Enchanting the Beast
Enchanting the Beast by Kathryne Kennedy is the third volume in a series set in an alternate Victorian England. Social status is determined by magical abilities: The strongest magicians are members of the royal family, the weakest are still barons (or baronesses – a woman who has magical abilities can be a peeress in her own right). In contrast to the peers, all baronets are shape-changers who are otherwise immune to magic and frowned upon by the rest of the magical community.
Philomena, Baroness Radcliff, is a ghost-hunter: she can communicate with ghosts and earns her living by holding séances and easing the ghosts’ way to eternal rest. She is accosted by Sir Nicodemus Wulfson, who hires her services to find out why his brother is haunted by angry ghosts in their castle in Norfolk. Sir Nicodemus is a werewolf – a highly attractive one – and he is delighted to find that Lady Radcliff is not prejudiced against his kind, as her assistant Sarah is a weresnake.
On arriving at Grimspell Castle, Phil is both strongly attracted to the virile baronet and baffled by the ghosts’ behavior. The ghosts keep Nico’s brother from sleeping, leaving him close of death from exhaustion, but they don’t speak to Phil or her spirit guide, Tup. Instead, they lead Phil to barred door in the cellars that leads to an underground labyrinth in which Sir Nicodemus once got lost as a child and which he adamantly refuses to have opened. Phil also finds out that Nico’s fiancée was killed two years ago by a savage beast in the woods, and that many of Nico’s neighbors believe him to be the killer.
I liked the world-building a lot here. Modes of transportation, what can happen if you walk through a wood in long skirts, the names of towns, the way animals react to weres – Kathryne Kennedy describes her alternate England with loving detail and completely convinced me with her vision. Much is made of how Nico is both man and wolf, which made him plausible as a mythical being, but at the same time took away from him as a character, as all his reactions came down the fact that he is a wolf, making him more one-dimensional than I would have liked in a hero.
Phil is fine as a heroine as long as she’s ghost-hunting. She does her work with great compentence and dedication, and I liked her independence. When she feels the attraction between herself and Nico, she is utterly flustered, because he is only twenty-seven to her forty years. Now don’t get me wrong: I am all in favor of Older Woman / Younger Man romances, and it’s interesting to see a book that features such a comparatively large age difference. But the implications of such a relationship are dealt with in a far too facile manner here. At first, Phil is only concerned what other people may think. When she and Nico have sex for the first time, she completely takes over, employing different techniques, and then is discovered to have been a virgin. You see, Phil can only afford the rent for a former brothel which is haunted, among others, by the ghost of a prostitute named Fanny whose appearances have been most educational. Now, isn’t this a very convenient explanation for having a forty-year-old virgin sex kitten.
As the affair continues, Nico makes up his mind very quickly that he wants to marry Phil and tells her so, repeatedly, while she entertains nightmares that he might be forced to marry her for honor’s sake if she gets pregnant. By this point, my eyes hurt from rolling. Phil desperately longs for a child and plays surrogate mother for her spirit-guide, which also irritated me. The spirit guide is the ghost of a London street urchin, but the idea of doing something practical, such as adopting a living street child, never seems to have crossed her mind in all those lonely years.
Throughout the rest of the book, I enjoyed the ghost-hunting bits and tried to get through the romance bit as quickly as I could. While the sex scenes are technically hot, as I didn’t feel much engaged with the characters, they left me pretty cold. As for the ending, I enjoyed the final confrontation (although the villain could be spotted a mile off, and some of the solutions were so easy that the characters might have come up with them rather quicker), and then was irritated by the two (!) sugary-sweet, sentimental chapters that followed.
I was sad that I liked Enchanting the Beast so little, as I had great hopes from its premise, and I will probably give another of Kathryne Kennedy’s novels a try. Unless you are really keen on books in which the hero pursues the heroine or the heroine is much older than the hero, I suggest you give this one a pass.