I have long been a conscientious objector to all stories involving talking fairies and witches that emit light from their fingertips. However, all bigots must eventually see the error of their ways. After enjoying Amy J. Fetzer’s pleasant tale of The Irish Enchantress, I come before you as an enlightened reader: From now on, I break for wee folk.
1176. The English have finally overrun Ireland, and King Henry has granted the Irish estate of GleannTaise to Sir Raymond DeClare in return for his help in defending and civilizing the surrounding countryside. However, Raymond’s task won’t be easy. His new castle is in a state of advanced decay and the local populace is impoverished and sullen, superstitiously convinced that the barrenness of the land is due to a powerful curse.
One of the players in this curse, a lovely witch named Fionna O’Donnel, is nearly trampled when Raymond sets out to survey his holdings. They have already met, years before, when Fionna saved his life with the aid of her supernatural powers. Raymond’s memories of that night are unclear, though the attraction born of their first meeting flares to life at their reunion, unsettling both with its intensity.
Fionna, an outcast from her clan for sins she committed as a young girl, has grown wary and defensive during the intervening years. Weary of anticipating rejection, she cuts to the chase with Raymond and flatly declares herself to be a witch. Raymond’s own mother was killed by a self-proclaimed witch, and he is appalled and disgusted by what he views as the classic cry of a charlatan. They part in anger.
Bound by his oath to the king to defend the Irish shore from invasion, Raymond sets out to fortify the most vulnerable spot in GleannTaise - a glen that the locals believe is sacred. Despite Fionna’s pointed warnings that his men will suffer for it, Raymond stubbornly commences with construction of a battlement, only to encounter problem after problem. The building also triggers an apparent feud between local clans, whose motives are impenetrable and whose methods become increasingly bloody.
As rational, hard-headed Raymond struggles to bring order to a land whose mystical truths he is not prepared to accept, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the one woman whose very nature makes her impossible to trust or take to wife - even though their love may be the only thing that can save the dying land of GleannTaise…
This novel has several strengths, chief among them Ms. Fetzer’s lucid, effortless writing and thoughtful characterization. Raymond and Fionna are not “hero and heroine” so much as they are two human beings with a variety of realistic, familiar concerns. Raymond is often preoccupied with such mundane chores as fixing up the castle and keeping an eye on his youthful squire, and Fionna is a devoted mother whose worries about her daughter will no doubt reverberate with fellow parents. This realistic portrait is almost certainly what enabled me to accept her potentially unnerving ability to float down from tree tops and “beam” her child from place to place.
However, this book raised an interesting question, and no doubt an odd one in the context of a novel boasting bona fide talking fairies: Is there such a thing as too much realism in a romance novel? For at some point, Raymond and Fionna’s love story, despite the fantastical nature of their conflict, began to feel too “everyday.” I believed in the existence of this man and woman, but I didn’t envy their love as something grand, legendary, or extraordinary. Rather, I imagined them as the (happily) married couple next to me in Starbuck’s, bickering over whether she had indeed asked for a nonfat latte. That is the sort of love I willingly turn to Anne Tyler for; perhaps it is even the sort that I wish to find myself. But I must confess, it perplexes me when I encounter it in a romance novel.
The Irish Enchantress may be a worthwhile read simply for the sake of exploring this interesting quandary. While you shouldn’t expect your pulse to race, you can expect to believe the story - which might be a novel experience in and of itself.