Debra Denson,
Magician's Spell
(Red Rose, 2010)

Clearly an avid reader of her genre, Debra Denson's debut novel features all the mainstays of historical romance. Set in the maritime world of the 1800s, the hero is Captain Hal of the privateer ship Magician's Spell. He longs to clear his name after being thrown out of the navy and earn a large enough fortune to own his beloved ship. Unfortunately, a rich and conniving man holds enough sway to force Hal to carry Johanna on his ship as a passenger. Daughter of the admiral who booted Hal from the navy, Johanna inevitably clashes with her captain. Still, as time evolves their relationship turns to a star-crossed romance. Between the consequences of the admiral's role in their lives, and the machinations of the malicious man who first brought Hal and Johanna together, a happy ending seems all but impossible.

Denson's plot holds up well to the standards of this genre, but her characters need work. While the reasons and emotions behind their plot follow expected lines, the actual words on the page do little to explain them to the reader. Instead of being taken on an emotional journey with a satisfying conclusion, the reader is given the final results of each emotional turn with a bit of exposition to justify it. This locks the reader away from a closer investment with the characters, and occasionally makes them sound ridiculous instead of sympathetic.

The marked exception comes at the end of the book, in the scenes with Neville and Naomi. In these scenes, Denson was finally able to capture what was happening and in what direction the characters wanted to go. Similarly, while there is a lot of description in the book a lack of focus keeps the physical places and events somewhat unclear or confusing.

A lot needs to happen in an historical romance to make it worthwhile. I think Denson's plot and characters could easily add up to the mark, but the writing inexperience really shows. The end of the novel showed a great deal of improvement, which indicates her books should only get better with practice. As a Magician's Spell, it lacked a lot of focus, but as an apprentice's first spell, it's heading the right direction.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Whitney Mallenby

2 October 2010

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