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Book Review: Nora Roberts, Dark Witch

November 26, 2013

Nora Roberts’ books were my introduction to romance novels, and I consider them old friends. Her Born In (or Irish Born) trilogy has a place of honor on my bedroom bookshelf to this day. I’ve also recently began reading her In Death crime procedurals (written as J.D. Robb), and have enjoyed getting to know those characters as well.

I’m starting to get a little disappointed in Roberts’ writing, however, as her last few book series seem a little off. They are shadows of her former books, with the same characters, plotlines, and even lines of dialogue mashed up into combinations that don’t entirely work. Roberts’ previous trilogy, the Inn Boonsboro series, was a thinly veiled advertisement for her family’s businesses in Boonsboro, Maryland, and her current series, the Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy, seems inspired by her recent vacation to Ireland. This is all well and good, but the fun is gone.

Dark Witch, the first book of the O’Dwyer trilogy, has many of the elements that I’ve come to love in Roberts’ novels. An Irish setting, characters with interlocking love stories, and an overarching storyline. Dark Witch, however, has some of the crabbiest characters I’ve ever seen in a Roberts novel, when they are not being complete ciphers. The hero, Boyle, barely registers, and the heroine, Iona, is supposedly the product of an emotionally neglectful childhood. Since we meet her about halfway into her emotional journey, however, it is hard to get invested in the idea of her finding herself in Ireland. Roberts has written these same characters before, but this time around, they aren’t translating well to the page.

While the novel started interestingly, with the story of Sorcha and her children and their confrontation with the evil Cabhan, the present-day plotlines were far less compelling. While Cabhan works to finish what he’s started (his quest is to obtain the magical powers of the O’Dwyer witches), Sorcha’s descendants, including Iona and her cousins, the anal retentive Branna and the far-too-charming Connor, have their attention divided between “magick” and running their various businesses (because running or starting a business is what one does in a Roberts trilogy).

Iona is American, and has left her parents and a boring boyfriend behind in order to start a new life in Ireland. She doesn’t struggle long, because Branna and Connor offer her a place to live almost immediately, and convince Boyle to hire her to work at his stables. She also meets her cousins’ friends, Meara (who is sassy and can fight with a sword for no apparent reason), and Fin, who also a witch (but, unfortunately, is Cabhan’s descendant, so, you know, it’s complicated).

In what I consider to be the major failing of the book, instead of being emotionally neglectful, Iona’s cousins and friends go too far in the other direction. They coddle her, they are overprotective, and are almost over-nurturing. Supposedly this is all okay because she becomes a powerful witch by the end of the story, but the emotional arc of the book rang wrong to me. (There’s also a very creepy moment in Chapter 15 where Iona suddenly turns into Eve Dallas from the In Death series and does a forensic/psychic read of Ross Abbey.)

While Iona trains to be a witch, she is also falling in love with Boyle, but, their relationship primarily consists of a hook-up, an argument, some make-up sex, a fight with Cabhan, and then a marriage proposal. (Say what?) While Boyle is presented to us as some sort of pirate/neanderthal/manly man (complete with lines like “take what I give,” which the hero says in damn near every Roberts novel), you never really get a sense of who he is supposed to be.

And, the romance pretty much fell apart for me completely with this line: “And he was strong as a god, randy as a stallion, mad as a hatter” (p. 202). Well, then.

Admittedly, the last third of the book does get better, as our heroes confront Cabhan. Although, knowing that there are two more books in this series, it was fairly obvious how this one was going to end.

I will continue reading Roberts, but really hope that her books regain their focus (perhaps she’s putting too many books out per year?). She’s too good a writer to have her oeuvre start slipping into mediocrity.

(And, as a side note, while the book cover was lovely, it was sort of ruined by the goofy horse running through the left hand side of the picture. Someone at Penguin needs to lay off of the Photoshop.)

Source: My public library

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