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Familiarity breeds boredom and contempt.
on 26 February 2015
This bland second instalment of the Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy follows on from Dark Witch and continues the centuries old saga of a family of witches descended from the original Dark Witch of County Mayo, Sorcha whose battle with evil sorcerer Cabhan led to her death and the prophesy that three of her line would ultimate vanquish evil with the help of their inherited magic. In Dark Witch we were introduced to the cousins and their friends/lovers who form the modern 'second' circle of six, when American cousin Iona came to Ireland to learn magic and found her place with her Irish cousins and romance with non-magical stable owner and family friend Boyle. This novel continues in the same vein, focusing on Connor whose magical guide is a hawk rather than a horse, and is equally committed in the quest of finishing off the family nemesis, discovering his love for childhood friend Meara along the way.
This was such a dreary mess of a book - I liked Connor best of the three cousins from the initial book as he was cheerful, caring and seemed more relatable than the poor-me pseudo orphan Iona, or the slightly haughty Branna, but as a romance hero he was woefully passive and never developed any depth as a protagonist. The story began with a lengthy prologue set in the Dark Ages with the original three, again this proved to be the most entertaining part of the novel as we discovered what became of Sorcha's children after their mother's death when they fled Mayo for County Clare. Connor is quickly embroiled in a fight with Evil!Cabhan, a poorly written melodramatic pantomime dame of a villain who periodically pops up to cause trouble for the protagonists, and to remind you that this is nominally a paranormal book rather than straight romance. Connor is badly wounded and overcome by this near loss Meara Quinn, his sister's best friend, reveals her love for him by jumping on him in one of the few amusing scenes, knocked for six by this declaration of love Connor and Meara begin a bland romance with an equally predictable and nonsensical fight along the way, which breaks them up temporarily.
The biggest issue with this trilogy other than the fact that this is Nora by Numbers - if you have read any of her other trilogies you will spot repetitions of plot, and stock characters throughout - is that none of the characters have any depth. Poor pacing hinders the trilogy, which might have been better had it been confined to a single book as the action is stilted. The characters' strategising and studying is peppered with endless talks about fighting Dark with the power of Light and love, but ultimately their actions have no real impact to defeat the villain as there is still one more romance and novel to go before the series is complete. There are other major flaws also - we never get a real sense of what drives Connor or feel any heat or chemistry between him and Meara, despite the fact that their love has been simmering for decades. The novel and characters suffered from being too insulated; they rarely interact with anyone outside their 'circle' and rotate between the main character's poorly described but impossibly lavish properties; this robs the novel of any urgency or verisimilitude, as all the properties are magically protected, leaving Cabhan to stalk them outside the home on riding trails or country roads.
I liked Meara best of the female characters and the most interesting chapters and plot points of the modern story are her dutiful tending of her mother and her family scenes serve well to characterise them both, but the mother is quickly shipped off to a sibling, which further decreases the dramatic stakes. There are some weak moments of character building, which aren't resolved - how does Meara link to the original three and where on earth did she learn to master sword fighting? The revelation that Meara's family were once wealthy enough to have staff and a big mansion felt very out of character and nothing is developed to show their fall in status other than it being a convenient way to give her the Daddy Issues which are supposed to make her love for Connor insurmountable.
Cabhan is a weak villain who suffers from a lack of clearly defined goals - all we and the main characters know is that he can shape-shift and wants their powers badly, everything else I suspect is being held back for a dramatic final battle in the instalment leaving this book largely redundant as escapist fantasy in a modern setting. This isn't worth buying especially at the inflated prices for both physical and digital copies. If you want to read a Nora Roberts where she deals with childhood friends falling in love, read Daring to Dream instead and if you want to read one of her more superior romance and magic novels start with either the Gallagher trilogy or the Three Sister's Island trilogy; both are far better written.