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Eternity by Maggie Shayne
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12407-9
****
Maggie Shayne's latest fantasy creates an interesting twist on the lore of witchcraft. As usual, this author's unparalleled ability to tug at the reader's heartstrings transcends the somewhat awkward writing style to produce a recommended read.

Eternity begins in late 17th century England, where Raven St. James and her mother face an angry mob, accused of practicing witchcraft and causing the death of the town's children. A vindictive old priest condemns the two women to death without trial. Only one man, the priest's assistant Duncan Wallace, tries to stop the madness. But he has no power against the mass of angry townspeople, and Raven and her mother are hanged without delay.

But, of course, that's not the end of the story. Raven's death is only temporary. She awakens, returns briefly to her home, and finds a letter hidden away long ago by her mother that reveals a surprising secret. While both Raven and her mother did practice benign witchcraft, Raven learns she is a special kind of witch. In a previous incarnation she saved the life of another witch, and now she has been reborn as an Immortal. She has strong magical powers and can never die, unless she is unfortunate enough to encounter a Dark Immortal, who will try to capture her power by cutting out her heart.

Raven tries to comprehend all of this new knowledge as she mourns the death of her mother and makes plans to flee England. She remembers her brief encounter with Duncan, and realizes that she felt an immediate and powerful bond with him. But she must never let him see her alive, or else he will guess her secret and surely condemn her as a witch again.

Raven manages to find passage on a ship to the New World, where she finds her aunt, who knows nothing of her niece's powers. Raven finds both love and danger in her new home. For Duncan Wallace, sick of the ugliness that caused Raven's death, has also left England and found a home in the New World. And unbeknownst to Raven, she is being followed by a very powerful Dark Immortal who desperately wants to harness her power for his own nefarious use.

Without giving away more of the plot, I'll just say that Raven's and Duncan's lives are entwined, both in the seventeenth century and in present day Maine. Approximately half of the novel takes place in each century. Portions of the novel are told in Raven's first-person narrative, while others are written from Duncan's third-person point of view.

The author's use of sentence fragments sometimes bothered me, as did her insistence on frequent use of "'Tis" and "'Twas" during the seventeenth century section of the novel. The language seemed forced and awkward. But Maggie Shayne fans know that her appeal is emotional, not intellectual (although her version of witchcraft is admittedly creative and clever). She makes the reader feel the absolute joy of true, undying love between Raven and Duncan as well as the horrible agony when it is denied. She can make a cynical modern woman go all mushy when reading some admittedly corny stuff. And she can leave said woman eagerly anticipating the sequel, Infinity, which tells the story of Raven's sister Arianna, another Immortal Witch.

--Susan Scribner


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