Lisa Shearinís Bewitched & Betrayed is fourth in her ďRaine BenaresĒ series. Somehow, Iíve managed to read only books two and four, yet the series still makes perfect sense. That I never once felt lost bears testament to Shearinís writing. This tightly contained fantasy series still manages to have epic repercussions at the same time. That definitely takes talent, something that Shearin possesses in spades.
Raine Benares is an Elven Seeker - a woman who can use her inherent magic to seek out criminals and other targets sheís tasked to look for. A major problem has been hampering her life the last little while, though: after being tricked into touching the Saghred, a stone full of potently evil magic that serves as a prison for evil souls, she has become its keeper. Sheís barely able to contain the Saghredís hunger for souls, much less fight off other wizards who greatly desire her power. With Mychael (the Elven paladin who heads the Guardians of the magic school on the island of Min) on one side and Tam (a former Goblin noble with a touch of dark magic himself) on the other, she faces off against an evil dark mage who will stop at nothing to get the Saghredís power - either with Raineís cooperation or over her dead body.
Bewitched & Betrayed blends light-hearted humor and ďevil from the dawn of timeĒ suspense enough to keep you reading long past your bedtime. Raine can be a smartass, but she also has a strict moral code that has, so far, successfully reined in the power of the Saghred. Itís a constant struggle, though, and one that she might have succumbed to without the help of Mychael and Tam. They both have a magical bond with her forged by the Saghred, which makes it a lot easier to communicate with each other secretly and also allows them to give her their strength when necessary.
The relationship among the three characters is great, with attraction on all sides (in this universe, goblins are actually quite attractive if you donít mind fangs). The banter between Raine and her potential suitors, her dialogue when she goes into battle - in fact, the entire book - is crisply written, light but with an added weight that keeps the book (and the series) grounded. Despite Raineís joking around, you know that the stakes are high, and you want to see how Raine manages to get herself out of the situation sheís in.
Iím not sure how many books Shearin has planned, but this series is the best of both worlds. Itís an ongoing story (Raineís struggle with the Saghred as well as the villainous Sarad Nukpanaís attempt to take her down and gain control for himself), yet each book is relatively self-contained, like a chapter in a story. Shearin describes what you need to know from previous books as part of the ongoing story, so you never feel lost (though I do wonder if the back story description would be over the top if I were familiar with all of the books). This allows you to pick your way through the books if you only happen to catch certain ones. Bewitched & Betrayed moves the entire story forward, developing both of Raineís potential romances as well as a change in the status quo between her and Sarad.
Shearin has created an intriguing world as well. An ongoing political situation between the Elves and Goblins is affected by Raineís predicament, and Shearin introduces several more characters with a stake in whatís happening. Sarad would like nothing more than to plunge the two races into war even as he takes control of the Saghred; there are those on the Elven side who would like to do the same. Itís a constant struggle, and I loved every page of it.
There is one minor misstep in Bewitched & Betrayed, however. While this all takes place at the wizard school, we donít really get a sense of what this school is like, except when it intersects with Raineís problems. We only know the head of the school, the archmage Justinius (cool name), some of the Guardians and a couple of mages. It just seems too much like a stage setting for a story and not like a living, breathing entity. Whether thatís because Iíve only read half the books or not, I canít say.
Thatís not a major problem, though, and it doesnít take away from how fun Bewitched & Betrayed is. Itís the perfect combination of light and dark, a joy to read for anybody who likes fantasy at all.