|Met by Moonlight by Rosemary Edghill|
|(Pinnacle, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-7860-0482-7|
Fans of historically accurate romances are going to love Met by Moonlight, a strangely fascinating book that falls somewhere between the lines of traditional romance genres: it's part time travel and part fantasy, but reads largely as a straightforward historical. It's one of the most unique romances I've ever read, which is no easy feat considering how many hundreds of volumes I've plowed through during the last decade.
Equally as good as the story is the author's ability to throw the reader straight into the middle of the action. We've all heard and read about witchhunts from a safely distant historical perspective. Author Rosemary Edghill throws the reader smack dab into the middle of one. The culture is bizarre, the fear is palpable. The book is terrific.
It starts benignly enough in, appropriately, Salem, Massachusetts. There, Diana Crossways, a modern-day practitioner of Wicca, receives an ancient book she assumes she's been hired to repair. Instead, she finds herself hurtling through time and landing amidst a coven of witches in 1647 England – in the deadly days known as "The Burning Times." The pentacle she wears identifies Diana as a believer in the "old ways" and she is accepted into the society that secretly operates within the unbearable confines of Puritan society. But there is one who watches, and fears for her safety. He is Upright Before the Lord Makepeace, a mysterious man-child who crosses paths with Diana upon her arrival and names her his "righ-malkin" – the woman of his heart – the woman he is meant to be with.
There's a problem. Upright is the "hellhound" (spy), of the notorious "Witchfinder General" of England, Matthew Hopkins. Almost single-handedly responsible for creating and spreading the hysteria that grips the English countryside, Hopkins is descending on the community of Talitho. Diana becomes obsessed with the strange, otherworldly Upright. He's a contradiction. Speaking hesitantly in scripture passages and acting as the pawn of a man out to destroy the so-called "Malignants", Upright is nonetheless protective of Diana. There is an undeniable connection between the two that goes far beyond the passion his touch ignites.
Despite Upright's attempts to shield her, Diana is caught in Hopkins' deadly net. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but put simply, the fear and degradation this modern woman suffers at the hands of her "civilized" captors brings home (at least to a small degree) the horror of the witch hunts. Diana is scared out of her wits, something I found extremely likable. It's an honest emotion. It's the only emotion when you're confronted by a bunch of fundamentalist wackos who want to kill you for your religious beliefs (see any 20th century parallels here?)
And run throughout the proceedings is Diana's desire to discover the truth of the mysterious Upright Makepeace. What is the story with this guy? Just as suredly as Diana is a woman out of time and place, she knows that the same holds true for Upright.
I don't want to say any more, I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Have I sparked your interest? You might think that a romance novel set during a witch hunt with a hero who is one of the hunters can't possibly work. But it does, thanks to the foggy combination of fact and fantasy that the author rolls together. Edghill's writing style is equally as ethereal. She writes in a fanciful, faerie-esque kind of manner – she's one part Shakespeare, one part Tolkien and one part Judith McNaught. It fits somehow -- Rosemary Edghill is actually the pseudonym for the quite exotically named eluki bes shahar, an author with fantasy, science fiction, mystery and a few Regency credits to her two names.
Make no mistakes, Met by Moonlight is not your average, every day, run-of-the-mill romance novel. Happily, it's something much, much more – an extraordinarily well-researched, beautifully crafted tale that artfully blends passion and fear in a heroine whose life is altered not just by the events or the man, but by her reactions to all she experiences. I have no doubt that Met by Moonlight will have readers scrambling to uncover the author's earlier works.
So mote it be.