Series: THE COUSINS O'DWYER TRILOGY
Plot Type: Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence-3; Sensuality-3-4; Humor-2
Publisher and Titles: Berkley
Dark Witch (11/2013)
Shadow Spell (5/2014)
In order to save her children, Sorcha creates protective copper amulets for them, each with the image of an animal that will be that child's protector: Teagan will be protected by Alastar, a horse; Eamon will be protected by Roiberd, a hawk; and Brannaugh would be protected by Kathel, a hound. As Sorcha hands them the amulets, she tells them, "These [amulets] are your signs and your shields. They protect you. You must keep them with you always….[Cabhan] cannot touch what you are if you have your shield, if you believe its power, believe in mine and your own. One day you will pass this to one who comes from you. You'll know which. You'll tell your children the story…and give the gift." (p. 15)
|Thomas Kinkade painting|
As I read the first book, I felt as if I was inside a kitschy, sentimental Thomas Kinkade painting...but with witches. The Kinkade comparison even plays into the series theme of light winning over darkness, since Kinkade proclaimed himself to be the "painter of light." The bland, underdeveloped characters in the series are highly romanticized in that they are all wise, generous, kind, courageous, loyal...and any other positive personality trait you can come up with, while the one-note villain is dark and evil to the core. The setting comes directly from any cozy mystery you have every read (or from a Kinkade painting): a lovely, picturesque village filled with quaint cottages (with light shining from their windows) and surrounded by verdant meadows and lush forests. The locals speak in a charming brogue and dispense wisdom to one another even if they are sometimes unable to live their own lives wisely. In other words, it's a novelistic soap opera—a complete fantasy world that never rings true to life.
BOOK 1: Dark Witch
Sprinkled through the love story are scenes related to Cabhan. Sometimes he jumps out at Iona in the shape of a wolf, and sometimes he comes to her in dreams. Mostly, Cabhan is a lurker and a skulker, creating drifts of fog and speaking in disembodied voices. When he does appear, he makes rather half-hearted strikes against Iona, but even in the early chapters when she has few witchy skills, she is able to defend herself. Other scenes involve the six friends' strategy meetings as they make plans to take down Cabhan at the height of the summer solstice.
The love story moves along a relatively smooth path until Boyle (a stereotypically gruff and commitment-shy Irish bachelor) panics and accuses Iona of casting a love spell on him. Even then, Iona is—as always—quite reasonable in her reaction to Boyle's accusation. It's obvious to their friends (and to the reader) that the two are in love, so no one really worries too much about their temporary break-up, especially since they remain friendly towards one another. Like many fictional heroines, Iona has had a problematic childhood, but her problem is not all that tragic. Apparently, her parents didn't pay much attention to her when she was a child—didn't attend her sporting events and refused to allow her to embrace her witchy, Irish heritage. Now that she is in Ireland, she loves every single thing about County Mayo and plans to live there forever.
Iona's friends tease her about her constant babbling, and they definitely have a point there. Even her interior monologues are long-winded and repetitious, as well as being a bit melodramatic. Here's an example, as she muses about her feelings for Boyle: "Light banishes shadows. But like promises made, the light has to believe it….She believed it. Deep down in her belly she carried faith and resolve. And her heart came to accept what she understood as she'd walked with him along the paths and tidy gardens that opened for spring, among the spirits and the legends, into the promise kept by one of hers. She loved. At last. Loved as she'd always hoped. He was her once in a lifetime. And with him she had to learn patience, and hold to that faith as well. The faith that he would love as she loved." (p.236)
In the background, two more romances are beginning to simmer. Connor is the village playboy, but we can see that he will eventually wake up and realize that Meara is the girl for him. Their story is told in Shadow Spell. Branna and Fin have loved one another for many years, but Branna can't past the fact that Fin is a descendant of Cabhan. Their story will be told in Blood Magick (11/2014).
Click HERE to go to the Dark Witch page on amazon.com where you can click on the cover art at top left and read an excerpt from chapter 1, which sets up the mythology. Click HERE to read chapter three, which begins the present-day story.
NOVEL 2: Shadow Spell
After failing to eliminate the seemingly indestructible villain, the sorcerer Cabhan, in the climactic battle that ended book 1, the six friends go back to the drawing board to plot a new line of attack. Meanwhile, Cabhan is getting bolder and bolder, openly attacking Connor one night and nearly killing him with a fiery lightning bolt.
For Meara, seeing Connor on the verge of death triggers a long-hidden passion, and the next time they are alone, she "launched herself at him, chained her arms around him, and took his mouth like a madwoman." Although somewhat surprised, Connor gives as good as he gets, and they share two long and passionate kisses. At this point, Connor begins to realize that he is truly attracted to Meara, not just as a long-time friend, but as a long-term lover. Meara, though, does not believe in long-lasting romantic relationships because of her painful family history. Her father left the family when Meara was a child, and she has watched her mother disintegrate into a pitiful, needy sad sack who spends her time dreaming about her lost love. Meara is determined that will never happen to her. So…that's the conflict in the love story: Meara's pessimism and her fear of commitment and Connor's optimism and his belief in the possibility of true love. Here is a conversation between the two as Connor uses a fiery metaphor to explain his beliefs about love:
The action part of the plot has some similarities to Dark Witch. Just as Iona had a dream meeting with her long-dead counterpart, Teagan, in book 1, Connor meets up with Teagan's brother, Eamon, in this book. Each time Connor dream-visits Eamon, the boy has grown a bit older and stronger. Together, they pledge to destroy Cabhan, although both realize that, ultimately, it will be Connor and his friends who must carry out this dangerous task.
We see a lot more of the evil Cabhan in this book as he uses lightning, fire, fog, and vicious bats—among other things—to attack the heroic friends. His attacks are much more violent than the ones against Iona in book 1. It seems that Cabhan is getting impatient. He wants the power of the three, and he wants it now.
This book isn't quite as treacly as book 1, but still, except for the villain, all of the characters are unrealistically idealized, with the six friends always portrayed as exemplars of kindness, loyalty, and intelligence. Meara's troubles—her huge temper tantrum and her struggles with her overly dependent mother—are actually as welcome as a cool drink of water after a plate of sugary desserts. The only realistic scenes are the few in which Meara and Boyle—the only non-magical members of the group—get their feelings hurt when the witches try to protect them by blocking them out of the action. Cabhan is flatly depicted as a stereotypically malevolent and repulsive cartoon-like villain. If he had a mustache, he would be twirling it and laughing maniacally, like Jafar in Aladdin.
Speaking of eating, these characters spend so much time shoveling in huge quantities of food that their meals—which include the preparation, table-setting, eating, and washing up—became a repetitive and annoying part of the narrative pattern. Here is a partial list of the food they consume in this book: stew, roast chicken, beef bourguignon, soup, bacon, eggs, sausage, fried potatoes, bread, oatmeal, lemon biscuits, gingerbread. The scenes are choreographed like this: an action scene followed by a meal; a work scene followed by a meal; a romantic interlude followed by a meal; a dream sequence followed by a meal; and on and on. Branna is the chief cook of the series, and every single one of her meals is flawlessly prepared and divinely delicious—never a wrong seasoning or a scorched potato. This just adds to the unrealistic, highly idealized tone of the series.
Of course, if you're reading this series, you probably love Nora Roberts' work, so you won't be bothered by the one-dimensional characters and their quaintly romanticized world. Although Roberts can be a good storyteller, the unicorns and rainbows aspects of her world-building and characterization put a damper on my enthusiasm for her writing.
Click HERE to go to the Shadow Spell page on amazon.com where you can click on the cover art at top left and read or listen to an excerpt from chapter 1 that takes you 800 years back in time for a scene with Eagan. Click HERE to read chapter four, which follows Connor on a falcon walk with a father and son pair of tourists.