Bewitched worked for me – for the first two chapters. Sympathetic hero, dark and mysterious setting, deep secrets from the past. Once the heroine made her entrance, however, everything changed – and not for the better. Instead of a potentially pleasant story about a man learning to stare his demons in the face and a woman who has to overcome her fears, I ended up reading a silly, tedious tale with inconsistent characterizations and a talking goat.
Michael Vane, Duke of Sherrington, lives in self-imposed exile in the wilds of Dartmoor, banished forever from the glittering society that he led so brilliantly. After a bout with measles (caught when he visited the sickroom of his beloved goddaughter), Michael has suffered from unpredictable and dangerous seizures. Unwilling to return to London, yet knowing he must marry to secure the title from his gauche and greedy cousin’s grasp, he agrees to wed a girl he’s never seen, the American granddaughter of an old family friend.
Emily Merriman has left Boston under a cloud. For a pretty trivial reason, a pair of witches has burdened her with a curse: any man with whom she falls in love will pay a heavy price. When her grandmother insists that she marry the unseen Duke, Emily readily agrees, thinking that she – and he – will be safe, since she has no plan to fall in love with her husband. Sure, he’ll give her children, she thinks, but since there will be no love involved in the transaction, everything should be all right. But the immediate attraction each feels for the other jeopardizes the plans they’ve made separately for their married life, and they go out of their way to avoid each other for some time. Finally, however, loneliness and longing bring them together, even though they both know it can only lead to disaster.
I knew I was in trouble when I got to the part in the story where Emily, lost on the moors, meets a woman who introduces herself as Rebecca and explains that she’s a fairy go-between. Rebecca is a healer and witch, and tells Emily that she can help to lift the curse on the young woman’s head. Moreover, Rebecca’s constant companion is a goat named Magellan, and she carries on conversations with this creature. Now, I talk to my pets all the time, but not for an instant do I come close to thinking that we’re engaged in a real dialogue. I guess “flaky” is the word I’m going for here; I don’t associate with flaky people in real life, and I certainly didn’t enjoy meeting Rebecca in this book.
Then there’s the problem with the seeming dual nature of the two grandmothers. They’re the first characters the reader meets, and my initial impression was, “Well, this is a couple of dotty, eccentric, but overall lovable old ladies who would do anything to secure the happiness of their beloved grandchildren.” Yet the next time we see Emily’s grandmother, she’s turned into a sharp-tongued old harpy with not a kind word to spare for her son’s only daughter. Her behavior gives no evidence of sympathy for a girl who’s been yanked out of the only life she’s known and thrown into strange surroundings, all but forced into marriage with a forbidding, distant man. Michael’s grandmother fares little better: one minute she’s fretting over his self-imposed exile, and the next she’s berating him for everything under the sun, apparently caring more for his title than for him. Then at the end both women suddenly revert to the sweetness-and-light mode. I didn’t buy it.
I had more problems with Emily than I did with Michael. His attitudes and motivation made sense to me, although he did seem more than a bit stuck on himself, and his pride bordered on overweening. Yet his character was consistent throughout the story: he was suffering not just from his ailment, but also from the effects of the many cures foisted upon him by well-meaning but ignorant doctors (as an aside, I could have been spared some of the details of this part of the story – just a minor yuck factor, but there you have it). I couldn’t find total consistency in Emily, however. In all other respects she demonstrated absolute common sense, but not when it came to the “curse” she was living under, and I could not accept that gap of logic in her character. Moreover, once they decided to be friends, the dialogue between these two turned cloying and mushy.
By the time things are wrapped up, there’s a hint that Rebecca’s next in line for her own story. I’m sure it will appeal to many readers, but I won’t be one of them. While Cullman has a good grasp of the mechanics of writing – I had no difficulty with pacing or points of view – I have very little desire to re-visit this fey corner of Dartmoor.