Dear Ms. Kennedy:
I was very pleasantly surprised by Enchanting the Lady, the first book in the Relics of Merlin series. I found the characters engaging and the story charming. I’m always a little nervous when picking up the second book by an author that is either new to me or newly published. Would I like it as much as the first? Or would it disappoint and leave me questioning whether I should continue to read the author in the future? Unfortunately, Double Enchantment is one of those books that falls into the latter category.
The book is set in 1848 England "where magic has never died." Our heroine, Lady Jasmina, is a proper young lady. Raised by two very haughty parents, Lady Jasmina has lived her life trying to meet her parent’s high expectations and to uphold her family’s good name. Since she was ten years old, she’s been running the household for her aristocratic parents. Jasmina has become so convinced of her parents’ helplessness that she decided long ago to remain unwed in order to take care of them. Forever.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t like the characters. At all. From the very beginning, they seemed determined to push all my buttons. The secondary characters are mostly either annoying or two-dimensional, or annoyingly two-dimensional. The main characters aren’t any better. We immediately learn that Jasmina’s mother has a bad habit of stealing jewelry. Instead of doing the sensible thing like confronting her mother about this problem or seeking her father’s help, Jasmina has decided that it’s best if she sneaks out of the house in the middle of the night, breaks into the rightful owner’s place, returns the jewelry, and sneaks back home- over and over again. This kind of self imposed, and completely unnecessary, martyrdom all in the name of upholding their family’s good name was irritating, to say the least.
I also found Jasmina’s interference in everyone else’s lives- and her firmly held belief that everyone needed her- to be unappealing. For example, minutes after meeting Sterling’s sister, Jasmina nearly begins crying and thinks "Sterling’s sister needed her so very much." Her inflated sense of self-importance had me torn between disgust and laughter. I understood that Jasmina is used to being the caretaker, even to the detriment of the people around her. After all, she’s been taking care of her parents, and enabling their bad habits, for years. Therefore, it’s understandable that her first reaction upon meeting someone else is to believe that they must need her to take care of them. However, that doesn’t make her likable. In fact, I just wanted someone to tell Jasmina off and let her know that they could run their own lives without her meddling.
Unfortunately, the premise of the story hinges precariously on Jasmina, the Enabler. When the book begins, our intrepid heroine realizes that her mother has "borrowed" a brooch, yet again. Rather than saying something along the lines of "Hey mom, I’m stepping out to return the necklace you stole/borrowed. I’ll be back in a few hours," Jasmina decides to complicate things unnecessarily. She creates an illusion of herself to sleep in her bed so that her mom doesn’t know she has left the house. It’s not until the next morning that Jasmina realizes her problem: the necklace that she returned last night was one of the powerful Relics of Merlin. By holding it in hand while chanting the spell, she had unwittingly created a real double of herself rather than a simple illusion. To Jasmina’s dismay, that double later goes on to flirt with all sorts of men, dance with nymphs, and involve herself in the mysterious workings of the evil Brotherhood. The double’s actions threaten to ruin Jasmina’s reputation, and she joins forces with our hero to find her.
Cut to Sterling. Like all baronets, Sterling is immune to the various forms and levels of magic wielded by the nobility. Baronets are also shape shifters, and are generally regarded with disdain, considered to be more animal than human. Sterling takes the form of a were-stallion and is given to frequent snorting, flaring of his nostrils, and tossing of his hair-regardless of which form he takes. My problems with Sterling began early. We meet him at a ball where he runs into Jaz- the Double, and the two share a dance. Their connection is seemingly instantaneous-despite little conversation- because "somehow, in the short span of a single dance, they’d passed the barriers of strangers into an intimacy he’d never felt with anyone before." The problem is that I want my heroes to be intelligent. I want them to be strong. I want them to be complicated and to be drawn to complicated women that challenge them. None of that applies to Sterling, whom I could only describe as weak and fickle. He falls in love/lust with someone who could barely think-let alone talk, he somehow marries her that same night and he is desperate to find her the next morning when she goes missing. Desperate, that is, until he meets Jasmina and forgets all about the absent Jaz. It was difficult to take him seriously.
A big problem with the romance between Jasmina and Sterling is that it was not believable. I was continually left wondering what they saw in each other beyond the superficial. Sterling’s attraction to Jasmina- other than the fact that she looked like Jaz- was baffling. She’s rude, and prejudiced, and is ashamed to be seen with him. She won’t introduce him to her parents and would never actually consider marrying a shape shifter. She’ll cut him dead one minute, lacking the courage to acknowledge him in public, and then burst in to tears minutes later, apologizing profusely. However, I also didn’t understand what Jasmina saw in Sterling either other than the fact that "[h]is lack of title, his ability to shift into a horse, and his tattered clothes only made him more appealing to her." Sure, she was drawn to his good looks, but he didn’t have much going for him besides that. Plus, all that snorting, nostril flaring and hair tossing just made him unintentionally humorous.
The lack of much dialogue- particularly substantial dialogue -between our hero and heroine significantly hurt the romance. They discussed their search for the Relic. They discussed their search for the missing Jaz. Sterling spoke to Jasmina about her good looks. Jasmina told Sterling that he was the bravest, greatest man she had ever met. But it was all superficial. They never got to know each other. The dialogue simply failed to advance their relationship. Unfortunately, the little that was there only served to reinforce how weak the romance really was.
This book took me far longer to read than I expected. I kept putting it down in favor of something else. There was just very little to keep me involved in the story. The world that I enjoyed in the first book- the one filled with magic where all members of the nobility can wield various forms of said magic- is still there. However, everything else about this book -from the romance to the characters to the plot with the villainous Brotherhood- was underdeveloped and uninteresting.