Double Enchantment is second in a series concerning Merlin’s Relics. While I didn’t read the first book, there was enough background info on the Relics for me to catch on quickly. While the story is one of the cutest things I’ve read in a while, there were a few major flaws that kept nagging at me and prevented me from enjoying it as I should have.
Set in Victorian England, titles of nobility are granted to those who possess magical power, with higher ranks corresponding to higher levels of ability. Shapeshifters exist in this world, but they are only granted baronet status because they can see through spells, but not perform magic. Lady Jasmina Karlyle has a big problem: her mother is a closet kleptomaniac. Nobody knows about this problem except for Jasmina and her aunt Ettie, and they’re determined to keep it a secret. Jasmina’s mother has just stolen a brooch from the Duchess of Hagersham, and Jasmina knows she has to return it ASAP. Following her routine, she creates an illusion, a double of herself, to stay at home in bed while she goes in the middle of night to return the jewelry. All goes well, except when she gets back home, her illusion has disappeared.
Sir Sterling Thorn is a shape-shifting stallion who arrives in London to find his missing sister, whom he believes was abducted by a nobleman. At the Queen’s Ball, he meets a beautiful woman who doesn’t seem to mind that he has an animal form. Entranced by her open passion and her acceptance of his nature, Sterling takes her to bed. After he realizes she’s a virgin, he proposes marriage and they’re married at once. The next morning, she’s gone.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of Jasmina’s double waltzing around London doing scandalous things. Jasmina knows she has to save her reputation, so she goes to the Hall of Mages to report the problem. There, they figure out that the reason why her illusion still exists and manages to fool everyone is because the brooch she was returning was actually one of Merlin’s Relics, strengthening her illusion. Suddenly, Sterling bursts in the room, sees Jasmina sitting there and kisses her passionately, believing her to be his errant wife. Shocked to learn that his wife is actually an illusion, he vows to get to the bottom of the matter. He and Jasmina team up to find the missing double and, against their better judgments, start falling for one another.
Jasmina starts off as a stereotypical wanton-hiding-beneath-a-façade-of-propriety, but she becomes more complex and likable as the story progresses. Because her mother is irresponsible and her father is oblivious, she has been running the household from a young age. She loves her responsibility and her duty to her family. When it comes to Sterling, she tries to be repulsed but admits openly that she may be in love with him. Too scared to contemplate marrying a man whom her parents deem unacceptable, she convinces herself that he only really cares for her illusion. Sterling cannot deny his feelings of protectiveness towards Jasmina, and realizes that the feelings he has for his illusion-wife pale in comparison to the love he has for Jasmina. He is a sensual man, and his delight in simple physical contact is very sweet. I loved the fact that Sterling isn’t very well-off, and wears his father’s shabby castoffs.
The idea of a magical London is original and Jasmina and Sterling are fun characters. So why the less-than-stellar grade? The first thing that bothered me was the premise of Sterling’s marriage to Jasmina’s illusion. It simply doesn’t seem possible to obtain a special license and get married in one night, especially for a man like Sterling with admittedly little power. His purpose in coming to London – to find his sister – is also significantly absent for a while, which made it seem she was just a means to get him into the same social circle as Jasmina. Also, Sterling maintains that he’s in love with Jasmina’s illusion for a big chunk of the book, yet all he does is reminisce about how her face looked when she was about to perform some sexual act for him. He eventually realizes that all he really feels for the illusion is lust, but by the time he comes to this conclusion, I had already half-concluded that he is a deeply confused, horny jerk. It took me a while to warm back up to him. Also, at some points in the story, Jasmina is so busy avoiding Sterling that she completely neglects the situation and doesn’t search for her illusion for weeks. I would think that finding her errant double would be a top priority, but hiding from Sterling is evidently more important.
Some secondary characters lack emotional depth – Jasmina’s parents in particular – which later becomes an issue when they have a prominent role at the end. There are also some scenes that were obviously written to tie up loose ends, which results in them being rather abrupt and extremely cheesy. The epilogue is one of these scenes, which left me feeling unsettled and vaguely ripped off. In following the magical theme, the author also added a couple of troublesome gnomes into the mix. They are attracted to people who can’t get out of trouble, and they point and laugh when the characters fall into serious trouble. I didn’t think they were cute or added anything to the plot.
Still, my number one gripe would have to be the nature of the shape-shifters themselves. I consider myself a fan of shape-shifter novels, but I was totally surprised — and not a little disconcerted — to find that the shifters in this world can allow separate parts of their bodies to shift. They partially shift to accommodate physical labor, or accidentally shift when they become excessively emotional. When Sterling gets angry, his head shimmers between his human and horse forms. In the middle of a particularly exasperating argument with Jasmina, he shifts slightly in his frustration. He shifts his face just to intimidate annoying people. I got the impression that he feels more comfortable as a stallion, and, frankly, I’d be afraid that he’d go horse on me in the middle of sex. There are also some amusing horse-y words used to describe him—“tossing” his “mane” of hair, “snorting” angrily, etc etc.
Int he balance, I still considered Double Enchantment worth reading, as there were many good things to counter the bad. It is a lighthearted romp in Victorian London with a perfect touch of magic. I will definitely be going back to the first book, and look forward to the next of the series.