The Mystic Marriage

The Mystic Marriage - Heather Rose Jones The second book in the Alpennia series focuses on the recently fallen Antuniet. After losing her brother to execution, her mother to suicide and her childhood home to confiscation, Antuniet Chazillen has left Alpennia in disgrace. While in exile, she vows to return again in triumph. But being a scientist at heart, her 'vengeance' is to gift Alpennia with a spectacular scientific discovery--which she intends to use to clear her family name and restore their honor.

Her path to success is no easy task. Battling crippling poverty, ostracization by society, the never-ending court intrigues, and a very distracting (and dangerous) attraction to her benefactress, the introverted, anti-social Antuniet must learn to navigate the confusing politics of her time, renew old friendships and build new ones, fall in love for the first time and still have time left over for crafting the perfect jewel. Phew! Busy girl ;) Which leaves her love interest Jeanne with not much to do except bring her lunch and dinner and occasionally help stir the cooking pot (of the jewels :). Jeanne is everything Antuniet is not--social butterfly, lover of women, event organizer par excellence, and in those days, possibly old enough to be Antuniet's mother!

In order to bring this highly unlikely pairing to fruition, the book spends a lot more time developing the romance (yey! for lesfic lovers) compared to the first book. Just imagine all the issues they need to overcome: workaholic vs party girl, introvert vs social butterfly, significant age-gap, multiple casual lovers, forbidden love, etc. etc. The relationship starts, sputters, picks up again, gets derailed, finally gains traction, only to run smack against 18th century mores. Huge angst-fest right there.

Behind the scenes, intrigue continues to dog the royal court of Alpennia. Rival princesses and their respective scions jostle for any advantage. Foreign interests continue their meddling ways, reaching out to both sides of the rivalry. Rumors, possible treason and assassination attempts abound and our ladies (including Margerit and Barbara from Book 1) find themselves caught in the crossfire.

There are occasional discussions of the esoteric details of alchemy as practiced by Antuniet (just as there were of visions and saints in the first book) that may cause non-geeks to zone out but alert readers will appreciate the careful attention to detail (e.g. precession shift over 200 years and distances from the equator of different cities causing inaccuracy in Antuniet's cooking 8-) )

The book features 4 POV characters in alternating chapters as Barbara and Margerit still play major roles in the book. Its amazing how the story flows effortlessly forward despite this structure. Romantic tension and kingdom intrigues weave seamlessly thoughout, culminating in a rousing climax (of the literary kind) in a melodramatic courtroom scene.

5.5 stars (5.0 for being as good as the first book + 0.5 stars for the angst) ;)

P.S. Re the lack of explicit sex -- I didn't miss it at all. The romance was just as powerful.