Desert Isle Keeper
Fantasy and science fiction authors are familiar with a concept called “world building,” which is the process of creating a coherent “universe” for your characters. The rules may not necessarily be those of our world – time travel can work, or humans may have faster-than-light warpdrive technology – but they do have to be coherent and consistent within that alternate universe.
You know you are dealing with an interesting “universe” when you start speculating on the further implications of the rules the author is presenting. Such is the case in Maggie Shayne’s Infinity, the second book in a series that features reincarnation, pagan magick, and immortal High Witches (whose abilities and “rules” remind me of The Highlander). Although I finished the book more than a week ago, I find myself still pondering questions like, if a High Witch stops aging at whatever age s/he was when s/he first “dies” (if you are killed when you are 28, you will appear 28 even when you are 750), would a Witch who died of natural causes (or unnatural ones) at age 105 have to go through eternity as a tottering old man or woman? Or would one pick an age one likes (say, thirty) and jump off a cliff?
Okay, maybe I’m weird. But having thoughts like this is a sign that a book is a keeper, one that I’ll want to go back and read and think about again. And Infinity is definitely staying in my collection.
I know what you are thinking: that’s great for you, (you geek) but what about the romance? I’m happy to report that Infinity also contains a heartfelt and believable love story between two characters who grow and mature realistically even as they live completely fantastical lives.
Arianna is seventeen when she is wed in a marriage of convenience to Nicodimus, an immortal High Witch who is more than 700 years old. Talk about your age differences. Although Arianna loves him, she has to accept that he can never love her. Nicodimus is an enigmatic man to her (and she thinks at first that he is a real man). Gradually the layers of mystery surrounding him unfold, one by one, as he tells her of his secrets: his immortality, his long lost family, and the desperate evil High Witches who hunt him relentlessly. He doesn’t reveal the most important one of all, however: Arianna, too, is an immortal High Witch, though she does not know it yet. This leads to a set of circumstances, both emotional and physical, that make you wonder how there can ever be a happy ending.
Maggie Shayne’s gift is that she creates believable characters who react very humanly to unbelievable situations. While the fantasy elements pull your imagination out into the unknown, the well-crafted characters and the emotion between them keep you grounded. The mysterious never becomes too mysterious.
While Infinity is the second book in the series, it stands well on its own. I had not read the first book, Eternity, but I always had a good feel for what was going on . The one place that having read the first book might make a difference is in the 500-year time jump (late 1400s to 1999) that takes place in the last third of the book. The events of Eternity are summarized rather choppily in the first few pages of that section, but once the story settles in again, the jump is quickly forgotten.
This book isn’t for everyone. Much of it is dark in tone, and there is some fairly graphic violence and tragedy for a romance novel. If paganism and witches aren’t your cup of tea, you may wish to skip it as well. But if you like lush romances set in well-conceived fantasy environments, don’t miss Infinity.