Categories: Contemporary romance, paranormal
Series: Friday Harbor #4
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Book Source: Public Library
Justine Hoffman has made a comfortable life for herself on the island of Friday Harbor. She is the proprietor of a successful boutique hotel, and she has the safe, predictable life she has always wanted. Growing up with her flighty, nomadic mother, Marigold, has instilled in her a deep longing for stability. But in spite of everything Justine has achieved, there is still something missing. Love. And after years of waiting and dreaming, she is willing to do whatever it takes to change her destiny.
What Justine soon discovers is that someone cast a spell on her when she was born, with the result that she will never find her soul mate. Determined to change her fate, Justine finds a way to break the enchantment, never dreaming of the dangerous complications that will follow.
And when Justine meets the mysterious Jason Black, she accidentally unleashes a storm of desire and danger that threaten everything she holds dear . . . because Jason has secrets of his own, and he wants more from her than fate will ever allow.
Crystal Cove held my attention from beginning to end, and yet I find myself somewhat ambivalent about the novel. On the one hand, I really like Justine, the heroine, and I enjoyed her “aunts”, Rosemary and Sage, who live on a nearby island. Kleypas is a good writer; I have no complaints on that front. So why the ambivalence? Well, I’m less enthusiastic about Jason, the hero (for reasons I’ll get into below), and there are a few elements in the book that made me uncomfortable, and two things I found a bit difficult to swallow.
Justine is kind, caring, lovable… also bright, determined, and even stubborn. After a childhood spent wandering the world with her alternately neglectful and narcissistic, controlling mother, Justine has found a home and a career as owner-manager of an upscale bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor. She has friends, and her adopted “aunts” live on a nearby island. But what Justine longs for is love, and when she discovers a spell – a geas – has been put on her to prevent it, she is furious. Her relationship with her mother has left her very resistant to anything that seems like an attempt to control or push her into doing something, and the geas by its very nature is control. To Justine it’s a curse, and she’s willing to do just about anything to break it.
Jason, a highly-respected game designer, is autocratic, demanding, and initially cold. When we first meet him, he is the epitome of controlling, and I’m not sure he ever entirely loses that characteristic. Toward the beginning, I really wondered why Justine falls for him. Their initial attraction is intense and very physical; I’m not sure she even likes him at first, though she’s curious about him. Despite her wariness, she can’t quite stay away from him. As the story and their relationship progress, Jason does reveal some redeeming characteristics – he is clearly willing, in both words and actions, to accept Justine completely for who she is, anger and tears and scary powers and all. That alone did a lot to soften me toward him and explain Justine’s growing feelings toward him. For his part, Jason is fixated on her almost from the beginning. Yet at the same time, he is still pursuing an ulterior motive that he knows will require him to betray Justine’s trust. This being a romance, she eventually forgives him, but it reveals a ruthlessness in him that makes me uncomfortable.
The supernatural elements in the book also bothered me a bit. If you read this blog, you know that I don’t have any problem with paranormal elements on principle; I read fantasy and paranormal books all the time.* But I prefer the magical/paranormal elements to make internal sense, not be added in order to provide a plot device. In this case, Justine’s powers as a hereditary witch and Rosemary and Sage’s Wiccan practices didn’t bother me; they work within the book. [SPOILER ALERT – skip to where it says “END SPOILER” if you don’t want even a hint of a spoiler.] Both the witch’s bane – a curse which kills any man a witch loves – and Jason’s lack of a soul do bother me, because in both cases, they feel like something manufactured to make the plot work. Kleypas works hard to make the witch’s bane consistent throughout the novel (it affects Justine’s mother, Sage, and several other witches we encounter), but for some reason I haven’t been able to pin down, she never really sold me on it. It seems so arbitrary, so cruel, and so pointless that it just doesn’t ring true for me. The idea that anyone could be born without a soul, however, flies in the face of everything I believe, and I just couldn’t swallow it. A soul isn’t something evolution would have cooked up; if you’re going to admit the existence of souls then there must be some Higher Being(s) that created them and gave them to human beings. To describe it as just an accident of birth – a “trait just like eye color or the size of one’s feet” is illogical. It’s an interesting plot device, and it gives Jason much of his motivation, but it’s a device, and that shows. And that irritates me as a reader. It’s like seeing the back of the scenery at a play; it breaks the spell, kills the illusion of reality. Kleypas can do better.
Finally, there’s one more thing that I found personally uncomfortable: a bondage scene of sorts. Granted, it’s not a heavy-duty dominance/submission scene, and it’s written reasonably tastefully, but… it’s not to my taste. YMMV.
To sum up, then, I’d say that Crystal Cove is pretty well written, with the exception of the obvious plot devices I spoke about in the spoiler section. The romance itself is intense and sometimes steamy, and the main characters are both complex, interesting people. Justine is appealing; some readers will love Jason, while others may share my reservations. The paranormal elements are stronger in this book than in any of the previous Friday Harbor novels, including the one with the ghost; if that bothers you, it’s probably not the book for you. For my part, I enjoyed reading Crystal Cove despite the issues that bothered me. (I will admit, though, that I still prefer Kleypas’s historical romances, with their blend of humor and passion, over her contemporary romances.)