Dear Ms. Roberts:
Winter, 1263. Sorcha, the Dark Witch, is being relentlessly pursued for her power by the evil sorcerer, Cabhan. Her husband is fighting in another war, and she’s home with her children: Brannaugh, Eammon and Teagan. Each of her children has the gift of magick as well, as evidenced by their special animal guides, a hawk, a horse and a dog, who protect each child. She’ll go to any length to protect and defend them, and the magick within her. But in order to vanquish Cabhan, she must harness both her power and that of her children. Sadly, in banishing Cabhan, Sorcha dies, and the legacy of the three who comprise the Dark Witch lives on, as does Cabhan, who will stop at nothing to steal their power.
County Mayo, 2013. Iona Sheehan has sold all of her belongings and left her beloved Nan, and neglectful parents to move to Ireland and find work. She’s hoping to meet and make a connection with her cousins, Connor and Branna O’Dwyer. She knows the story of Sorcha and knows that magick lives within her, but she has no idea how to harness it. But she’s hoping in finding her cousins, they’ll complete the Dark Witch three and she’ll be able to learn to control the power within her.
Of course, Iona’s coming to Ireland revitalizes Cabhan. He wants her power and immediately identifies her as the weak link of the Three. Iona must scramble to catch up with her cousins who have known of their power and been taught from a very young age to handle it. Branna immediately invites Iona to come and live with her and her brother, Connor and to begin to learn about the magick within herself. Iona readily accepts and finds a job at the local stables working for a man named Boyle McGrath. Iona is an exceptional horsewoman, always having enjoyed a mental connection with horses.
The horse, big and beautiful at easily sixteen hands, tested his rider with the occasional buck and dance, and even with the distance, she could see the fierce gleam in his eyes. His smoke gray coat showed some sweat, though the morning stayed cool – and his ears stayed stubbornly back.
But the man, big and beautiful as well, had his measure. Iona heard his voice, the challenge in it if not the words, as he kept the horse at a trot.
And something in her, just at the sounds of his voice, stirred. Nerves, excitement, she told herself, because the man held her happiness in his hands.
But as they drew closer, the stir grew to a flutter. Attraction struck her double blows – heart and belly as, oh, he really was as magnificent as the horse. And every single bit as appealing to her. – Kindle location 1637
Of course, Alastair (the horse), is Iona’s animal guide for her adventure. The connection between Boyle and Iona is every bit as strong, but Boyle, aware of the impropriety of wanting someone he’s just hired to work for him, is reluctant to become involved with her. That being said, he can’t seem to stop hauling to off her feet and into his arms. But he’s cranky about it. As the two of them fall more deeply in love with each other, Cabhan’s power grows and the cousins must join together to again try to vanquish him before he steals the power of the Dark Witch.
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a Nora Roberts book as much as I did this one. The last series didn’t work for me, nor have the last few stand alones. But this book features two things that I’ve always connected with in Roberts’ writing: Ireland and witches. The “Born in” trilogy and the “Three Sisters” trilogies are my two favorites by her. So this series was already almost a “gimme”. The book sets up an interesting mythology by focusing the first three chapters on Sorcha and her battle against Cabhan, raising the stakes and investing the reader in the power and a mother’s determination to protect her children. By the time we arrive in modern day Ireland, I found myself fully invested in the urgency of the battle to protect the Dark Witch’s power.
I very much liked the heroine, and I always enjoy Nora’s cranky heroes, of which Boyle is most definitely one. But really their characterization doesn’t necessarily cover any new ground. That being said, the sense of place, of County Mayo, is so vividly drawn you can almost smell the peat moss burning. As always, the relationships between siblings, cousins, and friends are entertaining to read about. I also really enjoyed that when the couple hit a speed bump (and it’s a pretty good one), they handle it like adults, even though it pains both of them to do it. The final battle in the book doesn’t really seem like one, but that’s probably because there are two more books to come.
I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure if my enjoyment of this book came from the fact that I was finally reading a new Nora Roberts that I actually really liked, or if the book is really that well done. Either way, this is a book that I really liked and am happy to give a recommendation to, particularly for readers of Nora’s who haven’t really liked her more recent releases. This feels like “old school” Nora Roberts to me, and I mean that in the very best possible way. The Dark Witch gets a B+ from me.