Magic Man is the sixth in
Patricia Rice's series of books set in the early 1800s following two families, the Ives and the Malcolms, who have and use magic. This book features Aidan Dougal, a giant of a man who is some kind of relation to the Ives family (although he keeps the actual relationship a secret for most of the book), and Mora Abbott, an orphan spinster who is a friend of one of the Malcolm women. This book
puts a heavy emphasis on the Malcolm women (the Malcolm line has magical
abilities descended through the women) and the way in which most of them end up married to an Ives man. In fact, it took me almost half the book before I understood the relationships between the women and their men, their magical abilities and Aidan's relationship to the Ives men. At the very end of the book is a family tree; it would have helped if this were at the beginning, and it might not have been quite as confusing for a reader new to the series.
The basic plot of the story is that Aidan Dougal has a strange magical ability that he denies to himself: he affects his surroundings physically when he feels extreme emotions. He seems to often be the center of earthquakes and tremors, strong winds and other
"natural" events. His mother tried to teach him to handle this power, but he denies that it exists, although the reader is aware that he is at least partially convinced that he has some special power. For this reason, he tends to keep away from those he loves in case he damages them through his emotions. He also knows that when his nose itches, something
is about to happen.
Mora was fostered to a vicar and his wife when her mother died, and it's when they die when Mora is 29 that she realizes she is alone in the world. One of the Malcolm women takes her
along on a family visit to relatives in Scotland, and there Mora meets Aidan, the giant, when he rescues her from some bandits. These two are thrown together a number of times, and although Aidan is wary of the Malcolm women and particularly chary about magic, he finds Mora's matter-of-fact nature and sensible behavior attractive. Of course, he soon discovers that she, too, has some magical abilities and that she wants him to reconcile himself to his own.
Rice emphasizes ancestry and skills and talents being passed down to descendants. A large part of the book seems to be about finding family history, working out who is related to whom, whether Aidan and Mora have Malcolm blood in them, etc. Unfortunately, their research soon proves damaging to two families
that could be destroyed by what they find. Aidan's destructive nature not only
affects the natural world but also families, yet Mora believes her role is to balance and calm him. How will Aidan deal with losing his home unless he usurps his half-brother's important title? How can Mora claim her father without causing pain to her two half-sisters? As Aidan runs away from all close relationships for fear of damaging the woman, how can he and Mora find happiness?
Those who have read the previous five books in this series might find this more enjoyable than someone who has come first to this one.
Despite some interesting characters and a slightly different take on magical abilities, I found it rather an unsatisfying read. The overemphasis on the Malcolm family tree, the barely explained strange magical talents of the women,
and the scanty backstory leaving me unable to distinguish clearly between characters made it sometimes hard going to read. The love story
is a minor part of the tale compared to the search for family history, but that part
is written well. I was also disappointed in the accuracy of the writing for a story set in Scotland in the 1800s. Although some of the information, about the ways in which marriages could be solemnized, was interesting, there were far too many modern Americanisms included in this story. Men wear "vests" instead of "waistcoats", babies have "diapers" rather than "nappies", people say "quit" instead of "stop", etc. Even the emphasis on women retaining their maiden names as a middle name in marriage is very unusual in Britain and doesn't feel right for this time and place (although it
is necessary for the Malcolm obsession in the plot).
Apart from those reservations, the book is fairly well-written with reasonable pacing (apart from the family history sections), some action and varied characters. However this installment in the series wasn't enough to inspire me to read any of the others, and in some ways it
is a missed opportunity - the story of Mora and Aidan would have worked as well with less emphasis on the other Malcolm women and more focus on our main characters as they grow and learn about each other. The supernatural element
adds little to the story, in fact sometimes detracts from the human interest of the hero and heroine, plus a rather over-neat tie-up at the end feels a little too convenient.