By Jayne Castle.
I've reviewed a few books in the Harmony series here and there. This book is a precursor to these. It takes place on a planet named St. Helens (the original settlers were from the Pacific Northwest. Though I dunno if I'd name a planet after a volcano...), but is almost entirely the same setup as Harmony.
(a) Thanks to a "curtain", humans were able to find other planets and settle colonies on them.
(b) The curtain disappeared, leaving humans stranded on the new worlds 200 years ago.
(c) The new worlds did not like advanced Earth technology, which all failed. Human beings are now busted down to the same sort of tech we have these days.
(d) Psychic powers have emerged and are quite common/accepted on the planet.
(e) Settlers' mentality insists on having marriages with very little option of divorce, regardless of your orientation (though on St. Helens they seem to have a version of "civil union" for some reason). Psychic matchmaking businesses are almost entirely used to make sure that the marriage will last. Society seems more conservative and maritally biased. St. Helens also doesn't have the "marriage of convenience" that Harmony does.
(f) Alien technology is mentioned in this book, as having been found, but it's not a big thing in the plot the way that it is in Harmony. This series is more like "normal Earth world but with psychic powers, and a lot of stuff mentioning the Western Islands."
But here's the big differences between St. Helens and Harmony:
(a) No dust bunnies :(
(b) Psychic powers work a lot differently.
The thing I like about Jayne Castle/Krentz/Quick books is that the woman is inventive as to people's psychic powers. I don't always claim to understand what the hell they are, but she puts the listings on TV Tropes to shame. However, I can't say I like too much how the psychic powers work on this world. I suspect she had to scrap using this world and create Harmony as a replacement because this sort of thing is really awkward. You see, the people on this planet with powers are divided into two types: powers and prisms. People with psychic powers are the same sort of thing--have abilities to do stuff with their minds, etc. HOWEVER, on St. Helens, they are unable to use their powers alone for more than a few seconds. They need to pay a prism to let them use their powers. Prisms are people who technically don't have psychic powers of their own, but "focus" other people's powers enough for them to be able to competently use their gifts. (Kinda reminds me of the Heroes series.)
Now, I can see why she did that because these are romance novels and you have to matchmake/put people together as a team, blah de blah. And to some degree, this pairing works for the purposes of the plot. But as a long-term plot device, I found it annoying and unsustainable. Hell, one of the characters even points out that it kinda sucks to have psychic powers and not be able to USE them. And it does. So it makes me glad that she scrapped that for the Harmony series and let everyone just have powers on their own that they can work alone.
Okay, so I've yakked on about the setup of this book for 500+ words and have yet to start reviewing it, but I wanted to tell you some of this stuff for clarification, and just what bugged me on the powers thing.
The book's plot: Amaryllis Lark is (a) a bastard-- which really isn't common here and is considered quite shameful, (b) a level 10 prism who recently left academia to go into private practice renting herself out for other people's use, and (c) really prim and proper. Not insufferably so, mind you, but between keeping herself Well Behaved due to her shameful origins and idolizing her also-prim-and-proper mentor at college, she's stayed on the straight and narrow morally. She's fairly recently broken up with a potential husband, Gifford, and is finally forcing herself to sign up with a marriage agency. But after her mentor dies, Amaryllis starts to suspect something is fishy there. And while on the job (investigating a crooked employee for Lucas Trent, see below), she comes across a prism who uses the same sort of methods her mentor did, but seems to be using them to help a politician magnify his charisma. Technically that's not considered a talent and thus it's legal, but it offends Amaryllis's morals big time.
Lucas Trent is (a) a millionaire due to running a mining business in his hometown area of the Western Islands, (b) a guy with off-the-charts psychic talent that he hides so people won't consider him a "psychic vampire" (people are horrified by the concept of someone who's that psychically gifted), with skills in power detection and illusion, and (c) a fellow who''s been betrayed a lot in the last few years. He found out that his business partner and wife were cheating on him with each other, and his partner had been in league with pirates trying to take over. Now both wife and partner are dead, and Lucas has politely covered up the conspiracy for the sake of his partner's family, but most of the family still hates his guts anyway. Suspecting that his partner's fiancee has also betrayed him, he hires Amaryllis to help him do the detection work. This plot gets resolved pretty quickly, but he ends up helping Amaryllis in her own investigation. While working together, they unexpectedly get HUGELY SEXUALLY HORNY FOR EACH OTHER during their linkages (which does not normally happen when people use prisms, btw), which leads them into having a flaming affair. However, they "know" that a high-powered talent and a high-powered prism won't be matched together by their marital agency (O RLY?!?), so they "know" this is only temporary.
I found this book to start out really slow, and I kept pondering whether or not to put it down. But once the mystery of Amaryllis's mentor started up, it got more interesting. I liked how the case played out, and thought the ending worked well with it. For a "prim and proper" character, it's vaguely amusing to see Amaryllis get down and dirty, go to a strip sex-syn club to investigate the case, etc. I also enjoyed, on an odd level, Amaryllis's realizations that her mentor wasn't universally beloved as she'd thought, and that her ex is downright skeezy.
As for Amaryllis and Lucas as a couple...they're okay. I can't say I felt like there was a lot of banter/charm/fun going on when they had conversations. Mostly it seemed like they worked well together when investigating, and then they had the MEGA PSYCHIC BOW-CHICKA-BOW-WOW ramming into them whenever they linked up so that they became horny, and that insta-horny is what established them into a romantic relationship. I got their affection for each other by the end of the book, but I can't say that I found them to be the world's most charismatic couple together. That seems to be an issue in most of the books I've read of hers, really.
Plot quibble: if Lucas is soooooo psychically gifted, but on this world he can't work his power alone, how the hell could he tell, and how the hell can he "tone down" his powers so as to not be found out as being off the charts? I can't say I understood how this worked.
Overall, I'm going to give it three and a half stars. It's a bit plot-problematic in the world building, and the couple's not the world's most outstanding to me, but the mystery plot got interesting enough to me to raise the grade a bit.