Book Review: Dark Witch by Nora Roberts

“What’s an adventure if you know all the steps before you take them?”

Nora Roberts has been a favourite author of mine since I was seventeen years old: I was about to leave for over a month, to stay with my grandparents in Portugal – and while I could read Portuguese … let’s just say I preferred English books. However, I had been so busy with school and work that I hadn’t had time to go looking for books to read for my trip – so I grabbed the biggest one on my Mom’s bookshelf: Nora Roberts’ Three Fates. I must have read that book a hundred times over the weeks – it still smells of sand and sunscreen when I reread it now. It’s a wonderful story that Roberts makes her own – family, friends, connections across borders and wonderful descriptions of far off places, with high stakes and headstrong characters. I fell in love, and when I got back to Canada and discovered that Nora Roberts had written so many books, I counted myself lucky!

For the last eleven years, I have read my fair share of Roberts’ books: I reviewed the recently read Inn Boonsboro trilogy here. And through the moving across the continent thing, I was out of touch with what new things were coming out of the Nora Roberts camp. Then I was in Barnes & Noble a couple of months ago and saw Dark Witch – with its haunting cover and promise of witchy connections, a great evil and the power of family. Also, Irish heroes. Need I say more?

Well, here’s my review then!

Synopsis:

With indifferent parents, Iona Sheehan grew up craving devotion and acceptance. From her maternal grandmother, she learned where to find both: a land of lush forests, dazzling lakes, and centuries-old legends.

Ireland.

County Mayo, to be exact. Where her ancestors’ blood and magic have flowed through generations—and where her destiny awaits.

Iona arrives in Ireland with nothing but her Nan’s directions, an unfailingly optimistic attitude, and an innate talent with horses. Not far from the luxurious castle where she is spending a week, she finds her cousins, Branna and Connor O’Dwyer. And since family is family, they invite her into their home and their lives.

When Iona lands a job at the local stables, she meets the owner, Boyle McGrath. Cowboy, pirate, wild tribal horsemen, he’s three of her biggest fantasy weaknesses all in one big, bold package.

Iona realizes that here she can make a home for herself—and live her life as she wants, even if that means falling head over heels for Boyle. But nothing is as it seems. An ancient evil has wound its way around Iona’s family tree and must be defeated. Family and friends will fight with each other and for each other to keep the promise of hope—and love—alive…

As with Three Fates and the Circle Trilogy (as well as the Inn Boonsboro and other Roberts trilogies I’ve read) the main characters are not just the two love interests of the book – they’re all the secondary characters too. The Love story in this book is between Iona (I love this name!) and Boyle (I know, the name … it takes a while to get used to), but the rest of the characters filter in, their own stories (which will be better outlined in the following two books) edging around the boundaries of this story in a way that Roberts has perfected over the years. The way all the stories come together – the family ties, the friendships that blossom, the love affairs that ended and the tensions between some characters and easy flowing between others – makes for a cozy atmosphere, a welcome escape for the reader into the world of a family born and made, through blood and through loyalty.

It’s wonderful.

Our heroine, Iona, has had a troubled past: her parents were indifferent to her, preferring their own social activities over raising a child, and so she was brought up with the stories of Ireland told by her grandmother’s knees. She had a series of relationships, the last one ending as she realized that she was no longer in love, just going through the motions because she was comfortable. So, on a whim, but a strong one, she consults with her grandmother and decides to seek out family in Ireland, and make her way there, far from the heartache of her born-family, with hopes to regrow family connections on the Emerald Isle. Iona is a bubbly persona – not one I have seen Roberts delve into much – she loves to talk, sometimes talks over much, and all this makes her seem very young. She knows the family legends of the Dark Witch – a female ancestor that faced off the Great Evil at her cottage many centuries ago, protecting her three children with emblems and animal guides in order to carry o her legacy and beat the Great Evil when he rose again. Iona takes all this in stride, and the sense is that she is willing to believe all this family lore – of witches and magic and fighting evil – as long as it gets her the family she so desires.

When she reaches Ireland and meets her distant cousins, Branna and Connor, she falls into a natural rhythm of a younger child – learning from Branna all things magic, and learning from Connor all things fun. There’s a chemistry between the three cousins that oozes off the page, pulling and pushing between the three characters with their very distinct personalities – Iona’s chattering, Connor’s easy going attitude and Branna’s serious, almost sour disposition at time. They are joined by the blood they share and the destiny they’ve all chosen. 

And then there’s Boyle.

I know, I know, That name. But eventually you stop imagining some pussing wart-like thing whenever he’s mentioned, I promise.

Anyways, Boyle is our hero. He is a simple man – owns his own business, a stable, and generally likes the simple rural lifestyle, the company of good friends and the occasional showing of Irish sun. He is a stubborn man, with a sheen of wariness that grows into a helplessness as he falls in love with Iona and her ever more dangerous circumstances. The passion between the two is palatable – they are physical in the way that real people are, falling in love with a careful abandon, pulling back and pushing forth, the people around them obviously aware of the circumstances and awkwardly so. It’s a funny sort of heat – the steaminess of the love affair coupled with the knowing looks and jokes passed between the six friends we meet. It’s a good sort of combination – having your heart beating fast in one chapter, only to have your sides hurt from chuckling in the next.

Some people may be put off by the sameness of the formula – three chosen people, three chosen mates, all fighting The Big Bad. It’s, as I mentioned, in a lot of Nora Roberts stories. But where it is the same, it is also different – Iona is a very different character than any previous heroines I have read before – she is not timid or strong, but rather unabashedly curious. She is loud and sometimes annoying, but she’s earnest and she’s playful, and her eventual serious moments come  by way of her growing, instead of because that’s where they ought to be. Again, Roberts has been doing this for a long time – she has perfected the mode of story telling in parts, leaving you with wanting for the next story, even before you turn the last page of the one you’re reading.

I recommend this one – and the second in the trilogy, Shadow Spell, comes out this month (!) so it may be a good time to get into it. Unfortunately, the final book in the series only comes in the fall. My heart breaks a little for that since that’s the story I am most looking forward to 🙂

 

Until Next time !

AmmyB

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