Castle of the Wolf

by Sandra Schwab      
(Love Spell $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0-505-52723-3
Bewitched is a magical love story and if you love to suspend disbelief and read an expertly woven tale of utter passion, and intrigue, dive right in.

Amelia Bourne, known as Amy to her family and friends, is an orphan who lives with her aunt, uncle and cousins.  Her entire family practices magic and Amy is an inventive witch who loves to experiment with new spells.  She is a petite blonde, mischievous and magical.  

After a magical trick goes wrong, Amy is sent to the Bentham’s, a family friend’s home, to be introduced into society. Amy’s powers have been blocked by her uncle, and she is introduced into the London marriage mart as a gently bred, although unpolished, young lady.  She is at turns horrified and amused by London society, especially the upper class gatherings that are so dictated by etiquette that they seem false.

At a ball, she meets Sebastian “Fox” Stapleton, a tall, handsome, stylish redhead who believes in science and progress. After their first waltz, he leaves Amy utterly cold.  Sebastian believes that Amy is an ill-bred country simpleton with a sharp tongue.

Amy spends time with Mr. and Mrs. Bentham and their marriage-hungry daughter Isabel, who has a sour disposition and is competition to boot. Dragged to a musical evening orchestrated by the Benthams, Amy and Fox are thrown together. Mr. Bentham has unsettled gambling debts owed to an unsavory acquaintance from his past: Lady Margaret, who has sent her man to approach him. He is told that he needs to drug Amy and Fox’s drinks as partial repayment - or else. 

After drinking the punch, Amy and Fox fall instantly and madly in love. Shortly after, Lady Margaret’s man meets with Mr. Bentham again, insisting that Amy and Fox’s courtship move along. Mr. Bentham can’t fathom the reasoning behind the interest in their love affair by the evil strangers, however he is too weak-willed to ask questions.

Fox proceeds to treat Amy to a whirlwind courtship, and quickly proposes.  Mr. Bentham arranges for Isabel and Amy to spend some time at Rawdon Park, the Stapleton’s country estate. Once again, the strange man intervenes and forces Mr. Bentham to give Isabel three terrible magical “gifts” to plant at the estate.

Once at Rawdon Park, the effect of the love potion amplifies as Amy and Sebastian spend concentrated amounts of time together. Unbidden, hazy memories of their first meeting bubble in Amy’s mind, but their true nature is hidden and Amy pushes them away.  Once they give into their passion and make love for the first time, Amy realizes the truth and remembers everything. She realizes that they must have been poisoned by bad magic, and is tremendously grieved that her time with Fox has been an illusion.

In Bewitched, Sandra Schwab captures love’s first dreamy moments in all its splendor. Somehow, the shadow of doom that is felt after Amy realizes the spell’s effect, adds to the poignant sweetness of the love story. It causes one to wonder when it will fall apart rather than ruining the moment. 

While the stage is set for disaster from the love potion on, Schwab makes the charming, romantic courtship race by. She has the talent to sweep you away into her tale, so much so that it’s easy to forget the problems threatening the characters. Unfortunately, the inevitable break up is a bit too scripted and predictable.  I was uncomfortable with Amy’s easily broken resolve when it came to the fight for her love. Where is her noted fiery and independent spirit? That change in her character at such a crucial point in the story is truly disappointing. 

However, while flawed, the characters are eminently likeable. The dialogue between Amy and Fox is amusing, tentative and explorative. I loved the fantastic plot transposed against the sometimes awkward, realistic love story. The first few chapters of the story are a bit slow, but as soon as the relationship takes off between the lead characters, the chapters just fly by. The mystery keeps pace with the love story and is so twisted and shadowy that the interest remains all the way through. All in all, Bewitched is a beautiful love story set against a polished, intriguing, suspenseful background.              

--Amy Wroblewsky 

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