Click here to read reviewer Edwyne Rouchelle's take on A Distant Magic.
A Distant Magic, released in 2007 (the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade), takes the theme of slavery and explores what might happen if two people with magical skills helped those who were working to bring an end to slavery. It's also another installment in the
"Guardians" series, although it can be read on its own without any previous knowledge of the series.
Two distinct threads intertwine in the middle of the book. The first come the stories of Captain Nikolai Gregorio,
an ex-slave who nurses his vengeance against a Scotsman who promised him a better life and didn't deliver when Nikolai was young, and of the
Scotsman's daughter, Jean Macrae. Jean is traveling to the Mediterranean, and she fairly soon bumps into Nikolai, who kidnaps her as the first stage of his vowed revenge against her father, brother and herself. However, Nikolai really isn't up to being an evil captor; he can't bring himself to rape her (phew!), and in the end, Jean's magical skills save his ship from a storm, although Jean has to pull on some of Nikolai's magical powers to effect the rescue. They soon realize that they are bound together in some way to explore their magical skills together. Fortunately, Nikolai seems to dispose of his long-nurtured need for vengeance against her family remarkably quickly.
The second strand is the story of Adia Adams, a young woman who is captured by slave traders, taken to America,
and eventually escapes to London during the American war of independence with her husband. However, she is a powerful witch, and
she realizes that for the abolitionists to be successful, they need special help.
She travels back in time 70 years to work with Jean and Nikolai to empower them for their task of working to abolish slavery, which leads on to the second half of the book and the part that is far meatier.
The story now follows Jean and Nikolai as they dip in and out of the history of the abolition movement, meeting the main players and
playing a pivotal role in keeping the movement going, advancing through the years
by beads on a time-travel bracelet. It's an interesting tour through the history of the slave trade in Britain, but there doesn't seem that much depth to this part of the writing; a side issue of Jean and Nikolai putting off sex until they
have reached their 'full powers' seems rather pointless. The history is interesting although partly fictional, but there's little character development and
the narrative drags at times.
This book is part historical romance, part time-travel story, part witch/magic story, and somehow the three strands never really settle comfortably together. The book makes a strong case against the slave trade, and although not detailing the horrors of the trade as some books might, it
is interesting reading the story of Adia and why the quest for freedom was still overriding for her. Adia
is an interesting character, someone who grows up through her experiences and who appears able to accommodate
herself to very different life circumstances. But the overall way that the story works, with Jean and Nikolai's initial meeting (a captor/captive relationship), the explorations of their magic (fantasy), then the historical aspect of the slave trade feels too disjointed to make it a truly enjoyable book.