It took me a long time and two readings of the book to decide how to rate Merely Magic. It is filled with a lot of characters, a family curse, and a couple of mismatched people. While I liked many aspects of the story, it was not enough for me to rate it any higher.
Ninian is a Malcolm on her mother's side and everyone in the village of Wystan knows that Malcolm women only have female children and all Malcolms are witches. Ninian came to live with her grandmama at the age of ten when her mother died and her father no longer wanted her. Grandmama reared her to believe that she had a responsibility to help and care for the people of Wystan. Each of the Malcolms has different special gifts and Ninian's gift is an uncanny ability with plants and herbal medicine. She can also sense most people's emotional state.
Despite the help the Malcolms have always given to the village, most of citizens are wary of them. They also believe a legend that says that disaster will fall on the village if a Malcolm and an Ives join together. After her grandmama dies, Ninian is left on her own, not fitting in with anyone.
Drogo Ives is the Earl of Ives and Wystan. He and his family have spent little time in Wystan. He is a busy, practical man who has spent his life devoted to duty. He became the earl in his teens after his less than responsible father died leaving Drogo with two legitimate brothers, three illegitimate brothers and a half-sister by his father's common-law wife, plus at least one other illegitimate brother whose mother was a dairy maid
(confused yet?). From his father's example, he has decided that Ives men are not good at marriage, so he has no plans to marry, expecting one of his legitimate brothers to provide an heir. He also believes that he can't father a child since none of his liaisons have resulted in one. He has even said that he would marry any woman who became pregnant with his child.
Drogo and Ninian meet on the night of the Beltane festival soon after he returns to Wystan for a visit. He finds her beautiful but a little strange since she claims to be a witch. She likes his strength, but is disturbed because she can't read his emotions like she can most other people's. Drogo's sister fancies herself a bit of a witch and has decided that the cards and the signs foretell that Drogo will find the woman who will have his
children and she decides that Ninan is that woman. She manipulates the two of them until Ninian is living at the Ives' residence where the attraction between Ninan and Drogo results in the possibility that she could be pregnant.
Ninian is a puzzle. On one hand, she stands up to Drogo insisting that he accept she is a witch and has responsibilities to the village people. On the other hand, she allows the sister and her friends to dress her up like a doll and force her to stay at the estate much longer than she planned. She continues to insist that she must help the villagers even when they shun her after a flood fulfills the old legend. Sometimes she appears wishy-washy and other times too stubborn. At least, she usually tries to be careful of Drogo's feelings even when she did something to make a point with him.
The large number of secondary characters meant that most weren't very well developed. Even some of the more involved, such as Sarah, the sister, need a little more background to explain her motivation for some of her actions. There is also a mysterious Ives male who is important to the story, but we never learn exactly who he is. It could be that he is
scheduled to be the focus of a later book so the author intended to leave questions about him.
Despite my concern over several aspects of the story, it still held my attention both times through and I didn't begrudge the hours I spent reading it the second time. Drogo's slow but certain acceptance of Ninian beliefs and eventual support of her made it worth the effort.
--B. Kathy Leitle