This was an unexpected book. I read that the author was the winner of the RITA Award for Best Paranormal Book of 2000 and I expected a paranormal story. There are traces of that in this book, but this isnít a paranormal. I expected a romance. Yes, there is a hero and heroine who find love, but that isnít where the real romance is in this book. This is a book about an isolated Irish island and the love its people have for that island. The locale is everything here; the characters peopling that locale are interesting but secondary to Inishmore, the island.
The character I like the most is Mabry, the oldest inhabitant of the island who some believe is a witch. Mabry wouldnít dispute the description, though she wouldnít agree with it either. Mabry, who is a midwife and has the Sight, is the island. She is the first person you read about on the island and the last.
Spellbound centers on Mollie Tierneyís return to Inishmore. Since she left when she was a baby and her mother, an outsider, remarried an American in California, it isnít surprising that she doesnít know much about her heritage. She came to become acquainted with her father, brother, sister-in-law and nieces while teaching for a year on the island. However, before her arrival her sister-in-law dies in childbirth and her brother, drunk, drowns soon after. Instead of a family, she meets a hostile Sean OíMalley, the childrenís uncle, and for a long time she only sees her father at her brotherís funeral.
But Mollie is golden - not just in coloring or privilege, though that is the way Sean OíMalley sees the rich American at first. She also has the golden ability to create family where there were only hostile strangers. She adores her nieces and new nephew. She makes peace with her father. And, when her mother returns to the island for her grandchildren, she works to have her mother make peace with the island, too.
Sean, a native islander who left for fame and fortune elsewhere, is torn between his duty to his orphaned nieces and nephew, his growing interest in Mollie, who is happy on the island but not meant to be there forever, and his fear that Mollieís mother has the right to take what is left of his sister away forever. He knows he isnít meant to be in California and he canít see Mollie staying anywhere else.
When disaster strikes the island, it strikes Sean and Mollie, too. The islanders, all of whom depend on each other, may have to leave their home. Sean may never return at all. The whole islandís timeless way of being - and the coupleís stalemate - threaten to change and not for the better..
Mollie and Seanís search for trust and love are part of the book. But the strength of the book - its focus on a way of life that most Americans would never see - would be what others consider its weakness. The romance and the charactersí motivations donít seem as strong as they could be. Nonetheless, itís a fascinating story.