Key of Light
It’s purely amazing the variety and complexity of stories that can flow from one author’s pen – they don’t call her Queen Nora for nothing. But while I loved a lot about Key of Light, Nora Roberts’ first in a new trilogy dealing with Celtic gods and goddesses and those pesky spells that ensnare them, it falls prey to what I consider some common weaknesses whenever there are multiple primary characters and romances in one story.
There’s a deliciously gothic feel to the opening pages, with embattled art gallery manager Malory Price braving rain-drenched mountain roads for a chance to hobnob with the rich and mysterious. Warrior’s Peak is an ancient castle-like mansion perched over Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania, where Malory is pursuing her lifelong career goal to be surrounded by art. Unfortunately, she’s hit a small bump in the road of life; the boss’s new wife has neither taste nor people skills, only a single-minded determination to assume control over the gallery. Malory’s jaunt to Warrior’s Peak will hopefully regain ground she lost with the boss when she heaped insult, and an accidental splash or three of cappuccino, on the new missus.
Malory is somewhat relieved to find that two other women, Dana Steele and Zoe McCourt, received the same invitation she did. Their host and hostess are the ethereally beautiful Pitte and Rowena, who convince the three women to stay long enough for refreshments and a tale that soon propels them on a mythological treasure hunt. Without saying too much, it involves a spell in need of an antidote, a painting depicting the three daughters of a Celtic god and his mortal wife, and a financial incentive lucrative enough to entice three women facing precarious job security.
In the course of working together to solve Malory’s phase of the riddle, the three women become friends as well as partners in a shot at financial independence. Dana’s stepbrother, Flynn, who runs the local newspaper, allows himself to be pulled in, not only to look out for Dana but to further his pursuit of Malory. As the story unfolds, the other major players in the trilogy, potential love interests for Dana and Zoe, also make their appearance.
This story is at its best when it keeps a strong toehold in the earthly realm. There’s more than ample food for thought in the complex questions about symbolism, coincidence and destiny, and I appreciated the imaginative ways the characters explored clues beyond the predictable and mundane. The interactions of the characters were entertaining for the most part, as when Dana teased Malory about her brainy compulsiveness or when Flynn deflected Dana’s attempt to dump on him: “If it has to do with hairstyles, monthly cycles, or the upcoming Red Tag sale at the mall, keep it between you girls.” (Followed by Dana’s, “That’s so incredibly sexist, I’m not even going to……what Red Tag sale?”). There’s also some nice philosophizing about life plans and paths chosen by circumstance or default that come to feel like the inevitably right ones. I especially enjoyed Flynn’s realistic dilemma with a veteran reporter who has problems adjusting after having worked decades for Flynn’s mother, and Malory’s bouts of euphoria and fear over the enormous professional and personal risks she is taking.
There’s always a hazard with multiple, connected characters that, despite starting off as strongly distinct personas, they will eventually start blending together, and I encountered that in Key of Light, albeit more with the male leads than the female ones. But what really pulled me out of the flow were a few scenes that seem to have become formulaic for such stories; that is, public discussions of a private relationship’s intimate details. On the one hand, such scenes would seem to be provocative and enlightened. But being an outrageously outspoken woman who has spent her life flocking with birds of a similar feather, I find such scenes unbelievable and glaringly inconsistent with the supposed emotional maturity of the characters I’m reading about. The story is further weakened somewhat by Rowena being pulled too much into the role of just another “one of the girls” dealing with the ups and downs of life with her man. Finally, readers may note that this small town of approximately 5,000 doesn’t much match reality; with its high-end gallery and upscale department stores, it doesn’t sound like most smallish towns I’ve ever encountered (with the exception of resort towns like those in the Hamptons).
Fortunately, the distractions were fairly infrequent and short-lived, and though I never quite regained the feeling of momentum I had initially, Key of Light was ultimately satisfying and entertaining, especially when it went for subtlety, like the use of deception to best a smugly arrogant deceiver. It’s a good bet that Roberts will please established fans as well as snagging some new ones with this story and those that follow in the trilogy.