Desert Isle Keeper
By Magic Beguiled is enchanting! I fell under its spell with the very first chapter and found it hard to put down until I had finished the last. This is the first book of Maggie Shayne’s that I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last.
The story opens with seven-year old Adam exploring forbidden woods near his home. Somehow he manages to cross over and into an enchanted realm where he meets a fairy princess who shows him his fate — a bathing, black-haired beauty. Being a child, Adam isn’t overly impressed and is much more concerned about getting home and escaping the beating he expects awaits him. The second chapter takes us ten years into the future where we meet nine-year old Brigit residing in a Catholic orphanage. Brigit was found at the altar along with her twin sister, both with cloth-bound books and identical pewter fairy and crystal necklaces. The other child, Bridin, was adopted right away, and Brigit has not seen her since.
The cloth-bound books are the tale of a fairy princess who gives birth to half-fairy, half-mortal twin daughters. War comes upon the magical kingdom of Rush and the princess is killed. The king sends the tiny daughters along with their mortal father back into the mortal world to save them from destruction. When the princesses are grown they will return to Rush to take back the kingdom which had been seized by the Dark Ones. Brigit wants to believe that Princess Maire truly was her mother, and that the book is telling her own story, but she has no memories of her prior life. Brigit has a startling gift — she can exactly duplicate any painting she sees.
Next we meet Bridin, Brigit’s sister. Bridin is different from Brigit in that she does remember her past, and she knows who she is. She is being kept a prisoner by mortals who are under the control of the Dark Prince who have stolen the throne of Rush. She has been befriended by a homeless man, Raze, who believes her story. Bridin foresees disaster for her sister and sends Raze to find her and keep her safe. Darque, the identity by which the Dark Prince is known in the mortal world, is determined to return to Rush with the two princesses and use them to solidify his control of the fairy kingdom.
At this point we jump to the present time where we find Adam a bitter, tormented man after a childhood of abuse and a first wife who betrayed him. Brigit, after growing up on the streets in the care of Raze, is burdened with guilt and hopelessness. In order to save Raze’s life, she misused her magical gift by forging art work, and the criminals who exploited her know just how to force her to do their will once again. Caught in a web she cannot escape, she is forced to worm her way into Adam’s life and betray him.
I liked the tightly strung tension Ms. Shayne maintains. Adam and Brigit do a carefully choreographed dance of suspicion, desire, loathing, and longing that propels the plot forward, yet here and there are sweetly sensual moments that breathe life into the story. She uses sensory detail beautifully, especially texture and fragrance. The subtle touches of magic that are woven into the scenes delighted me, like the mere presence of Brigit in Adam’s home reviving his nearly-dead houseplants.
This was a book that kept me promising “just one more chapter . . .” The story is magical; the characters are compelling. Ms. Shayne skillfully portrays hurting people in a credible way, without the endless paragraphs of angst and self-agonizing that usually leave me disliking a character rather than empathizing. Even Darque has moments when I could sympathize with him. The conflicts are real, not silly misunderstandings that two minutes of honest conversation would clear up. The characters are intelligent despite their problems. I hurt, loved, hated, and despaired, and was on the edge of my seat more than once. I look forward to reading more from Maggie Shayne.