Connie Brockway's my favorite, so I when I found out she was returning to historicals with So Enchanting I was intrigued, thrilled, couldn't wait to get my hands on the book - all kinds of happy. The premise of So Enchanting is different and refreshingly original - at least I haven't come across too many historical paranormals. Best of all, there's not a werewolf or vampire in sight! Though there is one facetious reference to an incubus that had me laughing out loud. The tone is light and fun, but still with enough depth to make the whole reading experience memorable. The heroine, Francesca Walcott, is interesting and fully three-dimensional. I liked how the author dealt with the supernatural elements of her character, blending it in so that it's a part of her world and who she is, a formative influence on her life. At the same time, though, the magic doesn't highjack the story and detract from the human emotions that play out as things progress.
So Enchanting starts with a bang and takes the reader where few romances have gone before - into the midst of the occult craze sweeping late Victorian England. I thought this initial setting was inspired, particularly in light of what the book is about. Issues of faith and skepticism, fraud and fact, mystery and magic are brought to the forefront as the book pits eminently skeptical, rational Greyson Sheffield, who makes it his business to expose the hoaxes and schemes of occultist charlatans, against Francesca Walcott, who, when our story starts, is a willing accomplice in her husband's fraudulent séances. Grey busts up the show, Fanny's husband abandons her, has a fatal run in with a train in France, and Fanny is on her own, disgraced and exiled. But Fanny is different from her husband and other con artists in that she does have a bit of the magical about her, which has been more of a curse than a gift, branding her as different, even dangerous, and estranging her from her family. When she's offered a clean slate by the father of a similarly afflicted/gifted girl, who wants Fanny to become his daughter's companion, to guide and protect her, Fanny jumps at the chance to live a "normal" life. She and Amelie Chase retreat to the wilds of Scotland, where they live in peaceful, if boring, seclusion for the next six years.
I really liked the relationship between Fanny and Amelie, a friendship that evolves with the story. Fanny eschews the all too easy/clichéd Merlin mentor role and even keeps her magic a secret from Amelie. They're unconventional, independent, and complement each other nicely. Fanny is the mature, (seemingly) staid, practical one. Amelie is young, emotional, and impulsive.
As for the romance, a series of coincidences brings Grey back into Fanny's life because it turns out he's the brother of the man who became Amelie's guardian upon the death of Amelie's father. A threatening letter warns that Amelie's life is in danger, and since Amelie's guardian is too busy, he sends Grey to take care of it for him. With Grey is his nephew, Lord Hayden. The rest of the book (apart from the untangling of this death threat mystery - not my fav part of the book btw) chronicles the misadventures in love of these two pairs, Grey and Fanny, and Amelie and Hayden.
Francesca's character is one of the strongest aspects of the book. She's resourceful, intelligent, and has a sense of humor. She's suffered in the past, but has adapted, recovered, and moved on. Grey seems like a powerful personality - v compelling, even if his trust issues are kind of rote (was hurt in the past by con artists, hates them all and wants to rid the world of their evil blight.) He's abrasive and rude a lot of the time, in an I'll-say-what-I-think-and-damn-the-consequences way, but cares deeply for Fanny (against his better judgment.) They're a very well matched couple - with a credible instant, deep connection thing going on, but, at the same time I'm not so sure about their chemistry (that fun, sexy banter that I love,) and I think the story was stretched a bit thin in this regard. They don't have a conversation until well into the book, more than a hundred pages. But I enjoyed the set up and the story that was woven around their eventual reunion (and 100 or so pages isn't that long to wait after all,) so I'm not complaining. I just wish there could have been more of a focus on the two of them.
The secondary romance between Amelie and Hayden also takes up a lot of space, and the book is pretty equally divided between the two romances. I would have liked Amelie and Hayden more if the book hadn't gone on so much about how young they were - in a way that gently, playfully pokes fun at the couple. Grey and Fanny are in on the joke and spend a lot of their time rolling their eyes at the besotted love birds. While I was amused too, I wish that Amelie and Hayden's romance could have moved beyond this to become something more than a parody. As it is, the joke got old for me, and since no one else in the book seemed to take their love seriously, I couldn't either. Though Amelie had more depth to her, Hayden was pretty bland.
On the other hand, there were some beautiful moments shared by Grey and Fanny, particularly near the end as they work through their issues (well mostly Grey has to become more amenable to the idea of a little trust and magic in his life) and fall in love. At the end of the book, I'm happy to see them together at last. As always, I love how Connie Brockway writes, so even though I have some reservations, I still enjoyed So Enchanting.