|In Mystic Guardian, the debut novel in her new series. Patricia Rice blends historical framework with paranormal setting. Sadly, she spends too much time with plot twists and world-building and not enough with character development to make it an entirely convincing and emotionally satisfying read.
Mariel St Justis struggles hard to take care of her pregnant sister, whose husband is in Paris trying to convince Louis XVI to reform the government. Their mother had prophesized a golden god would come to the town's rescue. So when Mariel sees a vessel carrying a handsome blond captain, she's certain he's the one. When he sails away without answering her greeting, she follows him across the waters and enters uncharted territory. Mariel, you see, is not just any eighteenth-century Briton villager. Much to Trystan L'Enforceur's surprise, she is also a mermaid.
Trystan is from one of the most important families in Aelynn, a magical island hidden off the coast of Brittany and populated by a supernatural race. He hopes to get a place on the island council by marrying Lissandra, daughter of the Oracle and a powerful prophetess herself. But because he is responsible for bringing Mariel to the island, he is ordered to have her instead. There are complicated social and magical issues involved in this, so despite his personal reluctance, Trystan is ready to comply. Mariel, however, doesn't feel bound by Aelynn laws. She escapes into the sea, taking an important chalice with her.
By the time Trystan catches up with her, Mariel has exchanged the chalice for money. He persuades her to help him retrieve it. They chase after it, but what with brigands, runaway, soldiers and radicals on the loose, it is always just out of reach. Their extended trip gives them time to get to know each other. Or it would if Mariel and Tristan actually spent time doing so. Instead they are stuck in a replay loop: he wants her; she won't give in to him. It isn't until Trystan learns to compromise and to acknowledge what really matters that things begin to change.
As the rather confusing summary might imply, the story is cluttered with a few too many twists and complications. My biggest gripe, however, is with the main characters: I didn't warm to either of them. Tristan's determination to have Mariel as his mistress even as he plotted how to obtain Lissandra for his wife didn't make him the noblest of heroes. He is also incredibly full of himself, rarely consulting Mariel, even when she obviously knows best. He matures considerably along the way, but not quickly enough to change my mind.
Mariel isn't as annoying, but her kind-heartedness and stubborn independence seem a little forced and contrived. She rides wonderfully to the rescue in a highly original final scene. Her surprise performance is responsible for a slightly higher final rating.
Rice also does a good job describing France on the eve of the Revolution. She characterizes the dissensions between the radical bourgeoisie and the aristocracy without sounding like a history lesson. Her portrayal of the mystic isle of Aelynn is less convincing: the balance between prophecy and politics isn't always very clear. Some of these issues are sure to be clarified in the next novel, which will also address an unsolved puzzle. Let's hope Rice irons out her storyline and pens more agreeable characters to inhabit her intriguing universe.