Today I Read…the Key Trilogy

Today I read the Key Trilogy by Nora Roberts, Key of Light, Key of Knowledge, and Key of Valor.

Gallery manager Mallory, librarian Dana and hairdresser/single mother Zoe have a lot in common, even though they’ve never met before. They are all young, intelligent, driven. None of them have anyone special in their lives. All of them have recently lost their jobs. And they’ve all been invited to the long-abandoned house on Warrior’s Peak for a dinner party, hosted by the mysterious Rowena and Pitte. They are told a story, about the three daughters of the king of the gods and his mortal wife, who were cursed by the evil sorcerer Kane to sleep until three mortal women can find the three keys to the Box of Souls and free them from their enchanted slumber. Sure, it sounds crazy, but Rowena and Pitte offer payment–$25,000 each just to try, and a cool million each if they succeed. Soon the women are joined in their quest by three handsome men–Dana’s brother Flynn, the newspaper editor, who finds Mallory’s efficiency very, very sexy; Jordan the thriller writer, who broke Dana’s heart; and Brad the businessman, who makes Zoe very nervous. They also discover that the evil god Kane is willing to stop at nothing to stop them from saving the three Daughters of Glass.

I like Nora Roberts books–they’re so predictable and formulaic (I’m fairly sure she just finds-and-replaces the names of the characters, since they all have the same plot). They’re like potato chips for the brain, good for when I just don’t want to think about what I’m reading. Pretty girl, (nowadays) some kind of career, cute guy, banter, mystery, danger, sex, marriage and happily ever after. Yes, feminist arguments about the stereotype that no matter what a woman does with her life she will never be fulfilled until she is married to Mr. Right and pumping out spawn, but romance novels sell for a reason–people read them. Nora Roberts’ romance novels may be written according to a formula, but it’s a solid formula that works. You know exactly what you will get in the book, and there can be pleasure in that. I do enjoy it when she includes mythological elements (former Classics major speaking). The trilogy is enjoyable, as long as you remember not to take romance novels too seriously (Twi-heads, I’m looking at you).

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“Long ago, in a land of great mountains and rich forests, lived a young god. He was his parents’ only child, and well beloved. He was gifted with a handsome face and strength of heart and muscle. He was destined to rule one day, as his father before him, and so he was reared to be the god-king, cool in judgment, swift in action.

“There was peace in this world, since gods had walked there. Beauty, music and art, stories and dance were everywhere. For as long as memory-and a god’s memory is infinite-there had been harmony and balance in this place.”

He paused to sip his wine, his gaze tracking slowly from face to face. “From behind the Curtain of Power, through the veil of the Curtain of Dreams, they would look on the world of mortals. Lesser gods were permitted to mix and mate with those of the mortal realm at their whim, and so became the faeries and sprites, the sylphs and other creatures of magic. Some found the mortal world more to their tastes and peopled it. Some, of course, were corrupted by the powers, by the world of mortals, and turned to darker ways. Such is the way of nature, even of gods.”

Pitte eased forward to top a thin cracker with caviar. “You’ve heard stories of magic and sorcery, the faerie tales and fantasies. As one of the guardians of stories and books, Miss Steele, do you consider how such tales become part of the culture, what root of truth they spring from?”

“To give someone, or something, a power greater than our own. To feed our need for heroes and villains and romance.” Dana shrugged, though she was already fascinated. “If, for instance, Arthur of the Celts existed as a warrior king, as many scholars and scientists believe, how much more enthralling, more potent, is his image if we see him in Camelot, with Merlin. If he was conceived with the aid of sorcery, and crowned high king as a young boy who pulled a magic sword out of a stone.”

“I love that story,” Zoe put in. “Well, except for the end. It seemed so unfair. But I think…”

“Please,” Pitte said, “go on.”

“Well, I sort of think that maybe magic did exist once, before we educated ourselves out of it. I don’t mean education’s bad,” she said quickly, squirming as everyone’s attention focused on her. “I just mean maybe we, um, locked it away because we started needing logical and scientific answers for everything.”

“Well said.” Rowena nodded. “A child often tucks his toys in the back of the closet, forgetting the wonder of them as he grows to manhood. Do you believe in wonder, Miss McCourt?”

“I have a nine-year-old son,” Zoe replied. “All I have to do is look at him to believe in wonder. I wish you’d call me Zoe.”

Rowena’s face lit with warmth. “Thank you. Pitte?”

“Ah, yes, to continue the tale. As was the tradition, upon reaching his majority the young god was sent beyond the Curtain for one week, to walk among the mortals, to learn their ways, to study their weaknesses and strengths, their virtues and flaws. It happened that he saw a young woman, a maid of great beauty and virtue. And seeing, loved, and loving, wanted. And though she was denied to him by the rules of his world, he pined for her. He grew listless, restless, unhappy. He would not eat or drink, nor did he find any appeal in all the young goddesses offered to him. His parents, disturbed at seeing their son so distressed, weakened. They would not give their son to the mortal world, but they brought the maid to theirs.”

“They kidnapped her?” Malory interrupted.

“They could have done.” Rowena filled the flutes again. “But love cannot be stolen. It’s a choice. And the young god wished for love.”

“Did he get it?” Zoe wondered.

“The mortal maid chose, and loved, and gave up her world for his.” Pitte rested his hands on his knees. “There was anger in the worlds of gods, of mortals, and in that mystical half-world of the faeries. No mortal was to pass through the Curtain. Yet that most essential rule was now broken. A mortal woman had been taken from her world and into theirs, married to and bedded by their future king for no reason more important than love.”

“What’s more important than love?” Malory asked and earned a slow, quiet look from Pitte.

“Some would say nothing, others would say honor, truth, loyalty. Others did, and for the first time in the memory of the gods, there was dissension, rebellion. The balance was shaken. The young god-king, crowned now, was strong and withstood this. And the mortal maid was beautiful and true. Some were swayed to accept her, and others plotted in secret.”

There was a whip of outrage in his voice, and a sudden cold fierceness that made Malory think of the stone warriors again.

“Battles fought in the open could be quelled, but others were devised in secret chambers, and these ate at the foundation of the world.

“It came to pass that the god-king’s wife bore three children, three daughters, demigoddesses with mortal souls. On their birth, their father gifted each with a jeweled amulet, for protection. They learned the ways of their father’s world, and of their mother’s. Their beauty, their innocence, softened many hearts, turned many minds. For some years there was peace again. And the daughters grew to young women, devoted to each other, each with a talent that enhanced and completed those of her sisters.”

He paused again, as if gathering himself. “They harmed no one, brought only light and beauty to both sides of the Curtain. But there remained shadows. One coveted what they had that no god could claim. Through sorcery, through envy, despite all precautions, they were taken into the half-world. The spell cast plunged them into eternal sleep, a living death. And sleeping, they were sent back through the Curtain, their mortal souls locked in a box that has three keys. Not even their father’s power can break the locks. Until the keys turn, one, by two, by three, the daughters are trapped in an enchanted sleep and then-souls weep in a prison of glass.”

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