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Forbidden Magic by Jo Beverley
(Topaz, PG, $6.50) ISBN 0-451-40802-0
****
Just in time for the holiday season, Forbidden Magic is fun, lighthearted romantic fare. This bright and breezy tale features one of the most fascinating, sexy and original heroes to come along in quite sometime.

Meg Gillingham is desperate. It's almost Christmas and her family is about to be evicted from their home unless she agrees to sell her beautiful younger sister to their lecherous landlord. If the situation weren't so dire, Meg would never consider asking the family's magic stone for help. Asking the stone for assistance causes problems: every time a wish is granted something bad happens.

Sax, the earl of Saxonhurst, collects misfits and those in need of help. Most of his servants have some affliction or physical deformity. His house must be kept warm for his neurotic bird and he has a dog that's too ugly for anyone else to love.

Thanks to his hated grandmother, Sax has developed quite a temper; he smashes everything in his bedchamber whenever he's in a foul mood. Actually, his temper has improved greatly since contact with his grandmother has become virtually nonexistent. Sax still "performs" on occasion for the benefit of his servants, who enjoy gathering in his room and watching Sax smash things.

Like Meg, Sax, too, is desperate. He promised his grandmother he would marry by the time he turns twenty-five. If Sax isn't married by that time his grandmother gets to choose his bride. In short, Sax has twenty-four hours to find a wife.

Fortunately, one of his beloved servants has a sister who used to work for Meg and knows all about the Gillingham's plight. Sax sends the woman to Meg with a marriage proposal and instructions for Meg to show up at the church the next day if she's interested!

It's been awhile since I enjoyed a hero as much as I enjoyed the adorable, sexy and very eccentric earl of Saxonhurst. Sax is a nice departure from the standard romance hero. He's younger, more human and less arrogant than most romance heroes, but not a whit less sexy.

Sax's symbiotic relationship with his servants is both humorous and very touching. With his fits of temper and multiple eccentricities it's easy to understand why Meg wonders, on more than one occasion, whether Sax is a madman.

Another reason to read Forbidden Magic is the wonderful sexual tension between Meg and Sax. It starts the moment they meet and is sustained expertly by Ms. Beverley for most of the story.

Just don't judge this book by its cover, or rather the blurb on the back cover. It makes this terrific tale sound stupid and it's not even an accurate depiction of the facts this book deserves better. So consider this an alert romance readers: Forbidden Magic should be on your reading list for this holiday season, don't miss it!

--Judith Flavell


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