As a fan of Jayne Ann Krentz in her incarnation as historical romance author Amanda Quick, I wasn’t sure what to expect from her incarnation as futuristic author Jayne Castle. While I think any author who can invent an entirely new world that includes psychic powers and metaphysical constructs gets points for creativity, too much of Zinnia is old hat in terms of plot points. And her entirely new world didn’t seem altogether new either; cities are named for cities here on Earth, casino owners are still considered gangsters, and supposedly fallen women still wear red. And, oh yeah, adult women heroines in romance novels are still virgins.
In many ways, Zinnia reads like a favorite Amanda Quick with a heroine who has been falsely accused of sexual misconduct and a hero with a bad reputation. But this book is not just an Amanda Quick historical set in a future time on a planet far, far away. No, this story is set on St. Helens, and involves Zinnia Spring, a spunky interior designer with a undeservedly bad reputation. She also is considered unmatchable by this society which considers marriage its most important institution. Zinnia’s psychic powers cannot find a match, and, with futuristic yente’s matching high society clients, she cannot hope to marry.
Enter Nick Chastain, rich, darkly handsome, dangerous casino owner. He is the bastard son of a man who disappeared (before he could marry Nick’s mother) on an important expedition years before under mysterious circumstances. Nick’s own psychic powers are so strong and unique that he refuses to be tested, although he plans on buying his way into the Society that has refused him thus far.
Nick and Zinnia meet first in a sort of mind meld that would have done Mr. Spock proud. When they meet in the flesh, Zinnia accuses Nick of kidnapping one of her psychic clients (she does some psychic work in addition to her decorating). After Nick convinces her he is not involved in the kidnapping, but is looking for the very thing her client may have been kidnapped over, they decide to quietly join forces to solve the kidnapping, and maybe, just maybe, discover the man Nick is sure killed his father on that ill-fated expedition.
As they take steps toward solving these mysteries, we meet the cast of secondary characters:
- Aunt Willie – Zinnia’s aunt, who wants Zinnia to marry into society and refurbish the family’s name that was tarnished when Zinnia’s parents bankrupted the family company;
- Newton DeForest – a demented historian and gardener who has mythologized the scientific expedition Nick’s father was on;
- Duncan Luttrell – a wealthy and attractive man who has been dating Zinnia and seems to have no reservations about her past or her unmatchable status; and
- Leo – Zinnia’s younger brother who is destined for a brilliant academic career even though Aunt Willie wants him to enter the business world.
We’ve met all these characters before, in a myriad of other books. When a family name has been ruined or a reputation debauched, there is always an Aunt Willie. In most romances with a strong suspense sub-plot, there is always a geeky yet slightly unnerving guy like Newton DeForest. There is always a younger or older brother watching out for his sister like Leo does. As for Duncan, whenever there is a handsome man in the picture who accepts everything too easily, you know he’s going to turn out to be…well, you’ll figure that one out.
So, on the one hand, I enjoyed the new world and the psychic/metaphysical jazz, the story itself offered little that was fresh. And, I was unnerved by a combination of silly sex and clinical sex. I didn’t care for the author’s reference to proud nipples or to the use of such clinical terms as the c-word that rhymes with Lavoris or “vagina” when describing a love scene. Perhaps that is common in futuristic romances, but it didn’t appeal to me.
Zinnia and Nick were an interesting couple, but I think they would have been just as interesting in another time and place – perhaps the present, perhaps the past. And, while that says much about Ms. Castle’s ability to create interesting duos, it also says that the world she created for them may not have been necessary.
I’m glad I read this book because I’ve wanted to read a book by JAK for some time. But I think I’ll stick with Amanda Quick. This was too much smoke and mirrors.