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Perhaps I set myself up for disappointment. The novel begins by describing how Guardian society is different from that of eighteenth century England, namely that Guardian women have more equality with men than their “mundane” sisters. “Interesting,” I thought to myself, “perhaps this alternative history, including magic use, is a way to re-tell the story of war and include more female participation in historic events.” Sadly, it was not the case.

I read paranormal fantasy/romance with female protagonists because I enjoy the strength of these women. Generally there is an emphasis on team-building and problem solving, combining smarts, strength, and the heroine’s specific (usually unusual) powers. Many of the television shows and movies I watch undermine female strength, women are side-characters, victims, fit the Hollywood mold of attractive appearance, etc. Female protagonists in paranormal novels often have powers that both make them unique and contribute to their successes. Reading about characters facing down demons, vampires and automatons successfully, and growing in strength as they face their fears, is a powerful metaphor for me as I face much more mundane challenges of insecurity, complex relationships and job hunting. Another positive in several of these novels is that if the heroine is in a relationship it is a) on equal terms or b) does not last long as she does not deny her own power/instincts in order to please the man. A vast difference from most TV/movies I’ve seen!

Thus, A Kiss of Fate disappointed me on several levels (spoilers ahoy). Gwynne was raised a Guardian, but believed she had no powers, fortunately she is a scholar, which is valued in Guardian culture. Fine. I like a smart protagonist in my novels. However, after sexxytimes with her new husband they discover she is an enchantress, whose powers are not awakened until having intercourse. Really? REALLY? I get it, her powers are related to sexuality, and thus it makes sense they are awakened by having sex. But of all the powers to have, that’s what she gets?

From her first kiss with her soon to be husband, Duncan, Gwynne knows his destiny is linked to destruction and the Jacobite rebellion, a few kisses later she knows she will betray him; She marries him in order to mitigate the potential harm he will cause. As a point of conflict this one’s pretty lame. There is absolutely no doubt she will betray him. How does she betray him? By attempting to reach him body, mind and soul while he is following the Jacobites, this does not work, so she remembers that her powers are of the body. When she reaches out to him with her power of the pussy he arrives in her bedroom and they sex it up (she gets knocked up in the process). She then locks him in the castle dungeon to keep him from helping the Jacobites win. Though Putney writes that there is no possible way the hero and heroine will reunite, it is absolutely clear to the reader that they will. How do they do this? She leaves, he follows her, they sex it up “letting down all their barriers” and see each other’s intentions of course they are reconciled.

My three problems with the novel are as follows:

  1. After emphasizing equality and Gwynne’s intelligence, Putney gives Gwynne stereotypical feminine-wiles as a superpower.
  2. Gwynne could have had no powers and reached the same results: her husband loves her intelligence and sexuality and feels a connection to her even before she has sexxaysuperpowers.
  3. Including a magical element, or rewriting history, should bring something new to the story, for example, this is often an opportunity to re-examine class or gender roles, this novel does neither, though the set up lead me to believe it might do both.

If this was a basic romance novel I probably wouldn’t complain, though, I also probably wouldn’t have read it. Unfortunately, the premise of the novel included mages with the ability to change the politics of their day. It was clear from the beginning that Putney wasn’t writing a fully alternative history-the Jacobite rebellion would not succeed-but if that is the case then *something* else in her alternative history should have been fundamentally altered by the addition of magic.

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