Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amaryllis by Jayne Castle

On the colony world of St. Helens, many people have psychic powers, but unless they team up with another person, using them is hard, if not downright impossible. The people who are Prisms enable others to use their psychic powers, but because they aren't used that often, some Prisms go into academia, while others hire themselves out from temporary agencies.

Amaryllis Lark is a very high-level prism, and she has recently left academia to take a job for the prestigious firm of Psynergy, Inc. Lucas Trent, the man in charge of Lodestar Exploration, wants to hire her to use his talent to find out who in his company has been stealing from him. It's not something he particularly wants to do, as he views all his employees as friends, but he also wants to save his company from whoever has been betraying him. He's frustrated that he must tell Miss Lark why he is employing her before he gets her cooperation.

Eventually, he tells her why he needs her services, and she agrees to be his Prism. Far from the icy demeanor she portrayed when she was questioning him about why he needed her services, Amaryllis is a little bit in awe of him- he's literally famous as a man who made his fortune by finding extremely rare minerals in the Western Islands, and when he and his partner were attacked by pirates, he fought back against them and won, even as the Pirates killed his partner and his wife. He took his partner's wife into his company to give her a job, the least he could do for her, but he thinks that she is the one who is betraying him and the company- and that a rare hypno-talent is making her do it.

Amaryllis scoffs politely at the idea. knowing any such talent using his skills in so unscrupulous a manner would need an equally unscrupulous prism working with him to pull it off. But while it is very unlikely, it is just within the realm of possible, so she goes with him to a dinner where the woman will be, then Amaryllis follows her when she ducks back into some hallways- only for the woman to attack her. Lucas comes to her rescue, and the woman confesses all. Not only did his deceased partner's wife sell him out, she did it cheerfully and happily- because she believes he killed her husband and used the excuse of the pirate attack to cover his tracks.

Lucas is taken aback by the accusation, and he lets her go. To Amaryllis, he confesses the truth- that both his partner and wife betrayed him to the Pirates, and with each other. The two of them had gone to a far island alone to be together, and betray him in ways both financial and sexual. But instead of paying them off and letting his partner take over the business, the Pirates had killed them both to avoid having to pay for the information they were selling. Lucas arrived too late to save them- and fought and killed the pirates, then tried to cover-up what had really happened for the sake of their families, and in his partner's case. his wife.

His partner's family also blames him for her death, all except her brother, who wants to take a job with Lucas and Lodestar Explorations. Lucas would gladly have him, but Dillon's parents are completely opposed to the idea, and Lucas doesn't want to cause any more problems with his family, so he has turned Dillon down, repeatedly, while Dillon tries to persude him otherwise.

Amaryllis has a past of her own, though- she left academia because she was in love with a man named Gifford, a fellow academic. She believed they had the perfect rapport and relationship- until she walked in on him making love with his secretary on his desk. That is when she fled academia for the world of business, never wanting to see him again. But she has another secret- when she acts as a Prism for Lucas, she feels things, and an attraction for him, that she has never experienced before- an amazing attraction that is nearly orgasmic in potency. Being an academic, she has never even heard of his phenomena.

But while they were at the dinner, they discovered another source of psychic power. A local politician has a power to do with Charisma, and he's been using it to get people to vote for him, and to get and increase donations on his behalf. He's so powerful with his "talent", that he's been burning out the prisms who have been working for him. And who has been supplying them? Amaryllis's old ex-fiancé, who desperately wants her to leave Psynergy and work for him.

But something else is happening- because Amaryllis' old boss, Professor Landreth, has died, but there is something suspicious about the death that makes Amaryllis want to look into it and learn the truth. Professor Landreth was making a study of unusual talents, but his death is very... strange, and Amaryllis needs Lucas' help to keep her safe. On top of all that, she finds herself attracted to Lucas. and he is equally attracted to her. But her family wants to have a special matchmaking agency find her a husband- one that is right for her in every way. She once was looking forward to this, but now that she is involved with Lucas, it has suddenly lost its appeal. But without the agency's experts, how can she find the right man for her and her high level talent?

Could Lucas be the right man for her, and can he save her- and himself, from someone who seems to want the both of them dead? Who wants them dead, and why? Can they find out who killed Professor Landreth, and what the politician and Amaryllis' ex-fiancé have to do with the case?

I was predisposed to like this book a lot, but in the end, I was more disappointed with it than enthralled. For one thing, even though this series was written first, it has a great deal in common with Jayne Ann Krentz's "Harmony" series. For me, that was a plus. I have loved the Harmony books ever since I read the first one, "After Dark" several years ago. The combination of alien ruins that glow green, people with psychic talents and stories of love and adventure really thrill me. I was looking forward to more of the same from this series- okay, without the alien ruins that glowed green, because I knew those were unique to Harmony.

This book is the first in a series of three books, all with Flower names- Amaryllis, Orchid and Zinnia. Similar to the Harmony books, St. Helens is a colony world that was settled when the Curtain between Earth and the stars was opened. For a long time, humans could travel easily back and forth over the hundreds of years between the stars because of the curtain which acted like a rift or warp between the stars. But then the curtain closed, cutting off contact, and the colony worlds had to grow on their own without input from Earth. Like Harmony, the citizens of St. Helena need something to facilitate their psychic powers being used. On Harmony, that something is the alien crystal- on St. Helens, it's other humans who are Prisms.

Perhaps its just me, but I found the whole Psychic powers of St. Helens just not as interesting as the Alien crystals on Harmony. Perhaps it is the mystery that they interject into the atmosphere. but I didn't find this book as compelling as Ms. Castle's Harmony stories. It felt like it was missing something. And Amaryllis, to me, was a character I found hard to believe. She's so prissy and uptight, she has to have it spelled out for her when Lucas hints at why his wife was with his partner out in the islands together. Her first thought is "Fishing together!" Which is comical, but how can someone be that naive in their middle to late 20's, really?

Academia isn't just ivory tower people- it has a nasty undercurrent much of the time as professors and graduate students battle for funding and whatnot. I found it hard to believe that someone that naive could have been successful in academia. Now, the blurb on the back of the book implies that she is a psychic detective- that's simply not true. She's a professional prism- a full spectrum one, true, but she's not a detective, much less a psychic one. She stumbles into the murder of her professor, and she finds clues by almost literally falling over them- a detective she is not.

The heat level is also absent from the sex scenes, and from Lucas's character. He's set up to be Amaryllis's opposite, but his emotions are towards the cooler side of the spectrum. For someone who lets it all hang out, who can be crude and brazen, he sometimes comes off as not emotional enough, and the descriptions for alien things are missing. You can figure out what cofftea is, but what does it taste like, smell like, etc? We're left to wonder as not a single bit of it is ever described. Is it like Chai? Does it just have lots of caffeine in it and have a fruity taste? I want to know!

It's not too bad a book for the time it was written, but compared to the Harmony books, it really does come off as less. Less descriptive, less well-nuanced, less interesting. Perhaps I've been spoiled by reading her later Harmony books, but I didn't find this book nearly as well written or compelling. still, it's interesting to read as the "Road to Harmony". Recommended, but with caveats.

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