Twelfth century England has always been one of my favorite historical time periods, so when I saw that Twilight Magic was set in 1145 during the civil war between Empress Matilda and King Stephen, I thought it was probably worth a shot. Fortunately, Anton’s latest is a good romance, as well as an historical novel and, as it turns out, I enjoyed it very much. Although the story is seemingly light and typical — an English Lady of the court hooks up with feckless rogue and lives happily ever after — a great deal of court intrigue and a clever mystery interwoven into the plot liven things up.
Though there is a romance between Emma de Leon and Darian of Bruges, the novel is primarily a mystery. A Flemish mercenary, Darian of Bruges works strictly for King Stephen and his lieutenant, William of Epys. He is framed for murder after his dagger is found beside a murdered lord in the Stews. Stephen’s brother, Henry, the Bishop of Winchester, accuses the mercenary of the crime and demands an execution. Unfortunately, though Darian is innocent, he doesn’t have an alibi since during the time the murder was committed he was out on assignment for Stephen and William. Since Darian is, in essence, a spy — you know, the sort they tell “if you’re caught, we’ll deny we ever heard of you” — Stephen can’t speak up for him. So, Lady Emma declares that Darian was with her the night of the murder.
It’s scandalous enough that a young Lady-in-Waiting would admit to taking a lover (in the Queen’s own chamber, no less!), but, even worse, Emma is already in disgrace at court. Officially a ward of the King even though her father was executed as a traitor, one of her sisters was married to a loyal patron of the King, Emma was sent to court, and her youngest sister consigned to a nunnery. Emma is largely ignored, although she is openly snubbed by the Queen and her closest confidants, so Emma feels that she has little to lose by standing up for Darian. But, upon her confession, Stephen demands that she and Darian marry. Bishop Henry, who has a longstanding grudge against Darian, performs the ceremony on the spot. Now, when Darian needs most to move quickly and to find who set him up, he is saddled with an unwilling wife.
But is Lady Emma wholly unwilling? It’s a social outrage that a Lady (even a traitor’s daughter) be married to a commoner and a foreigner. But Emma is also a visionary who has seen the future since she was a child. She tries to deny it and to shut out the visions. Yet even more than her feeling that Darian is innocent, Emma feels compelled to act because Darian’s face has haunted her dreams since she was a girl. Now that they are wed, Emma expects something more than a marriage of convenience, but, Darian can think only of clearing his name and proving that Bishop Henry is behind a plot to see him hanged. Several of his friends and associates have gone missing and are presumed dead or in Henry’s dungeons, leaving Darian little time for love.
Emma, a stalwart and plucky girl, tries to help Darian solve the mystery, but the only aid she can give is through her visions. Emma has ignored and suppressed her gift since she was a child, but now Darian suggests that she open her mind to the future. Is Emma willing to see a future where she and Darian are parted…or the Flemish rogue is dead?
Twilight Magic is a good romance and an excellent mystery. Its history is accurate and Ms. Anton does a nice job of conjuring the political turmoil in the Court of Stephen. Bishop Henry comes off as dastardly and devious – as he was – and Stephen is a bit weak-willed and easily manipulated. Emma herself is a brave little heroine, even though I personally prefer my female leads to have a bit more initiative. At times, I had flashes of The Perils of Pauline and expected Emma to find herself tied to a railroad track or dangling from a cliff, but overall she’s a dynamic character with a lot of depth. Emma’s concern for her little sister, as well as her conflicted feeling for Darian, make her very interesting. And, Darian himself is more than just your standard rogue. He’s an adventurer with heart and, instead of immediately being charmed by Emma’s pretty face, he’s concerned with real world matters — like his possible execution.
All together, Ms. Anton tells a good story. It starts off very strong and sets a fast pace, which, unfortunately, slows toward the end. But, there’s certainly nothing less than magical about Emma and Darian’s romance and the mystery is very satisfactorily resolved, leaving me more than glad to pick up another Shari Anton book in the future.