Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

uncertain magic

As a lovely heiress, Roderica Delamore should be a prize catch–except for her shameful secret. She has the ability to hear the thoughts of those around her. Even her family and close friends can’t hide from her strange gift. Knowing that she can never marry, for no man could bear it, Roddy still longs hopelessly for a family of her own. Until she meets the man she’s been waiting for–the Earl of Iveragh, a mysterious Irish aristocrat whose thoughts are entirely closed to her.

The impoverished Devil Earl is damned in society by dark rumor and innuendo, and, for all she knows, he could be a liar, a rogue, or much, much worse. But Roddy must dance with him at midnight on All Hallows Eve, and entrust her life–and her heart–to a riveting stranger, called by his torment into the faerie mists to discover what she most fears about herself and her own magic.

Rating: A+ for narration, B+ for content

Originally published in 1987, Uncertain Magic was Laura Kinsale’s début novel, something which is perhaps difficult to credit given the incredible beauty of the prose and the complexity of the storyline. It’s also easy to forget, in these days of plentiful Paranormal Romances, that the inclusion of supernatural elements into a romance was an unusual thing to do back then.

One of the (many) things I have come to admire very much about Ms Kinsale as a writer is her willingness to take risks in her books. Some work, some don’t – but one thing is for sure. Her books are never dull, and I would take a duff Kinsale (if there is such a thing) over many of the sub-standard historical romances being published at the moment. Her characters are sometimes difficult to get to grips with and/or like – Leigh in The Prince of Midnight treats the hero like s**t for most of the book; Maddy in Flowers from the Storm allows her guilty conscience to come between her and the love of her life; Allegro Navona is an dark-hearted assassin who believes himself beyond redemption – and yet all are compelling; whether one likes them or not, it’s impossible to put the books down.

Uncertain Magic brings together a number of familiar tropes – a marriage of convenience, a tortured hero with a dark, mysterious past – sets them against the backdrop of the 1797 Irish rebellion and tops it all off with a touch of the supernatural in the form of the heroine’s unusual “gift” and the inclusion of the Sidhe, creatures of Gaelic myth.

Roderica – Roddy -Delamore was born with the ability to hear people’s thoughts and feelings, something she views as more a curse than a gift. As she has grown older, she has become used to the way that family and friends withdraw from her, afraid of her ability to know their innermost thoughts. She has resigned herself to becoming an old maid; surely no man will want to spend his life with a woman who can read his thoughts, and in any case, she has witnessed the marriages of those of her female relatives similarly “gifted” disintegrate because of it.

When Roddy meets a man whose mind is closed to her, she realises this is her once chance to marry and have the family she craves. Faelan Savegar, Earl of Iveragh has a diabolical reputation, yet Roddy doesn’t care. He’s young, handsome, and he needs money; she’s an heiress and in her desperation to make a life of her own, she all but proposes to him – and Faelan, both impressed and intrigued by this young woman who seems to care nothing for his terrible reputation, recognises the advantages of the arrangement she proposes. But “The Devil Earl” is not completely without honour; before the wedding, he warns Roddy off, telling her of the truly dreadful deeds for which he is believed responsible – the ruin of innocents, blackmail, and even murder. To his amazement, Roddy refuses to be deterred.

The pair are married, to the dismay of many of Roddy’s family and friends, and Faelan plans for them to return to Ireland as soon as possible. But before they do so, Roddy makes some uncomfortable discoveries about her husband. She encounters his mistress, and from the woman’s thoughts knows her to believe her relationship with Faelan will continue even though he is now married. Then Roddy discovers something even worse – that he has seduced and ruined a young woman with promises of marriage. Even his own mother doesn’t try to refute the rumours that dog him, and because Faelen will not confirm or deny anything, Roddy finds herself in the unusual position – for her – of not being able to find out the truth by reading his thoughts.

The couple’s troubles continue when they reach Ireland and become unwillingly swept up in the Irish Rebellion of 1797. Faelan wants only to restore his home and lands to profitability, and introduces many measures to improve the lot of his tenants. But his dearest and oldest friend, Geoffrey (who has known Roddy since she was younger, and with whom she had been youthfully infatuated) has become involved in smuggling arms to the rebels, and while Faelan has made his position clear – he wants nothing to do with it – Geoffrey nonetheless manages to drag him into the thick of things, which leads to an explosive and tragic series of events.

The plot is satisfyingly complex and the historical background is very well researched indeed. I’m not normally one for Paranormal stories, but the inclusion of the mythical elements works really well here, and was something I didn’t find distracting or too far-fetched.

What drew me in however, was the central relationship the two strongly written protagonists. Roddy has been used to being able to discover what people are really thinking because she can read minds – but it isn’t until she meets Faelan that she realises that even with her “gift” (and I have to say, the frequency with which that word, or the word “talent” is used to describe Roddy’s ability is a bit annoying), she doesn’t really know anyone at all. She’s never had to learn to read people’s faces or vocal inflections, so she often finds herself at a bit of a loss with him. And if you like a tortured hero, then Faelan is one of the most tortured I’ve come across. He’s believed to have killed his father, and because he has gaps in his memory, he has no idea whether he is responsible for that, or any of the other dark deeds laid at his door. When Roddy confronts him, he never denies anything – because he can’t, and when the truth finally comes out about his memory lapses, and we discover the reason Roddy can’t read his mind… my heart broke for him.

This really is an extraordinary book, and one I’ll certainly return to. The relationship between Roddy and Faelan is really well developed. They marry early on in the book, and their marriage is a very passionate one – but it’s clear that Faelan often uses sex as a method of diverting Roddy’s attention from difficult subjects he doesn’t want to discuss. They have a lot to contend with, both as a result of their personal issues and of the unstable political situation – but Roddy’s faith in Faelan touches him deeply, and their love for each other enables them to weather the storms life throws at them.

It’s difficult to find something to say about Nicholas Boulton’s narration other than that it’s absolutely fantastic. When it comes to audiobook narrators, he is, quite simply, in a class of his own. On a basic level, his characterisations are well differentiated, the narrative is well-paced and very subtly nunanced and he is an absolute joy to listen to. In this audiobook in particular, he gets to show off his ability to perform a wide variety of regional Irish accents, ranging from Faelan, whose accent is barely noticeable, to the thicker accents of the estate workers. But Mr Boulton is far more than a technically accomplished vocal actor. He also manages to find the emotional heart of the characters, bringing them vividly to life in the listener’s mind in such a way that they stay with one, long after the book has finished.

Uncertain Magic is a wonderful addition to the list of audiobooks already available from this incredibly talented author/narrator team, and one I can’t recommend highly enough.

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5 thoughts on “Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

    1. Nick Boulton could read the phone book and I’d listen gladly, but fortunately, the stuff he gets to read is much better than that! I hadn’t read this book before and from the synopsis, wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I found it completely gripping.

      1. So true! I’m not that keen on Kinsale’s earlier books, but I’d listen to him narrate this one. Currently, I’m utterly mesmerized by Reading’s narration of Chase’s LORD OF SCOUNDRELS, so much so that I listened on my -20C commute with walk, bus, metro … & the time “flew”.

      2. Oh, that’s my favourite audiobook of the last year, and quite possibly EVER! I just reviewed CAPTIVES OF THE NIGHT (it’s at AudioGals today, but I’ll have it up here tomorrow), and Kate dropped by the comments and said she’s recording MORE Loretta Chase books. My squee levels are currently ridiculously high!

        And honestly, listening to Nick narrating Kinsale is almost like experiencing a different book. FOR MY LADY’S HEART is just stunning and MIDSUMMER MOON is lovely…

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