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If any reader of romantic fiction was asked to name their top five romance writers, I'm willing to bet that Nora Roberts' name would appear somewhere on the list. Since the early Eighties she's been turning out book after book featuring feisty and independent heroines with whom every reader can empathise and identify along with the kind of men, usually possessing acceptable masculine foibles, who every woman dreams of claiming for her own. She began, like most writers of romantic fiction, by writing category romances, that is the short and snappy (or should that be sappy) kind published by Mills & Boon and their American counterpart, Masquerade, before progressing to longer novels and when the story was too long for one novel, she produced trilogies. To say Nora Roberts is prolific would be a gross understatement. In the intervening thirty years since she began her career, she's published over 200 books and that doesn't include short stories published in anthologies.
Key of Light is the first book in the Key Trilogy and has something of a paranormal theme. Although originally published in 2003, this is still in print, as are the two subsequent novels, and all of which can be bought for as little as 1p plus postage. The other two books following this are Key of Knowledge and Key of Valour.
Malory Price is intrigued to receive an invitation to 'cocktails and conversation' at Warrior's Peak, a mansion high in the mountainous hills above the little town of Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania. Despite her suspicions she attends the party and discovers that she and two other young women, Dana and Zoe, are the only guests. Their hosts, a mysterious couple called Pitte and Rowena, offer the women a chance to earn a small fortune. They tell them a tale of gods and goddesses and then show them a painting of three women, bearing a strong resemblance to their guests, who they're told were cast into an eternal sleep and their souls locked away. Pitte and Rowena say that in every generation three females are born who have the power to free the sleeping souls and Malory, Dana and Zoe are those three women. If they can find each key within 28 days, the money will be theirs. There is a down side, however, if they fail they will forfeit a year of their lives.
I often feel rather sorry for the heroine of the first in any of Ms Roberts' trilogies. They have to share their story far more than the heroines of the subsequent books because a large proportion of the novel is usually taken up with scene setting and the introduction of all the major players as well as providing her story. However, in the case of this book, the back story is intertwined with current events and the paranormal elements, too, are cleverly blended into the story of a contemporary woman in such a way as to be (almost) plausible. Malory doesn't immediately fall for the story told to her and is suspicious of Pitte's and Rowena's motives and thinks they both may possibly be mad but she knows she's going to be losing her job very shortly and is pragmatic enough to realise that beggars can't be choosers.
Malory is well named because there is much about the paranormal elements of this book which bring Thomas Mallory's legends of King Arthur to mind: This modern day Malory is on a quest like any Arthurian knight though unlike them, her search begins at the local library. Of course, as this is a romance, our heroine meets her soul mate in the course of her quest and here he comes in the shape of the brother of one of her fellow seekers.
Flynn Hennesey is charming, easygoing and irresistible, not to mention handsome. He owns the local newspaper, which is going to prove useful in terms of research about the keys and as if that wasn't enough he also comes with Moe, a large shaggy dog, and both dog and owner take an immediate shine to Malory. Moe is a major character in himself and brings a good deal of comic relief throughout the story. I'm not a great dog lover in real life but fictional ones are another matter and Moe is a great character, uncontrollable and exuberant, a cross between "a cocker spaniel and a woolly mammoth."
Even though much of the book is taken up with the legend and the search for the first key, the reader isn't short-changed with regard to the romance element and the love story between Malory and Flynn didn't seem at all abbreviated or rushed.
The other two main female characters, Dana and Zoe, aren't fully fleshed out in this book but there is enough to make them very real characters who prove to be every bit as likeable as Malory and the burgeoning friendship between the women doesn't seem at all forced. One of Nora Roberts' talents is that she can create characters without describing them in minute detail, on top of which she's a consummate storyteller. For the legend of the Keys on which the book is based, I'd guess she's drawn on Celtic or British mythology but the story comes across as unique and original, and I suspect that Pitte and Rowena owe a good deal of their characters to Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's Dream', Pitte especially has much of Oberon about him, and although I know it wasn't his line in the play, I almost expected him to say "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
This is an engaging first book in an enjoyable trilogy and certainly whets the appetite to read the following two stories. I'm not saying the book is perfect but Nora Roberts is skilled enough to avoid all the usual romance clichés and provides her characters with realistic personalities and dialogue and if you can suspend belief enough to get over the paranormal elements, you'll find this an entertaining read.