Born In Fire
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Born In Shame
Captive Star
Carolina Moon
Considering Kate
Dance Upon the Air
Daring To Dream
Enchanted
Finding the Dream
From The Heart
Heart of the Sea
Hidden Star
Holding the Dream
Homeport
Inner Harbor
Irish Rebel
Jewels of the Sun
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The MacGregors Alan~Grant
Megan's Mate
Midnight Bayou
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Once Upon a Castle
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Rising Tides
River's End
Sanctuary
Seaswept
Secret Star
Tears of the Moon
True Betrayals
The Villa
Waiting for Nick
The Winning Hand

 
Three Fates by Nora Roberts
(Putnam, $25.95, PG) ISBN 0-399-14840-X
*****
Romance readers who claim that Nora Roberts is past her prime or, at best, coasting, will discover that they are sadly misinformed when they read Robertsí new hardcover. Three Fates is the Divine Miss Rís best book in years, if not decades. While the male characters sometimes seem like heroes out of Central Casting, the story of three radically different heroines coming together to take on one mean Cruella de Vil villainess is suspenseful, humorous, sexy and full of Girl Power.

The novelís historical prologue introduces the reader to Felix Greenfield, petty thief, who is traveling from New York to London to stay a few steps ahead of the authorities. Unfortunately, heís chosen the Lusitania for his escape route. When the infamous ship is torpedoed by the Germans, Felix is in the midst of robbing the cabin of wealthy Henry Wyley. Felix manages to palm a small, silver statue of a woman before he is plunged into chaos. His actions during the shipís final moments will have far-reaching implications, but for now all Felix knows is that he is one of the few survivors of the tragedy, washed up on the Irish shore with the small silver statue still in hand.

Eighty-seven years later, Felixís descendents are dealing with a theft of their own. Malachi, Gideon and Rebecca Sullivan (from Greenfield to Sullivan? Donít askÖ) have discovered that the silver figurine is one of the Three Fates, a trio of priceless statues so valuable that many doubt their existence. Unfortunately, an unscrupulous art dealer has seduced the first Fate away from Malachi. The Sullivan siblings are determined to track down the other two Fates, recover their own from the greedy, scheming Anita Gaye, and make enough money selling the statues to expand their family business.

Malachiís assignment is Dr. Tia Marsh, one of Henry Wyleyís descendents. Attractive but painfully shy and neurotic, the mythology expert is bowled over by Malachiís good looks and Irish charm - but heís surprisingly charmed by her as well. Gideon, quieter but no less handsome, takes off after Cleo Toliver, another link to one of the Fates, whose wealthy background appears to be at odds with her current job as an exotic dancer in Prague. Meanwhile, youngest sibling Rebecca keeps the home fires burning, until security expert and art collector Jack Burdett comes calling, claiming heíd like to help the Sullivans. Yet he also admits that his firm designed the security system for Anita Gaye. So whose side is he really on? It will take the combined efforts of all three Sullivans and their new partners to outwit Anita and take back what is rightfully theirs, but the Three Fates have a few surprises in store for them all.

Malachi, Gideon and Jack are standard Nora Roberts heroes - strong, courageous, and of course sexy. Malachi is the most interesting of the three because he has to launch his seemingly noble quest by lying to an innocent woman. But Three Fates is elevated above the average Nora Roberts book (which is usually head and shoulders above the average romance novel) by its three distinct heroines. Tia Marsh starts out as a timid, lonely mouse who seems to be an easy mark for Malachiís deception. But once she realizes she has been manipulated, Tia uses her anger to begin the transformation to a brave, even adventurous woman who gradually sheds her Xanax, inhaler, allergies and expensive therapist as she comes into her own. As her apartment gradually becomes headquarters for the Three Fates operation, her sheer joy at being an integral part of a group for the first time is infectious, and she even gets the chance to ďkick some assĒ in the final showdown.

Cleo Toliver, on the other hand, is already very much at home kicking butt. She has made a career out of being outrageous, rebelling against her affluent parents and making rash choices that have left her penniless in Prague (which is not quite as romantic as Sleepless in Seattle). She has no qualms about starting a physical relationship with Gideon Sullivan, but balks at admitting that her emotions might become involved. Then abruptly the quest for the Fates becomes much more personal, and Cleoís vulnerable side is revealed. Her tart comments throughout the novel are a good balance for Tiaís gentle decorum. I enjoyed her spirited banter with Gideon, and was sorry when their relationship was moved to the back burner to make room for the third Sullivan subplot.

Of the three heroines, Rebecca Sullivan is the least engaging. Sheís a computer and electronics genius, but thereís not much depth or complexity to her. The romance she finds reads like a re-tread of one of Noraís earlier books, although her ability to stand up to her two protective older brothers was worth a chuckle or two.

The novelís first half is the stronger one, as the three Sullivans pursue their separate assignments and their romantic destinies. Once the siblings are reunited, Three Fates evolves into a standard heist caper and loses some of its quirky appeal. Still, watching the six distinct characters learn to work together as a team is as engaging as George Clooney and company in Oceanís Eleven, and the final confrontation with the murderous Anita contains a few nifty surprises.

Roberts lets her protagonists ramble on a bit too much about the balance between fate and free will, but donít let that distract you from the lively dialogue and memorable characters. When I finished Three Fates, I immediately read through it again, and I might go back and check out a few of my favorite chapters for a third time before I put it away on my keeper shelf. A book that canít be put down, even when itís over, deserves every one of its five hearts.

--Susan Scribner


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