Review of Magic’s Muse (Hidden Places #2) by Anne Barwell

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Rating: 4.5 points

Tomas Kemp and Cathal Emerys have finally returned to Tomas’ home after escaping from Naearu, Cathal’s world in an alternative universe.  And while the men hope they are finally safe from Cathal’s cousin, Lady Deryn and the laws governing his world, neither man really believes it.  The cost of their escape is high.  Christian, another of Cathal’s cousins, has lost almost everything he loved and is confined to the shape of a cat for as long as the magic of his punishment holds.  Cathal is also confined within the boundaries of the inn where they now reside, chained by magic to the oak tree that is the portal between the worlds.

Cathal’s nightmares are increasing now that he and Tomas have consummated their relationship and Tomas seems to be acquiring some magic of his own in the interim.  Naearu’s enforcers, The Falcons, are still capable of coming after them, and nightly Lady Deryn whispers threats in Cathal’s mind, promising to kill Tomas if Cathal doesn’t return to their world and marry her. Cathal and Tomas are struggling with their relationship, Cathal is still keeping secrets from Tomas and Tomas is still trying to overcome his self centered impulses and isolated ways to find a way to have an equal relationship with Cathal.  Only when the portal is closed, can both men feel safe to plan for their future.

Magic’s Muse is the second in the Hidden Places series but the first that I have read by Anne Barwell.  The first book, Cat’s Quill, centers around Tomas’s meeting Cathal and their time in Naearu.  It sets out Anne Barwell’s world and myth building that is so important to the events that occur here and introduces us to characters in the continuing storyline of  the Hidden Places.  That said, I am not sure I wish to  go back and read what must be a very bittersweet story.  If I do, it will be because Anne Barwell has such a beautiful way with the English language.  Her sentences flow with a magic all of their own, transporting us easily to places we have never been to meet people not of this world.  Her narrative is rich in its descriptions and the tumultuous emotions of all the characters involved.  From the lyrical passages of the countryside with its fields and  magical oak tree to the  dust motes in the attic of the inn that has been the focal point of time travel, it makes us feel that we are there, listening to the floor boards creak and the branches sigh with the wind.

Her characters are as rich and complex as the story she is telling.  Tomas Kemp is a author of popular books and initially a tough character to invest your affections in.  He comes across as extremely self centered, oblivious sometimes to the feelings of those closest to him. Tomas’ attention is all about his writing, he is consumed with his stories, one of which will bring him into contact with Lord Cathal Emerys of Naearu. We can recognize Tomas as one whose social skills are sadly lacking and whose focus is always somewhere else, even when someone is talking to him. Indeed while Tomas can come off as quite dour, Cathal shimmers with magic and vulnerability.  Cathal easily endears himself to the reader, for Tomas it takes a little longer.  Cathal misses his family even as he recognizes that Tomas’ world is the only place they will be safe and have a future. Cathal is filled with guilt over his role in Christian’s punishment and struggling to find a balance in his relationship with Tomas.  So much is going on in Cathal’s head and heart that sometimes he is feel estranged from the every day moments in the inn. Barwell imbues all of her characters with so much heart, soul, and intelligence that everyone breathes and bleeds across the pages.

And bleed these characters do.  Whether is it actual blood, or their emotions bleeding out of them, there is so much sadness and loss within these story that your heart hurts from reading it.  Christian is an especially tragic figure.  Condemned to being a cat, he was torn away form his wife and  newborn son.  His beloved wife continued to wait for him to return up to her last breath as what is months in one world is years in Tomas’.  And now his son is dying in a nursing home and his grandson needs him badly.  Christian’s wife’s sketches and paintings pop up throughout the story bringing with them the bittersweet memories of their all too short time together.  He too awaits the closing of the portal, the only thing that will restore his human form.  No character is left untouched by regret or sorrow.  Looming over all the events occurring is the threat that the Falcons can reappear to pull one or all of them back to Naearu for judgment and jail.  Over and over we are told their reappearance is eminent and the foreboding builds incrementally. And that brings me to my only quibble with this tale.

We are left with quite a few dangling ends of the saga, so many that I assume that another book will follow this one.  A child is still missing, two characters have just paired up and all agree that Lady Deryn will never give up on her goal of marriage to Cathal and her need to destroy Tomas. With all that hanging over our couple and their friends at the end, I would classify this as a happy for now, not the happy ever after others see it as.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I think not.  That would let Cathal and Tomas off too easily, something I would not expect of Barwell and her saga building. With descriptive passages and a richly enthralling narrative Barwell conjures up a tale of two worlds and a rising rebellion that will effect both.  This story can only be part of a much larger plan.  I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Cover by Anne Cain is one of my absolute favorites.  As rich in detail and evocative in feeling as the book itself, it is one of my best of the year.

Hidden Places series in the order they should be read:

Cat’s Quill (Hidden Places#1) 350 pages

Magic’s Muse (Hidden Places #2)  294 pages

Great Saturday, Marvelous Sunday, Fall is Here! The Week Ahead in Reviews

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I had a great day yesterday.  Friends came over, a fellow blogger, and an author, both wonderful.  We had a time of it, discussing books, movies, Spartacus, you name it while drinking wine, gobbling up bread, cheese and crackers while the sun shown down!  Does it get any better than that?  I don’t think so.  Kirby loves visitors and was so excited to see them both, going from one to the other before roaming around looking for squirrels and bugs and things.  Winston and Willow are just happy to sit in the chair with me and chill.  And today?  Just beautiful, cool, sunny, the perfect football weather as they say.  Daughter and SIL off to the Redskins game and RGIII’s first home game.  I know, I know.  I swore off the Redskins but habits are hard to break!  So consider this a work in progress.

Three more bushes to go into the garden, Firelight Spirea.  The foliage changes color three times during the year.  In the spring, the leaves are a orange green changing to greenish yellow in the summer and then turning a lovely deep red in the fall, all that and beautiful pink blossoms that beacon to bees and butterflies for weeks while they are in bloom.  Sigh!  I love gardening and the discovery of new plants.  The windows are open, letting in the cool breezes to refresh the house air.  A ruby throated hummer just buzzed the window letting me know the feeders still need filling as there are still migrants making their way south and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am just finishing up the first in the Wolf’s Own series by Carole Cummings and loving it.  Look for the review at the end of the week.  I am starting the week off with a bang and a great book by Amy Lane.  Don’t miss out on this one.  As always so many books, so little time, but I am working on it.  Just a reminder, the first week in October is JL Langley week and I will be giving away a copy of My Regelence Rake to a lucky person who comments on the week which will include a interview with JL and recaps of all the SciFi Regency books to date.  So let’s get to it:

Monday:                               Sidecar by Amy Lane

Tuesday:                               Magic’s Muse by Anne Barwell

Wednesday:                        Gilbert by Bailey Bradford

Thursday:                            Wolf’s Own: Ghost by Carole Cummings

Friday:                                 Inferno by Scarlett Blackwell

Saturday:                             Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and  Marie Sexton

 

Have a wonderful week.  Get out and enjoy this weather!  Happy Fall All!