This Magic Moment
There’s something about the quirky characters in Patricia Rice’s novels that have always done it for me: ethereal, eccentric heroines; earnest, all-too-serious heroes; and secondary characters that, rather than getting in the way and bogging the plot down, add vividness and color to the surrounding plot. This Magic Moment is no exception.
Harry of Sommersville and Christina Malcolm Childe, betrothed for many a year, have always danced around the touchy subject of actually going through with a marriage ceremony. Though Harry is enchanted by Christina’s oddities (she purports to communicate with ghosts and read auras), he himself has no particular interest in settling down and is happy to use Christina’s name to fend off matchmaking mamas. Christina knows she is thought of as deeply eccentric. At the age of 22, were she not already betrothed, she would be considered on the shelf, and in fact she despairs of ever getting married since she understands that no man could possibly put up with her escapades (traipsing around dark graveyards and old relics are her main form of entertainment). She never actually expected the marriage to be realized at all, though Harry is the only man to ever distract her attention from the ghosts and ghoulies that preoccupy her.
Harry’s carefree existence comes to a crashing and tragic end when he receives notice that both his father and older brother have tumbled to their deaths from crumbling masonry in the dilapidated wing of the family home. As he struggles to keep a lid on his grief, Harry discovers that the family fortune he had relied on seems to have disappeared without a trace, and that since his brother never signed the entailment, a nasty local creditor will seize the family estate. Harry’s first choice is to sell off some family lands in Scotland, but even this isn’t enough to pay off the debts. He is forced to make a drastic decision: he must marry Christina, make the fey girl his Duchess, and use her dowry to plug the never-ending mountain of bills.
Christina is gobsmacked to receive the news, and disappointed that her laughing, smiling Harry has turned into a strait-laced Duke. While she agrees to wed him, she insists that they wait before consummating the marriage, so she can reach out to the carefree man who once kissed her with a passion that reminded her she was no longer a mere girl. This was an excellent part of the novel. Christina finally learned to grow up and be a woman, and a wife to the man who she has pledged to love, honor, and obey. Though Harry does his best to shield her from misfortune, the moment they return to the old estate, extensively and penuriously renovated by the old Duke before his death, odd incidents begin to threaten her life, and Harry is constantly worrying that she will have an accident if she wanders around the haunted old wreck in her efforts to locate ghosts. Christina can see that something is troubling this new, stern Harry, and she determines to support him no matter what.
Harry is a glorious hero. He is steadfast and earnest, and not given to sentiment, which makes his concern and desire to protect Christina all the more touching. As the two get to know each other and fall genuinely in love, both take that final step towards maturity together. It is a rare author who can make the reader care so deeply for characters, but Patricia Rice has definitely got that touch. In fact the characters reminded me of another of her older novels, Wayward Angel, that had a similar effect.
Another element that appealed to me was the whole paranormal aspect. Normally I have little patience for this kind of plot, but it was charmingly written and really adds another dimension to the story in a way that only improves rather than detracts from it. Instead of going on and on trying to prove ghosts exist, Christina does her own thing and ignores Harry’s efforts to keep her safe. As the mansion goes back a long way in history, the older parts of it are distinctly unsafe – but the way Rice writes it, you almost feel like the house itself is a character in the book, a rambling, spooky old monolith that has a life all its own.
While I can’t really specify any particularly negative elements that knocked This Magic Moment out of DIK contention, I didn’t feel it had that indefinable quality that sets a DIK read above other books. However, there is no denying the terrific writing style, warm adorable characters and dynamite hero/heroine chemistry. It has my seal of approval!