In the ancient tradition of courtly love, it was conventional for storytellers to throw intense obstacles–sometimes years’ long–in the path of romance. To S.C. Alban’s star-crossed couple, such impediments are trivial. Giovanni and Katarina have been reaching out to one another for centuries, and their search has carried them halfway around the world. Blocking their union is a wonderfully-drawn villain, Allessandro, who sees himself as the victim when Katarina refuses to go along with their arranged marriage. The entire saga takes place amid a complex dynamic of magic formulae from multiple sources.
We don’t know all of this in the beginning, of course. We meet our lovers in modern America, in a small town just off California’s coast, north of the Bay Area. “Kate” works for a small publishing company, evaluating manuscripts. She’s married to her dream guy, Alex, and has no clue about her romantic history. Gio, on the other hand, knows all about their situation, and has spent centuries trying to track down and hold on to his true love. After hundreds of years of failure, he still hasn’t given up. He couldn’t if wanted to because he’s been condemned to immortality, so his search goes on and on. He finds himself in Kate’s town of Freestone, the two meet by chance (but, as the song goes, not really by chance), and away we go.
Alban’s tale is absorbing and exciting from first page to last. The narrative drags occasionally because of time spent on backstory and on explanations about how the various forms of magic interact, but the twists and surprises are multiple, and the closing pages are about as intense as you’ll find anywhere. The near-titanic struggle between the arch-villain and the various forces of good contain a healthy measure of sex and violence, but also a goodly portion of light and love and redemption as well. The effect is both gritty and uplifting.
Finally, Alban leaves us with a perfect setup for a sequel. I hope she hurries up with that because Gio is in real trouble, and I don’t know how he’s going to get out of it.