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Orchid by Jayne Castle
(Pocket Books, $$6.99, R) ISBN 0-671-56902-3
Orchid, the third in a series of futuristic romances set on the planet of St. Helens, is an engrossing romance wrapped in a surfeit of invented mumbo-jumbo. Thankfully, the romance is strong enough to overcome, but it makes for a certain amount of exasperation along the way. In fact, as I start this review, I have no idea how I'm going to rate it.

Orchid Adams is somewhat of a misfit. This bodes well; intelligent, misfit heroines are nearly always fun. She is a "prism", that is, a person who can focus the paranormal energies of St. Helens' residents, allowing them to be of use. But Orchid is hiding a secret. Her abilities as a prism are so great that she doesn't yet know the limit of her talents. Nobody has ever possessed the paranormal strength to push her that far.

Until she meets Rafe Stonebraker, alienated scion of a shipping empire. Rafe possesses a fairly unique talent himself, that of strategic-awareness. He can locate objects and think like an adversary, a useful talent in his chosen profession of mutual fund manager and part-time private eye. Strat-talents, as they are known, are somewhat feared in the general population, however, and are commonly known as "psychic vampires" for their uncanny ability to tell if someone is lying or not. In a hilarious twist, Orchid is an author of psychic vampire romances and knows the rumors to be bunk. She thinks.

Rafe and Orchid come together when he hires her as a prism to help him locate a missing alien artifact. Their instant attraction they put down to the fact that neither of them can get a date, due to their extreme talents. When Rafe and Orchid first link their energies, the stunning truth becomes apparent. Here is a woman who can handle his power, with ease. Here is a man who can push her talents to a new extreme. Now, if only they can get past their stubborn belief that they have nothing in common…

Rafe also needs to find himself a "fiancée" before the annual meeting of Stonebraker Shipping if he hopes to wrest the CEO spot from his greedy cousin, Selby. After fifteen years, the prodigal son is returning to save the company. Not a new theme in Castle's writing, by any means, but it works well here.

The more I write about this book, the more I remember how much I liked it. Rafe is a gas. He's sharp, funny, vulnerable, scared to death that he'll be labeled a freak, and careful to keep his power under wraps. Orchid, the product of a family of philosophers (well, that's as close as I can describe it) is equally charming in her insecurity and wistful hope that somewhere there must be a man for her. One of my favorite scenes in the book was Orchid demonstrating to an unbelieving Rafe just how easy it is for her to handle his power, and she does it with a casual flair that all but knocks him on his butt. Hotshot Businessman Undone By Quiet Romance Author. I loved it.

Now for the caveats. I think the author was a little too wrapped up in her own mythical world, and the reader is treated to endless repetition of "meta-zen-syn", which is apparently some sort of philosophy on St. Helens. The reader is never quite told what it all means, but rest assured, you'll see the phrase overused to the point of hysteria, sometimes three or four times on a single page.

Then there is the apparent need for St. Helens folks to hybridize everything. They drink "coff-tea", dance the "waltz-tango", act like a "worm-snake" or "bat-snake" or a "weasel-snake", eat "crab-ster" and "nut-corn" and aspara-cado". There are "gull-fins" and "ox-mules" and "cat-dogs" and "rose-orchids" and "horn-drums". Enough, already! After the first four or five, it all seemed silly, and way overdone.

So that was the hurdle, for me. To get around all this futuristic phraseology and still immerse myself in the story. Thanks to Ms. Castle's prodigious talents, the book still pulled it off. I read Amaryllis, have Zinnia sitting in the bookcase waiting to be read, and I can easily recommend Orchid to readers who are fans of futuristic romance. Guess it's a four at that.

--Cathy Sova

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