Catherine Asaro strays from her sci-fi background in "The Charmed Sphere," a fluffy but pleasant fantasy. While "Sphere" has a steady plot and a fair amount of charm, Asaro's built world is a bit bland and simple. But fans of romantic fantasy will enjoy the quirky lead characters.
Chime is an ordinary girl in a village -- except she has a magical ability that she keeps hidden. But the king's mage shows up one day and whisks her away, saying that she is powerful enough to be not only a mage, but the future queen. The king's rather foppish nephew Lord Muller is as displeased by this as Chime is, but they gradually warm up to one another.
Then Chime's rival Iris has a sudden burst in magical ability, reaching out to the king's long-lost son Jarid, who is even more powerful. As Iris marries and heals the tortured Jarid, both Muller and Chime find themselves displaced from the roles they thought they would have. But they don't have much time to feel sorry for themselves, since a neighboring kingdom is threatening them, and even Jarid is a possible threat to those around them...
Catherine Asaro doesn't seem entirely comfortable writing fantasy -- "Charmed Sphere" is a pleasant fantasy that seems geared at adults and teens (preferably ones who like a little romantic sparring). Just about everything in it is relatively fluffy and good, but not great.
The setting is pretty standard ye-old-medieval-European-kingdom, without much to really make it stand out. Her ideas about magic -- which are wrapped up in geometry and color -- are surprisingly unique. And her writing is good. Not outstanding, but good and descriptive, and keeping a good pace going. But Asaro really shines in some of the darker scenes, like descriptions of Jarid's inner thoughts.
Chime is a good heroine, a tomboyish country girl who wanted to stay where she was. And the magic-impaired Muller, who is initially more interested in clothes than being king, makes a good foil to Chime. But the supporting characters like Iris, and aging mage Della, tend to be 2-D and not terribly compelling. The exception is Jarid, who is tormented by his inner demons.
"Charmed Sphere" is less than charmed, but it is an amusing middleweight story. Catherine Asaro needs to darken her fantasy a little to make it really, really good.