Mistress of the Waters
To work well, a time travel romance needs both a compelling fantasy story with a plausible reason and device for the time travel to occur, and a compelling romance, with all the usual ingredients that requires – likable hero and heroine, believable conflicts, and a reasonable expectation of a happy-ever-after ending. Janeen O’Kerry’s Mistress of the Waters has the former, but the latter is undermined by a self-centered, manipulative hero and a passive, drifting heroine.
Shannon Rose Gray is very unhappy in her modern-day life. Her father lost all his money and her fiance dumped her. She finds solace in her studies of Gaelic and her plan to start a new life in Ireland after her college graduation. As she drifts along, her attention is captured by a group of people planning a May Day celebration. They enlist her to help them organize some traditional Beltane festivities, and her attention is drawn to the mysterious Irishman Ian Galloway. The gift he gives her leads her to unwittingly cast a spell on Beltane eve and takes her back through time to ancient pagan Ireland, where she meets the bard Lasairian and mates with him in a Beltane marriage.
This framing story and the time travel aspects themselves are well handled. One of the pleasures of time-travel romance is seeing the elements come together that cast the hero or heroine through time, and watch them reappear throughout the story, setting up what in the earlier time hasn’t as yet occurred. It was also nice to read a time travel story where the heroine adjusts pretty readily to what has happened rather than spending half the book in a state of disbelief and shock.
Shannon is thrilled with the situation – she’s in a place that she loves, with a man who seems everything she could have wanted. However, all is not as it seems with Lasairian. While the plot tries to show him gradually growing into a man worthy of Shannon’s love, ironically, the author has done too good a job of making the reader dislike and distrust him for the transformation to be believable.
Lasairian, it turns out, is not a bard at all. Disgusted with his lack of interest in his studies and unwillingness to take responsibility for his life, his father and the local king have banished him to the position of lowly cowherd. He basically takes advantage of Shannon’s naivete to make his own exile more comfortable, at least at first, though he does come to love her and grow into taking more responsibility for himself and his people.
This I could have lived with, but the problem is that at every turning point, he never changes more than the minimum necessary to maintain a desirable status quo at the moment. When he comes clean, he doesn’t come completely clean, holding back uncomfortable secrets because Shannon hasn’t gotten around to suspecting or asking about them yet. This is not heroic behavior. Lasairian spends the bulk of the book as a lazy, self-absorbed jerk, who enjoys surrounding himself with nubile young women even while professing his true love to Shannon. His duplicity is even worse when one final piece of information about his life back at the village is finally revealed.
Meanwhile Shannon overlooks disturbing signs that Lasairian is snowing her, and even when the dominos start to fall and he has to begin confessing the truth, she keeps forgiving him. Even worse, the day after she does blow up at him (with complete justification), she apologizes! From beginning to end, Shannon is largely a drifter. The one time she puts her feet on the ground and chooses to work and fight for something, it’s for a man who never seems quite worthy of it.
A really mind-blowing true-love romance (as any romance novel worth its salt should portray) transforms both members of the couple and leaves them irrevocably changed, hopefully for the better. I didn’t see enough change in either Lasairian or Shannon, and that leaves Mistress of the Waters as a workmanlike time travel fantasy with an unfortunately hollow heart.