As You Wish

Gabi Stevens
July 2011, Fantasy Romance
Tor, $7.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0765365049
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

It seems to be my month for happy surprises. When I picked up Gabi Stevens' As You Wish for review I had a measure of dread because the previous book in the series was Not My Cup of Tea, even though I found it oddly charming. I don't know how she did it, but Ms. Stevens sucked me in again, and I read this second book through in one sitting.

The story centers around the premise that it is time for the three fairy godmothers to retire and hand their wands over to the three new godmothers, whom the magic chooses arbitrarily. It won't spoil the first book to mention that the first hand-off did not go well, and now the magical community is viewing the transition with much suspicion and a lot of restrictive new legislation.

The heroine, Reggie, is a non-magical Groundling from a family of powerful magic users. Reggie's had a pretty rough time getting along in the magical world with no magic. She was sent to an Arcani school, where she was enrolled in special-ed classes due to her "disability". She doesn't have a man in her life because she's had to work very hard to build her bakery business, and because she doesn't fit well into either mundane or magical society. She's loved, though, by her customers, co-workers, and family - because despite her lack of magic she's kind, industrious, and charming.

She's a strange pick for the role of the second new fairy godmother, but one day the previous three godmothers pop into the bakery long enough to endow her with the second wand, stay long enough to explain that they can't help her with the transition because they're in hiding from the law, and then pop out again. Soon after, Sophronia, a hated rival of Reggie's mother, arrives to oversee Reggie's transition and receive Reggie's sworn oath to the magical council, one of the results of the new fairy godmother legislation.

Reggie is left reeling from the abrupt changes in her life, and would have had untold difficulty without the help of her friends and family. Nate, a regular bakery customer, and Jonathan, a wealthy wand-maker and new man-friend to Reggie, offer support, companionship, and magical training. A grumpy gnome named Alfred is installed to take up slack at the bakery, and even Reggie's previously disappointed mother lends a hand.

When Reggie puts off swearing the council oath, she becomes public enemy number two, after the previous new godmother, and has to spend a lot of time and effort eluding Sophronia and the council troops. The three former godmothers pop in and out with news about the real public enemy, a warlock named Luce. Sophronia, upon discovering Reggie's contact with the three godmothers, insists that Reggie give them up, making it yet another condition for the council to allow Reggie to keep her wand. It's up to Reggie and company to ascertain if the council has been compromised, protect the godmothers, and put a stop to Luce's evil plot. Surprisingly, Reggie's magic-less years help immensely with their goals.

As You Wish is the cutest little gem of a fairy tale. It's a dark story with a fresh and somehow innocent voice, reminiscent of the fairy tales we've all known since childhood. There's a bit of Cinderella in Reggie's relationships with her mother and sister. There are shades of Snow White in the bakery employees, and the Beauty and the Beast theme is also explored. It's all very cleverly written, and if the love scenes with Jonathan were more subtle, I would suggest this book for all age groups.

What made this book better than the run of the mill paranormal is the secondary characters. The mysterious Nate, a bakery regular, keeps his face and body concealed with scarves and coats at all times - why? Jonathan is the Arcani equivalent of Donald Trump, and we know he has an agenda, but is he just using Reggie? Tommy and Joy, Reggie's friends from her special-ed days, are particularly charming. Tommy has Down's and Joy is...just Joy. Both are uncomplicated and loving, unknowingly using magic in their baking to make their treats wonderful.

I've used a lot of words to describe this book, like fresh, charming, and cute, but ones I haven't used and should are twee, precious, and maybe, cloying. Some of the things that make the book so..well...charming began to pall. The curmudgeonly-but-with-a-heart-of-gold gnome that takes over Reggie's duties at the bakery is one of those. At first his irrascibility is kind of amusing, but eventually becomes predictable and slightly boring. And every time Reggie ends up back at the bakery the reader has to wonder "OK, what endearing thing is Tommy or Joy going to say this time?" And let's not forget the children who are candidates for receiving the fairy godmother magic answer to their wishes. While they're wishing, a golden crown that only Reggie can see apears above their heads and when she concentrates she can hear their wishes. Isn't that precious? To be fair, this entire paragraph could be all about me and the fact that, again, As You Wish is not the type of book I normally enjoy. I imagine the cuteness wouldn't get to a reader who enjoys that kind of thing.

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of darkness and a good bit of action in this book, so it's not all sweetness and light. The villainess, Sophronia, is a classic over-the-top bitch, the villain, Luce, is evil, and both are easy to hate. Reggie's relationships with her mother and sister are very uncomfortable and angsty. The book is sexy, too, with love scenes warm enough to satisfy most romance readers.

What does all this boil down to? Like I said earlier, it sucked me in and I read it in one sitting, and that's all I need to give it a recommendation.

-- Wendy Clyde

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