Lord Darkfest is a powerful wizard who has lived a lonely existence in his castle on a hilltop, feared by the villagers below. He is mesmerized by the lovely blind peasant girl, Channa Leigh, who sings with such beauty it makes him ache to have her near. Darkfest decides to visit the girl in his wolf form, and to both his surprise and hers, Channa Leigh's sight is restored each time she touches him. When Channa Leigh's mother takes ill with a fever and nothing can restore her health, Channa Leigh's father calls upon Lord Darkfest to heal her. Darkfest agrees, but his price is for Channa Leigh to live in his castle with him for the span of one year. Although Channa Leigh's father is appalled at the idea, she readily agrees to save her mother's life. Once ensconced within his castle, Channa Leigh is rather frightened of Darkfest because of all the terrifying stories the villagers tell about him. Darkfest treats her well and secretly continues to come to her as a wolf, so she is able to experience the gift of sight. Puzzled by the fact that Channa Leigh can only see when she touches him in wolf form but not in his human form, Darkfest sets out on a determined quest to find a way to permanently restore her eyesight while also quelling her fears and winning her heart.
Darkfest was a generally enjoyable read for me, mainly because of its fairy tale quality. It takes place at an unspecified time in the past which has a medieval feel to it, making it the first historical paranormal story I've read. The main characters were pretty likable. The hero, Lord Darkfest, has a mysterious air about him. He is a 300-year-old, nearly all-powerful wizard who is also a wolf shifter and has hints of even darker things in his soul as well. The heroine, Channa Leigh, is a beautiful but blind peasant girl who sings with the voice of an angel, stirring feelings and desires within the lonely wizard that he has never felt before. In his entire three centuries of life, Darkfest has never loved or made love to a woman, though there was a brief mention of him having mated with a female wolf while in his animal form. I wasn't really sure what the purpose of that passage was, as it didn't seem to add anything to the story, and I would have just preferred he unquestionably be a virgin in all his forms. Darkfest acted somewhat selfishly when he demanded that Channa Leigh come to live in his castle as payment for healing her mother, but I thought he redeemed himself through his determined quest to permanently restore her sight. Aside from a few moments of arrogance, he was a gentle hero that I liked. Channa Leigh was one of those sweet, guileless heroines who would be difficult not to like, and I greatly admired her independence in spite of her blindness.
My main problem with this novella is that, as with most short stories, it is very hard to develop the characters and the plot to a point that it is fully satisfying. There were many questions about Darkfest that I felt were left unanswered, and Channa Leigh went from being afraid of him to being in love with him a little too quickly. Although Channa Leigh eventually figured out that there was a connection between Darkfest and the magical wolf who keeps visiting her, there was never a moment when he shifted for her or spoke the truth to solidify that in her mind. The ending was perhaps a little too simplistic as well, and while I don't mind sweet, non-explicit romances, I have to admit feeling a little cheated that the hero and heroine didn't even get a single love scene or even a cut scene after all the build-up. There were also a few discrepancies in the narrative such as in one place, Channa Leigh had lost her sight to illness and in another, it was an accident. In spite of some weaknesses, I found Darkfest to be a pleasant way to wile away a few hours, and anyone who likes a good fairy tale with a slightly dark flavor will probably find it enjoyable too. Darkfest is found in the Midnight Pleasures anthology.
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