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Lady Moonlight by Kate Freiman
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12465-6
***
Lady Moonlight is an often-enchanting story of an Irish curse, a nerd-turned- millionaire, and a white horse who is really a woman. Or a woman who is a white horse. There, have I whetted your appetite?

We first meet Aisling Ahearn as she is fleeing from Ambros O'Hara, a fiancé chosen by her father in order to settle some debts. On her white mare, Luna, Ailing rides into a field and nearly tramples a leprechaun by the name of Acorn Bittersweet. He offers to help her by weaving her a cloak of invisibility, and the desperate girl accepts. Suitor and father ride off, and a grateful Aisling finds that she is now trapped under a curse by this little gnome, who wants her for his own.

Aisling protests, and because leprechauns cannot harm horses, Acorn changes the curse. Aisling will have 100 years to find her true love, but she will be disguised as a white mare. Once a month, on the night of the full moon, she shall regain her human form. The rest of the time, she will inhabit Luna's body.

The years pass quickly, aided by a host of faerie folk who take Aisling under their wing. Then she meets the boy of her dreams – and boy he is, still a teenager. Conlan Ambros O'Hara Sloan is an unhappy American computer geek, visiting his grandfather, when he first meets the white mare and then the lovely girl. But she keeps disappearing on him. Their subsequent meetings are infrequent but increasingly passionate, until the night when Con feels he's been made a fool of by a woman who takes his virginity and then disappears on him. Fourteen years will pass before they meet again. And by then, Con will have become a successful businessman and the hundred years will almost be up.

What held me back from giving this book a stronger recommendation is its structure. It opens with Aisling in 1899, forwards to Con in 1999, flashes back to Aisling, then Aisling and Con in 1982, and then carries forward to 1985 or so before returning to 1999 for the last third of the book. All this means that the reader spends most of the book with Con as a rather callow youth of 16 or 19, and to be frank, he's just not that interesting. There was too much of Aisling and Con as young lovers, and not enough of them as adults. Also, the switches back and forth from modern world to faerie forts was a bit confusing, and dragged in the middle. It made it rather easy to lose the thread of the romance.

Having said that, there were some truly charming elements in this story. The "cursed as a horse" aspect was unique, and the scenes where an equine Aisling attempts to endear herself to Con, who hates horses, were fun. Anyone who's ever been rubbed by a horse will know just how he felt. The author keeps her characters out of the pity pot, too; Con doesn't quite understand all this, but he accepts that some things in Ireland just have to be taken on faith.

There were more conflicts in the plot than just this (Aisling has vowed never to marry an O'Hara, and Con of course is a descendant of Ambros), but the focus is on the magic. All told, Lady Moonlight is sure to please readers who like a touch of the mystic in their stories.

--Cathy Sova


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