Spirit Catcher

Alura's Wish by Elizabeth Hallam
(Jove "Magical Love", $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12566-0
Sir Connor Warrick, the "Beast of Stavebrook," has returned to England with a severely injured arm and his bad reputation intact, even after his brave service during the last Crusade. He has little to look forward to, except the running of Stavebrook, which he has inherited through the death of his older brother, Morvyn. Little does he know, he's also inherited another obligation.

Lady Alura de Gabin was Morvyn's fiancée, and now that Morvyn's dead, she couldn't be happier. Shortly before his death, she discovered the evil truth about Morvyn (what that truth is, we don't find out till the end of the novel). But Herve, her father, a man who is nearly bankrupt (morally and financially) will stop at nothing to form an alliance between his dwindling estate and Warrick's. He first tries to convince Connor that Alura is pregnant with Morvyn's child, but when that story falls through, he tells Connor that Alura's dowry has already been absorbed into Stavebrook's coffers -- thus, Connor should honor the contract, since he is now lord.

Connor begrudgingly acquiesces -- he has no real desire to marry -- and he gives Alura a small token of his intention, a slave bracelet he has brought back from the Holy Lands. Unbeknownst to him, the bracelet is home to two djinn, whose purpose is to bring the wearer true love.

Alura's not thrilled with the prospect of marrying the 'Beast.' She believes that he is responsible for impregnating, then murdering, a local noblewoman. Alone in her chambers one night, Alura rubs the mesmerizing fire opals on her bracelet by accident, and poof! two djinn appear, ready to do her bidding, but also to fulfill their mission -- to bring Alura and Connor together.

Alura's Wish was one of the most frustrating romance novels I've read in a long time. I came close to screaming when Alura made a revealing confession on the last few pages of the book, a confession that sets the logic of the whole story on its ear. My main annoyance was with Alura. Throughout the book she's desperate to talk to Connor, to "settle things," but whenever she gets him alone, there's no big discussion. I was constantly asking myself, "What is it she's trying to settle?" Her character reminded me of one of those acquaintances everyone has in their lives, the person who says she's got "something important" to tell you, but the "something important" turns out to be the mind-numbing conversation she had with her pedicurist last week.

There were a lot of things about this novel that didn't make sense. Hallam never explains a scene in the beginning of the book where Connor's young squire, Jeremy, conjures up the djinn by accident on the way back to England. Later, when all sorts of magical things are happening, it struck me odd that Jeremy never mentions his experience on the ship. And there's a revelation at the end of the novel that makes Alura's motivation for fearing Connor through most of the book completely irrelevant. How Connor and Alura managed to fall in love is beyond me: There's plenty of sexual chemistry between them, but I didn't get the sense that these two actually liked each other. When they finally say "I love you" (right before some hot sex), it rang hollow.

Moreover, there were some anachronisms that threw me completely out of the story. They include an elaborate "ball" at the beginning of the novel (society balls are a hallmark of the 17th through 19th centuries, not the Dark Ages) and reference to an "engraved invitation." (Europeans began using woodcuts to make engravings nearly three-hundred years later, in the 15th century.)

There were some light moments in Alura's Wish. The two djinn, Zahir and Radiya, were the high-points in this story. Their banter brought some much-needed levity to the book. And I enjoyed the relationship between Connor and his young squire, Jeremy. If you like your medievals with a bit of fantasy, you may enjoy this book, but the improbabilities in the plot may have you wishing that you'd never heard the name Alura.

--Diana Burrell

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