REVIEW: The Fossil Door by Celia Lake
Enjoy this kind and gentle historical fantasy romance set in the magical community of Great Britain after the Great War.
Rathna has a gift for doorways.
When a portal in the Scottish Highlands stops working, she is one of the only Portal Keepers able to travel to investigate. On the other hand, the location presents some challenges. As a London-born Bengali woman, she’s nothing like the villagers.
And of course, there’s the worrying question: why did this portal stop working? It shouldn’t have done that.
Gabe was born to fling himself at a challenge.
Gabe was born into an aristocratic family, and he’s used to everything coming easily. Everything, that is, but recovery from a life-changing injury in 1918. Fortunately, he’s recently finished training as one of Albion’s investigators, and he can throw himself entirely into his work. He has a new landscape to explore, wildlife to see, ponies to ride, and magic to untangle. There’s plenty to keep his quicksilver mind busy.
Perhaps there are a few too many problems. Rathna is prickly, giving him little to work with. There are threatening noises from the mountaintop nearby. Rathna is even more distant when she gets news from home of a mysterious man asking about her.
Somehow they must learn to work together, understand the local needs, and repair the portal, all while avoiding the wrath of the legendary beithir.
Dear Ms. Lake,
After I read “Carry On,” I was looking forward to the second book in this series. I also hoped that the first book would be a intro that would prepare me more for this book or the rest that follow it. Well, though it was set in the same magical world, the focus shifted to something entirely different and that left me floundering a bit.
Rathna Stone, an orphan, was plucked from an orphanage while still young and sent to study magic at Schola. Her abilities with magical portals is desperately needed as it’s a niche specialty with many of the (few) current practitioners getting older, but her young age isn’t the only thing that sets her apart. Her parents were Bengali immigrants to London and not all people are welcoming towards her. As she prepares for the journey to Scotland, we see some of her concerns about the train trip and being the focus of judging attention while fending off those who would see her as a servant. She learned long ago “that claiming equal rights would raise people’s hackles.”
Gabriel Edgarton is a Penelope (which despite him explaining the many things he does I never quite understood) and sent along to assist Rathna. With his deference, he makes it very clear to the locals that she is in charge of their work and that he supports her. He knows that he doesn’t fit in much more than does she as he’s the son of a Lord and an Englishman to boot. The social etiquette drilled into him by his mother helps him smooth their way and it’s not long before Gabe finds himself delighted to be working with a woman of uncommon intelligence and practicality. Just the sort he’s been hoping to find as he’s envied the same in his parent’s marriage and knows his duties to marry and produce an heir.
While they investigate why this portal has unexpectedly shut down, Rathna and Gabe slowly begin to form a partnership that might lead to something more.
As the story unfolded, I found myself getting frustrated at the slow pace. It finally dawned on me that the plot isn’t so much about Rathna and Gabe discovering what has happened to the portal (although they do) so much as discovering each other. We get to see their relationship bloom delicately and gradually. Even though they don’t actually spend eons of time in Scotland it feels as if they do. In another book this would be insta-lust while here it seems a careful courtship. Though it is not explicitly mentioned, Gabe is described in such a way that I feel he is intended to be demisexual.
Both of them are trained in their fields though not in the other’s so as they explain things to each other, the reader gets educated without it being turned into an info dump. Still there is a lot of explanation and times when both MCs will mentally slip down a trail of inquiry or thought. This slowed the pace to a crawl at times. I might have made some “come on!” facial expressions. As I mentioned, the cause of the portal malfunction is discovered but this almost becomes secondary to the growing relationship and, as in “Carry On,” the denouement is off page.
There is another mystery that ties in with the closing section of the book in which Gabe and Rathna work out their future. It’s brought into the story fairly early then dropped for a lengthy amount of time only to reappear after Rathna has “met the family” with Gabe standing foursquare behind her in support against any possible opposition. A few factors that could affect how his family view their relationship are sprinkled through the story and there is one person who apparently might not accept Rathna. As painful as that is to read, it does make the situation feel more realistic.
If I decide to try another “Mysterious Powers” book, I will need to keep in mind that the magical stuff is more a framework on which the relationship is hung and not get so impatient to see it solved. B-