If I had only word to describe Bewitched it would be romantic. While most romance novels rely heavily on action-driven plots, poor communication or lusty whirlwind relationships Bewitched instead takes another route. It brings together two people who become friends long before they are able to become lovers. The end result is a book that made me go all misty-eyed and managed to hold my attention while I spent two of the longest nights of my life nursing my very sick and extremely grumpy little girl.
Michael Dane, Duke of Sherrington and once a beloved member of the ton, now lives sequestered in a dark and gloomy former abbey surrounded by gargoyles and ominous noises. Members of society believe he is mad because he suffered humiliating seizures in their hoity-toity presence. He is filled with a self-loathing so deep he could out-brood an Anne Rice vampire.
Michael’s grandmother and her best friend raised Michael from a wee toddler and are determined to bring happiness into his life again – even if it means threatening him with the loss of his dukedom and a one-way ticket to an institution. The two concoct a marriage of convenience that Michael is unable to refuse.
Emily Merriman is a sweet young American whose life has been torn apart. Not long ago she was surrounded by a doting father and five brothers who filled her world with love. All of that all changed when her father passed away. His dying wish has left Emily in the care of a grandmother who resides in England, in the hope that she would find a suitable husband once away from America. See, Emily has been cursed by a spiteful witch and will be “a plague to any man she loves.” She knows this is true after watching three cowardly fiancés flee in terror. So she leaves behind everything familiar and arrives in England, ready to make a fresh start, when her grandmother foists an arranged marriage upon her. After meeting Michael and assuming that he’s only marrying her for an heir, Emily reluctantly agrees because she wants children. She believes Michael will be safe from the curse because their marriage is not meant to be a love match.
Their marriage gets off to a rocky start, but before long Emily’s good-natured enthusiasm for life begins to rub off on Michael. Little by little he eases up and begins to let her into his dark world. Emily discovers the truth about Michael’s epileptic-like fits and witnesses the results of his “cures,” which are a grueling combination of a near-starvation diet, blood-letting, purging, and other assorted nastiness that leave him almost too weak to stand. She is appalled and resolves to bring pleasure into his life. Michael becomes devoted to Emily and comes to treasure her friendship. Slowly their easy friendship develops into a love that has the potential to destroy them both.
This story hit all the right romantic notes for me. Initially, Michael comes across as a self-centered jerk but as the story progresses his behavior becomes understandable. His reasons for falling into such a vicious cycle of self-pity are well founded and he becomes a very sympathetic character. He also doesn’t spend the book pushing Emily away but instead appreciates her, does everything within his power to please her, and becomes a much better man because of her strength and compassion. Emily is a warm heroine who sees beyond Michael’s wasted body and angry facade to the kind, vulnerable man beneath. Her kindness and love are the catalyst that pulls Michael out of his destructive cycle. Their love is strong, true, and beautifully portrayed. It never, ever feels artificial.
Another great thing about this story is the honesty between the characters. Many times I saw a big miscommunication in the works but was surprised when the couple quickly talked things out instead off running off to pout. And when the truth was ugly, painful, or humiliating, as it often was, they still talked and as a result their trust deepened. This level of trust intensified the authenticity of their love and turned me to mush.
There are some pesky details that drop this book out of DIK status. A secondary character named Rebecca appears. This mortal born of a high-ranking family of the ton has magical powers and is the “go-between” between the fairy realm and the human realm. This is all great, the more fantasy in my romances the better, but why she had magical powers was never accurately explained. This is a problem because her magic plays a tremendous role in the story. Hints are given that a sequel starring Rebecca may be forthcoming, but more information was needed in the here and now. The most annoying caveat by far, though, is some of the dialogue. Far too often the hero spouted out flowery, sickeningly sweet words that came across as stilted, forced, and unrealistic. If my husband said “My darling Laurie bakes the most delightful cookies!” I’d fall over laughing, and I’m fairly certain that if I ever spoke this way he’d pass out in disbelief. Unfortunately, Michael talks and thinks this way, as does Emily. It threw me out of the story on more than one occasion.
Niggles aside Bewitched is touching, entertaining, and oh-so-romantic. This is one book I’d be glad to read again if only I had the time.