Again the Magic was published in 2004. It’s a prequel of sorts to Kleypas’s wildly popular Wallflower series, since the heroine’s older brother, Marcus Westcliff, is the hero of It Happened One Autumn. I’ve read a bunch of books by Kleypas (maybe 7 or 8), and I’ve enjoyed all of them, although, with the exception of The Devil in Winter, which had a very memorable deflowering scene, I find I have a hard time with recall after I’ve turned the last page.
The first chapter establishes that our teenage hero, McKenna, an orphaned stable boy, and heroine, Aline, eldest daughter of the Earl of Westcliff, are childhood friends who recently watched a Very Special episode of The Brady Bunch and concur with Greg and Marcia that:
Day by day, it’s hard to see the changes you’ve been through
A little bit of living, a little bit of growing all adds up to you
Every boy’s a man inside, a girl’s a woman too
And if you wanna reach your destiny, here’s what you’ve got to do
They are deeply in love and lust and soon enough — despite McKenna’s attempt to hold her off, an indication of his nascent wimpitude, which grows into full blown wimpitude later in the book — get busy — but not to the point of defloweration — on the stream that runs behind Aline’s family’s Hampshire estate. Alas, Aline’s snooping little sister, much like Cindy Brady, is a tattletale, and Aline is forced to send McKenna off under the pretense that she has suddenly discovered that she is the daughter of an Earl and he is a stable boy. McKenna buys it (!), and leaves for (eventually) the Colonies, only to make his fortune and return — 12 years later — with revenge on his mind.
Aline, meanwhile, has burned both of her legs by reaching for one of McKenna’s letters in the kitchen. She is left with grotesque scarring, problems walking, and major case of Martyrdomitis. She will never love again, but finds, miraculously enough, a Gay BFF in neighbor Lord Sandridge.
When McKenna shows up (with his employer, Shaw, a drunk but rich American), we are given all the signals that he has transformed from a lovesick boy from the wrong side of the haystack into an Alpha Hero Bent on Sexy Revenge, but one look at Aline, and he’s pretty much putty in her hands again. Far from him seducing her into ruin and then breaking her heart, Aline manages to seduce him while simultaneously hiding her legs and keeping her dual secrets: why she sent him away and why she can’t take him back.
McKenna is a bit slow on the uptake with regard to both his own feelings for Aline and with regard to what Aline’s status as unmarried virgin might indicate. And why doesn’t Aline just tell him she’s been pining for him all this time? Her legs. She’s afraid he’ll marry her out of pity if he knows, and she hangs on to this pretty much to the bitter end, even after McKenna declares his love. Most readers find this scene annoying rather than tragically moving, for good reason. If Aline can’t trust McKenna this far, can she be said to know him or love him at all?
The secondary romance — really, almost a parallel one given the amount of space it takes in the book — is between Aline’s little sister Livia and McKenna’s jaded roguish employer Shaw. Fate has come back to bite Miss Tattletale on the butt, as her own scandal (she became pregnant by her fiance, but both he and the baby died) has made her a virtual recluse with no prospects for marriage. Shaw is always drunk — he even spikes his morning coffee with booze to calm the shakes — and bears emotional scars from a bad upbringing. This romance was fun to read, and ended on an optimistic but not unrealistic note.
I almost never notice anachronisms in romance. I tend not to care too much about how accurately the history is portrayed. And while it didn’t tank the book in this instance either, boy did I notice it. For example, Aline thinks, “It had been relentlessly instilled in her since the cradle that people did not venture out of their classes”, yet clearly that bit of socialization didn’t take, because her she is mooning over and hoping to marry the stable boy. Later, she thinks, “Aline knew exactly what was in store for her. She would have an intolerant aristocratic husband, who would use her to breed with children and turn a blind eye when she took a lover to amuse herself in his absence.” For a women who benefits tremendously from her social station, I need some explanation of how she comes to be so critical of her culture. She’s not especially astute or intelligent, and she’s certainly not politically minded, noting at one point that her weekly visit to the townspeople “was an obligation she did not always enjoy, for these visits took up a full day or more of the week.”
Marcus, her brother, feels the same way: “Despite a lifetime of social indoctrination, Marcus did not believe in aristocracy of any kind.” In his view, “Livia did nothing wrong” by becoming pregnant out of wedlock. And Shaw, the American, was “nothing like the American aristocrats that Marcus has encountered. In fact, Shaw seemed to enjoy making his New York family cringe with his cheerful references to his great-grandfather, a crude and outspoken seas merchant…” In this book, people who have “escaped” their socialization are the good guys, and people, like Aline’s father, or Shaw’s sisters, who haven’t, are the bad guys.
Aline and Livia are so free with the sex, and so unconcerned with breaking rules, that at times I imagined this was like MTV’s Real World with drawers and corsets. Livia makes out with Shaw at a party, she visits him in the guest house unchaperoned in her nightgown, in front of servants, she sneaks out of her house to go have sex with him in London, etc. etc. The adult Aline macks on McKenna (including a crotch grab) in a hallway off the kitchen, then goes to a village fair unchaperoned with McKenna and draws him into the woods where the leg-hiding tree sex occurs. The final straw was at the end, when McKenna and Aline are in bed after the HEA, at Shaw’s London townhome, and Shaw actually pops his head in the door and has a congratulatory chat with McKenna as Aline sleeps.
So, there are three issues I had with this book: (1) that McKenna so easily believes his best friend and lover — someone he has known all his life – has turned on a dime and rejected him, and continues to believe it well after he should really know better, (2) that Aline keeps not one but two big secrets from McKenna, waaaaaaaaay too long, and (3) the super modern feel of this “historical” romance.
Yet, despite these issues, I found — typical of me and this author — Again the Magic very hard to put down, and I did enjoy it overall. I discovered I like revenge plots. The book also has the typical Kleypas heat and well written sex scenes. I enjoyed the interactions between all of the characters, the Westcliff siblings, for example, and Shaw and McKenna. And I very much enjoyed the secondary romance. This would not be my top choice for someone who wants to try Kleypas, but for someone working though her backlist, it is worth a read.
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