I enjoyed Laura Kinsale's SHADOWHEART so much that I immediately went out and bought all of her ebooks that were on sale. I'm very picky about what I enjoy in historical romances and SHADOWHEART had all of it - a strong heroine, a brooding hero, kinky sexy times, court intrigue, love, danger, gorgeous writing. I wanted to quote the entire book, it was so beautifully, passionately written. The only reason it didn't get five solid stars was because sometimes the angst was so intense and so unpleasant that reading actually became a chore, especially since the hero's Broody McBrooderson attitude was a total 180 from his character in the first half of the book. But the slightly-too-long length and inconsistent characterization were just minor qualms I could afford to nitpick about because I loved the book so much. As soon as I put it down, I said to myself, "I need to read ALL the things by this author!"
UNCERTAIN MAGIC is one of Kinsale's earliest books. SHADOWHEART was published in 2004, and this book was published in 1987. Sometimes I'll read a book by an author whose later works I like and I'll be totally shocked by how different (read: bad) their earlier works are (e.g., Lisa Kleypas). My expectations going into UNCERTAIN MAGIC were tempered by the expectation that as an earlier book written nearly twenty years before the book I had just read, there was a possibility it might not be as good.
I'm a little blown away by how awesome UNCERTAIN MAGIC was. Especially as a backlist title.
Like SHADOWHEART, UNCERTAIN MAGIC has a lot of the elements that I love in historical romance. Faelan Savigar is a sexy Irish Earl, called "the Devil Earl" by the townsfolk. He's dark, brooding, dangerous... and possibly mad. "OH YES," I bet you're thinking. "GIVE ME THAT HOT, HOT BYRONIC LOVING." The heroine is also pretty cool, even if her name "Roddy" hearkens back to those unfortunately-named protagonists penned by author Jennifer Wilde (it's short for Roderica). Roddy is gifted (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with the ability of empathy: she can read the minds of both people and animals. The only person she's ever met who she can't read is Faelan.
They end up getting married out of convenience, and the sex scenes are numerous and steamy. But Faelan has secrets. Even if he's not mad, it's clear that he has involvement in the Irish rebellion, and won't balk at violence when it comes from dealing with the people who get in his way. His home in Iveragh is Gothic and appropriately spooky, and I loved the atmosphere of the Irish countryside.
One thing that makes UNCERTAIN MAGIC unusual is the paranormal element. There weren't a lot of paranormal romances back in the day - I don't feel like the genre really took off until the late-1990s, with the advent of things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire (the movie), and the Anita Blake series. Until that point, I feel like paranormal creatures were viewed more from a horror lens than a romantic lens, although there would still be crossover occasionally with things like Fright Night. I like the way Kinsale incorporated the magic element into this book. There's a Tam Lin-twist towards the end, and I thought the reason that Roddy could never read Faelan's mind (which is never explicitly stated, only implied) was very, very clever.
SHADOWHEART was a four-star read that fell just short of the five-star mark. Even though I'm also giving UNCERTAIN MAGIC four stars, it's a four-star read that only just rises above the three-star mark. The last 20% is incredibly slow, and it annoyed me how much Faelan hid from Roddy and vice-versa. If they had just sat down and talked for fifteen minutes tops, none of the last-minute gotchas of the last act would have even been an issue. I really don't like Big Misunderstandings.
Thanks to Minerva for BR-ing this with me. I can't wait to pick up the rest of this author's works!
3.5 out of 5 stars