they possess against a legion of vampires, the magical couple realize that the force of their growing love could actually increase their slight chance of victory against overwhelming odds.
I’ve come to believe that Nora Roberts is the reincarnation of an ancient Irish storyteller. She just knows how to tell a darned good tale. It’s easy to overlook the fact that many of the elements in Morrigan’s Cross are borrowed from other fantasy sources, starting with the Circle of Six’s similarities to the Fellowship of the Ring. Somehow she makes it sound new and compelling. The rhythm of her writing is musical and hypnotic, even if the voice is familiar after so many years.
A fantasy can’t be successful without a strong human element as well. Roberts’ ability to portray male characters, especially brothers, is well-known, most notably in her Chesapeake Bay Saga. Here she has two disparate but loving brothers separated by fate and time, who struggle to renew and re-define their bond. Noble Hoyt is the more traditionally heroic brother, but it’s obvious that Nora is saving the final book to focus on Cian, the ultimate tormented hero who believes he has no human emotions left as he literally fights his own nature. There’s also the always engaging process of watching a group of disparate individuals come together to form a team. At times the circle members seem more intent on fighting each other than battling evil, but when truly threatened they coalesce into a unified force. The love story between Glenna and Hoyt is on the sweet side, but considering she calls him an asshole when they first meet, there’s plenty of sparkle and spirit as well.
Careful readers might quibble with some of the plot holes in the story – how does a 12th century Irish sorcerer understand 21st century English so quickly? – but the considerable charms of the story make it easy to gloss over any minor annoyances. By the time this book ends, a skirmish has been won but the foretold epic battle is still to come. I’m looking forward to book two of the trilogy, Dance of the Gods, in early October, but I have a feeling that Roberts is saving the best for last when Valley of Silence is released, appropriately enough, on Halloween. Readers looking for the next Anita Blake vampire novel or a high fantasy on the order of Tolkien may be disappointed by this trilogy. But those who want a strong love story, lively dialogue and some intriguing fantasy elements will be very happy over the next two months.