How's this for sad? I just finished a book that has been sitting in my TBR Mountain Range for the last 2 years. I'm pathetic I tells ya - pathetic.
The Basics: Dark Enchantment by Karen Harbaugh, a historical paranormal novel from 2004. It's also a prequel/companion book to Night Fires, which was published in 2003. I reviewed Night Fires for TRR, loved it, and subsequently bought this book so it could sit in my TBR for two years. It should also be noted that these two books came out right before the paranormal glut reached a fever pitch.
The Plot: Catherine de la Fer is living on the streets of Paris and has no memory of her past. She's literally living one day at a time, trying to survive sleeping on cobblestones and scrounging for food. It is in the alley she calls "home" that she sees two men accosting (as in going to rape her at any minute) a young woman. Catherine pulls out her sword, and manages to rescue the girl, but she is so weak from hunger and her injuries that she can barely fight off the men. See, Catherine has stigmata. Her hands bleed, mostly when she is around "evil," such as two men trying to rape a woman.
Out of the darkness steps Englishman Jack Marstone, who comes to Catherine's aid. After dispatching of the villains, he is surprised to discover that the young boy he rescued is really a waifish young woman - a well spoken young woman at that. The chit speaks of manners and breeding which means she must come from money. If she comes from money then maybe her family will pay handsomely for her safe return, and Jack needs the money to aid King Charles II, currently living in exhile thanks to the wacky bloke Cromwell.
The Good: Well the characters here are really fantastic. I suspect I've just overdosed on helpless females in paranormal novels, but truly Harbaugh writes two characters that are extremely forthright and intelligent. Jack's motives are shady at best, but he is a man of duty and honor, of king and country. Also, he's a little bent out of shape that the Roundheads took his family's land. He sees Catherine as a ticket to money and King Louis' court, but quickly finds himself entranced by the girl and her skill with a sword. His conscience niggles at him though - Catherine has open wounds, what if it was her family that beat the stuffing out of her? Should he really return her to the people who might have harmed her in the first place?
Amnesia is a well worn plot device in Romance Novel Land, but it works here because it isn't silly. Catherine can't remember thanks to the paranormal, plus the fact that she doesn't want to remember. Her stigmata, coupled with her fast healing, puzzles her and Jack - is it a curse of the Devil or a blessing from God? Either way, she just wants it to go away.
Harbaugh has a light touch with the paranormal, and it really works within the context of the story. I'm the type of reader who doesn't like wallpaper, but whose eyes cross when there is too much info-dumping and world building. The paranormal blends seemlessly here, and Harbaugh just sets about her business writing a good story.
The Bad: Catherine's "condition" is never really given a name. It's sort of tossed off at the end as a "special gift" although readers are left with the impression that she can sense evil.
Also the romance feels very "love at first sight" at times. I suspect this is because Harbaugh jumps forward in time to further the course of her story. Jack and Catherine are together for a couple of weeks that the reader isn't privy too, so in some instances the scenes between them feel like "instant love." That said, the love scenes work very well, and by the end I was buying into their romance.
Final Verdict: I liked this one, but not as much as Night Fires. That said, Dark Enchantment is still superior to some of the more recent paranormals I've slogged through. They came out fairly early in the recent "boom," so that might be why Harbaugh's work tends to be overlooked. It shouldn't be. She writes very good characters, works comfortably in a paranormal atmosphere and blends in gothic overtones. Final Grade = B.