Mary Stewart’s first novel since her bestselling series about Arthurian legend is something of a disappointment, although her many fans will still find much to enjoy in it. The heroine and narrator is Gilly Ramsey, who tells of her lonely childhood in which her mother’s cousin, an eccentric woman who acted as a kind of fairy godmother, was her only true companion. When Gilly inherits Thornyhold, her cousin’s house, her life really begins. She discovers that her cousin was a white witch, and she unwittingly finds herself assuming the same role. Some mysterious happenings centering on a neighbor who also turns out to be a dabbler in the occult keep the rather flimsy plot moving, and all the events lead up to Gilly’s romance with a local writer and the inevitable happy ending.
Both hero and heroine are in the best tradition of Stewart romances: she, attractive, tactful, modest, resourceful, and brave when she has to be; he, handsome, calm, courteous, with a magnetic personality. Although the novel is skillfully handled, as one would expect from a writer of Stewart’s experience and reputation, something is missing. Perhaps this flaw results from the fact that the plot is too slight to maintain the reader’s full involvement. Perhaps Stewart was attempting a novel of greater psychological depth than her romantic-suspense thrillers of old, but if this is the case, she can hardly be said to have succeeded. The magical elements, removed from the mythical context of THE MERLIN TRILOGY, seem unsophisticated at best (Gilly’s cousin even has a crystal ball in which she sees the future, and she owns a black cat), and the psychic communication between Gilly and her cousin is not handled with the subtlety which Stewart achieved in TOUCH NOT THE CAT. The love story is charming, however, and harsh criticism is perhaps inappropriate for a novel which entertains with warmth and generosity of spirit.