When Serena Smyth arrived on his doorstep, a bedraggled orphan of only sixteen, Richard Merlin sensed in her the raw power and talent of a master wizard. Taking her into his home, he broke the laws of his kind to train her in the magical arts. Nine years later, she's blossomed into a beautiful woman who tempts him in ways forbidden to wizards. A law so ancient that no one knows the reasons for its origin prohibits him from mating with a female wizard, and he's already taken great risk by merely teaching her. When Merlin goes to his father in an attempt to find out the truth, the wizard's council demands that he cease his activities and instead take away Serena's powers for good. Unable to bear hurting her in any way, he instead sets out to discover why this law was made. His quest takes both Richard and Serena back in time to the long-lost continent of Atlantis in a desperate bid to change the history that is keeping them apart and right the wrongs committed centuries ago. But will this cursed land destroy them and their love before they can succeed in their mission?
I actually read "Arts Magica," the sequel novella to The Wizard of Seattle several months ago without knowing it was part of a series. I enjoyed it very much, so I decided to go back and see how it all started. This book is a very intriguing mixture of a number of different elements. For starters, it puts a whole new spin on Atlantean mythology and exactly what destroyed the lost continent. (Hint: It was wizards.:-)) In fact, even before Atlantis sank into the ocean, it was being polluted by magical energies that were distorting plant, animal and human life. There is also an extreme form of patriarchal culture in the wizard world that has essentially seeped into the very DNA of all male wizards. This makes it nearly impossible for them to trust anyone of the female persuasion, human or wizard, and keeps them locked in a competition of sorts with other male wizards to the point that they need their own territory devoid of other male wizards in which to live. Additionally the wizard council is all male, and there are laws on the books that forbid male wizards from training female wizards, instead instructing them to siphon off the female's power by force if necessary. Into this male-dominated society comes a male wizard who decides to buck convention by taking in a young female wizard as his apprentice. After nine years together, they realize that they have feelings for one another that go far beyond that of teacher and pupil. But in order to find out exactly what happened to create this world they now live in and to rid themselves of the stigma, they must travel back in time to ancient Atlantis and put together the pieces of the puzzle, while hoping to change history, making it possible for them to be together in their own time. Although the romance itself was somewhat muted (which I'll get to shortly), it was a fascinating and unique story that I enjoyed.
Richard Merlin, who usually simply goes by Merlin, is a high-level Master wizard. He knows the rules of his wizard society that forbid him from training a female, but nine years ago, something compelled him to take in the orphaned teenage waif who showed up on his doorstep. He became both her guardian and teacher. Now that she has grown into a lovely young woman, she stirs unfamiliar feelings inside him that make him want more, but he knows that will most likely be impossible. He's already broken wizard laws simply by training her, and the thought of mating her brings an uncomfortable combination of desire and mistrust. He seeks out his father's advice to discover what fuels this long-held inability to trust females, but the male wizards on the council have long forgotten where the law and these feelings of animosity originate, only that they simply exist. Merlin is instructed to take away Serena's powers, but he knows he cannot do that to her without trying to get to the bottom of this mystery first. Therefore, he proposes that they travel back in time to find the source. I liked that Richard is clearly someone who is above all the male domination. That he took a chance on Serena and trained her, knowing it was illegal, and that he cares enough for her to want to try to figure out what happened in the past and change it speaks volumes to his character. However, by virtue of simply being a male wizard in this society, he's very unemotional for a large part of the story. It's something he can't help, partly passed down through DNA and partly through how he was raised, but it did put something of a damper on the romantic feelings. Once he starts to understand the past and finds the proverbial switch to turn off the mistrust and get back in touch with his emotions, I liked him even better.
Serena is an orphan who sensed Merlin's presence with her own powers and sought him out at the age of sixteen, looking for guidance. She's an apt pupil, who is well on her way to becoming a Master herself, when Merlin gets the directive to take away her powers (something he doesn't tell her at first), and suggests that they travel back in time to find out what really happened so long ago. Serena is madly in love with Merlin and would do just about anything to help him find the answers he seeks, even though she isn't certain if he feels the same way about her. She's a feisty young woman who is none too happy when she discovers the subjugation females have to endure in Atlantis. Because of what those women are going through and Merlin finally telling her the truth of why they traveled back in time, she begins to doubt him a little herself. But I liked that ultimately she was able to trust Merlin to not become like his ancient counterparts. She was a heroine I could definitely relate to and one that made a very worthy mate for Merlin.
There is also a sweet secondary romance that I enjoyed as well. Tremayne is a young wizard from Europa who came to Atlantis to visit a distant kinsman. Relations between male and female wizards in Europa haven't yet deteriorated to the point they have in Atlantis. He disdains the way the women are treated there and falls in love at first sight with a female wizard named Roxanne. Little does he know, though, that she's fallen victim to some of the human men on the continent who have been told by male wizards that if they take a female wizard by force, they'll gain some of her power. Of course, this, along with the general distrust between the sexes, puts a major roadblock between Tremayne and Roxanne that I enjoyed seeing them work to overcome along with Merlin and Serena's help.
My only real complaint about The Wizard of Seattle is that because of all the mistrust that's going around within both sexes, Merlin and Serena's romance is pretty slow to take off. It's obvious that they care for one another, but they don't even kiss until a long way into the story. Therefore, it takes quite a while to get to the actual romance. It helped that there were two different couples to root for, although Tremayne and Roxanne's romance is even slower building, which is understandable given all she's been through. However, I did like the payoff that occurs when both couples finally discover a twist with their powers that shows that male and female wizards were meant to be together all along, but trust is a key ingredient in being able to harness this power successfully. Otherwise it was a very interesting story with lots of intriguing elements. I would certainly recommend it to fans of fantasy romances who don't mind a story that's a little heavier on the fantasy and lighter on the romance.
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