Charmed Destinies by Mercedes Lackey, Rachel Lee, & Catherine Asaro

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"Counting Crows" by Mercedes Lackey
"Drusilla’s Dream" by Rachel Lee
"Moonglow" by Catherine Asaro

Charmed Destinies
is a triad of romantic fantasy short novels/novellas.  It was released in 2003 by Silhouette Books, a Harlequin imprint, to set up the launch of the LUNA line.  All three authors featured in this anthology have since contributed a novel to the line, though only Lackey’s and Asaro’s are mentioned in the notes of this book.

ImageI am a fan Mercedes Lackey‘s work, having read almost all of the Valdemar books and her later novel in the LUNA line, The Fairy Godmother.  "Counting Crows" is familiar territory to a Lackey fan.  A strong, fair, kind woman is thrust into a bad situation and must make do until she can honorably act to change it.  In this case, Gwynnhwyfar chooses a glove marriage (a marriage ceremony performed between her and a glove, representing her new husband) to gain the King’s protection for her father.  Duke/Baron Bretagne (he was a Duke initially but seemed to transmute into a Baron a quarter of the way into the story) turns out to be the worst of men, sexually assaulting Gwynn to the point of near-rape, beating her, and keeping an open mistress.  But Gwynn perseveres to make the best of her situation and brings cleanliness, good food, and light to Crawcrag, as Bretagne is better than the Black Sorcerer, Duke Anghus, the man she fled through this marriage.  Throughout, Gwynn is offered friendship by her childhood crush grown to a woman’s love: Sir Atremus, a true knight and kind soul.  Only a surprise discovery allows Gwynn to perform a White Magic ritual to save herself and her love.

This is a decent fantasy story, though it suffers from trodding familiar ground.  However, it is not a good romance story.  The heroine is trapped with an evil man for the majority of the story, suffers almost no flaws, and the hero does not rescue the heroine nor lend her aid in her struggles.  While the realities of a glove marriage are probably closer to the truth than not, a certain amount of fudging is expected and accepted in romance stories.  Additionally, the romantic elements are glossed over rather than shown.  This is unfortunate as past work has shown Lackey can craft a delightful romance and her later novel, The Fairy Godmother, did a wonderful job at balancing romantic and fantastic elements. 

Rachel Lee was an unknown author to me, though she has more than a few romance and suspense novels to her credit.  "Drusilla’s Dream" is the story of data entry drone, Drusilla, who pursues her art in the early morning hours after working a graveyard shift.  To keep herself entertained during the long, boring nights, she daydreams.  However, one night, her dreams refuse to go her way and another character, played by the Systems Administrator Miles Kennedy, co-stars in her dreams.  The dreams gradually mesh more and more with reality, and Drusilla has trouble keeping her mind on her work.  The switching back and forth from reality to dream was poorly handled and served to confuse the reader more often than not.  The events from the reality stream were incorporated into the dream stream in a different chronological order, making it hard to see the similarities.  The ending was not believable and Miles suffered from poor development.  The note preceding "Drusilla’s Dream" tells readers that Lee’s characters surprised her and "had minds of their own."  Lee reflected this by having Drusilla muse often about why her dream wasn’t going her way or trying to invent something to go next, though she professed to be an artist not an author.  Miles serves as another foil for the author, secretly desiring to write "love stories" rather than watch over computers distinctly different from computers in this reality.  While this story is truer to the romance tropes than Lackey’s, the writing is of poor quality and the believability factor is low.  The fantasy elements are lacking in originality or a fresh new look, and it seems clear that Lee is not a fan of the genre.

Catherine Asaro‘s "Moonglow" is, by far, the best of the lot.  Asaro balances romantic elements with an interesting magical kingdom to achieve a believable romantic fantasy story.  In part, I’m sure this is because "Moonglow" is a short story covering the B-plot (secondary love story, for non-romance genre fans) of her novel in the LUNA line, The Charmed Sphere.  Having read the novel, sections of "Moonglow" are lifted from the novel wholesale, or perhaps the other way around as "Moonglow" appeared first.  There are also several repeat scenes between the works, merely told from another point of view.

"Moonglow" is the story of Iris, a young girl from the mountains, thrust into the Court of Aronsdale due to her magical ability—or at least the magical ability the Shape-mage Della (magic in Aronsdale is based on colors and shapes) senses in her.  Eventually, Iris manages to tap into her power in a brilliant display that not only finds the lost heir to Aronsdale, Prince Jarid, but establishes her as a sphere mage, the most powerful mage in the land.  As such, Iris is required to marry the King.  Jarid’s grandfather, the late King, has recently passed away and Jarid’s cousin Muller has not been crowned, so Muller abdicates in favor of Jarid.  Prince Jarid went missing during an attack fourteen years previously that killed his parents when he was six-years old.  A powerful mage in his own right, Jarid used his powers in the wake of his parent’s murder to kill one of the highwaymen.  In penance, he made himself deaf, blind, and mute.  Until Iris reached him, he had spent the last fourteen years with his foster father in the mountains, a man who did not know he watched over the heir to the throne.  And that’s just the beginning.  A broken man, Jarid is returned to his throne, and Iris must use her magic and love to reach out and heal him.  Asaro carefully intertwines the romantic elements of Iris and Jarid’s relationship and the fantasy elements of shape-magic to create a strong romantic fantasy story.  Fans of the story are encouraged to read The Charmed Sphere, the novel that follows the romance of Chime, fellow mage student, and ex-Prince Muller as well as a looming threat to all of Aronsdale.  I personally preferred the short story to the novel, and the shape magic which is enchanting in "Moonglow" becomes merely interesting in the novel.

As a side note, this book suffers from a poor copyeditor.  As noted above, Gywnn’s husband in "Counting Crows" changes from a Duke to a Baron mid-story.  The back blurbs also mangle the heroine’s name and completely changes the hero’s name.  "Drusilla’s Dream" would have benefited from a clearer establishment of reality and dream, needing merely a few name/detail changes to maintain constancy.

Publisher: Silhouette (November 1, 2003)
Price: $6.50
Paperback: 384 pages
ISBN: 0373218338