Key of Knowledge
Nora Roberts’ books can be a little tough to grade. A prolific author with a huge backlist, she is often her own biggest competition. In a recent ATBF column, Robin mentioned that she often bought books by Roberts because while they may not be terrific every time, there is always a certain level of quality. I’d agree with that, and I’d even say that Roberts at her most mediocre is often still better than some authors at their best. But while I basically enjoyed Key of Knowledge, I did find it fairly mediocre; Roberts is not at the top of her game here.
In the first book of this trilogy (Key of Light), Malory, Dana and Zoe answered a summons to appear at a mysterious mansion, and soon found themselves in a quest for three magic keys. Each woman must find a key, and each key helps free three women (half-goddess, half-mortal) from a glass prison where they have been trapped for over three thousand years. Each of the three modern women in turn has twenty-eight days to find her key. In this book it is Dana Steele’s turn at bat.
Dana is Flynn’s (the hero from Key of Light) sister, and a librarian. As this volume opens, Dana sticks it to her irritating boss and walks off, leaving the job she’s loved for many years. Fortunately, she has a backup plan; she and her two cohorts are buying a house which they will turn into a business. Dana’s portion will be a bookstore. Since she has no job, Dana settles into work on the house, refurbishing so it will be ready to open. But she still has the other major problem of finding the key, a task that consumes much of her energy.
Each woman is given a clue as she starts her quest, and Dana’s mentions ties to her future and her past. As much as she hates to admit it, she knows that it refers to Jordan, the man she loved and lost. Jordan left town after his mother died, heading for Manhattan and a career as a best-selling author. Now he’s back, and he wants to pick up where they left off. Though Dana admits she’s still in love with him, she has no desire to get burned again, so she treats Jordan as rudely as possible – until he ends up in her bed. Then they begin a quasi-relationship, sleeping together without any firm plans for commitment as they look for the key together.
If you haven’t read the first book in this series, you might not be aware that the series reads more like one longer novel rather than three individual single titles. This is not the sort of thing you can pick up in the middle. There are some plusses and minuses that go along with that. On one hand, the reader gets to enjoy some fun banter from all the couples of the trilogy. Malory and Flynn are in their lovey-dovey stage, and Zoe and hero-to-be Brad are still sniping at each other (they’re not fooling anyone; it’s obviously foreplay). Rowena and Pitte, the gods who sent the women on the quest, also play a prominent role, and they have some nice moments as well. In Death fans might note that Pitte is a bit like an immortal Roarke. This side of Pitte is especially evident when he and Jordan are negotiating a deal, and it’s one of the best parts of the book.
The downside of the one-book-in-three-parts phenomenon is that not all the couples are equally compelling. I originally chose this particular book to review because the heroine sounded the most interesting to me. Books, knowledge, libraries – all of this sounded more compelling than art galleries or beauty salons. As it turned out, Dana and Jordan are probably the least interesting couple. With his small-town newspaperman charm, Flynn was a far more intriguing hero than Jordan, and the chemistry between Zoe and Brad beats Dana and Jordan’s hands down. Frankly, even Pitte and Rowena are more exciting. I think the main reason for that is that the Dana/Jordan relationship is a little too familiar for Roberts fans. Dana is like an amalgam of Eve Dallas, Maggie Concannon, and, well, several other mouthy Roberts’ characters. The relationship itself is very similar to the one in the last book of the Three Sisters Island trilogy (Face the Fire). Having just read a “loved her and left her” plot from Roberts, I wasn’t really ready for a second helping just yet.
Roberts trilogies seem to be heading in an increasingly paranormal direction. For the most part, it works fairly well here. The witches of the last series often came across as a little silly, probably because of their fanciful, rhyming language and chants. The immortals are just as magic but more entertaining. But though I could buy the whole goddesses/keys scenario, I didn’t much care for the multi-character chat/philosophy sessions about it. Somehow when the characters talked too much about the keys they sounded a bit pedantic and odd.
While the main love relationship fell flat for me, I still wavered on the grade. I enjoyed the interactions between the other characters so much that the book as a whole verged on a B-. Roberts is always good at group dynamics and guy friendships, and both are in evidence here. Roberts fans are probably not going to want to miss this one, regardless of its relative mediocrity. It’s a bridge between two books, and those who like her trilogies are not going to want to miss out. If you’ve never tried Roberts, however, I’d recommend starting elsewhere. While Robin is right in saying Roberts always upholds a certain standard, it’s better to start with, say, the Born In trilogy, where she knocks it right out of the park.