Taken from her aunt's estate by kidnappers who were actually after a royal princess, Lark Sedassa finds herself in the hands of a nobleman who is in no hurry to correct his mistake when he discovers his beautiful captive is herself the daughter of a wealthy and influential family. Not only does he not intend to return Lark to her family, the golden-eyed Kadar Arkalis intends to make her his bride.
Binding Spell is the latest of Christine Pope's fantasy-romance series "Tales of the Latter Kingdoms," and she's painting with a darker palette this time out. There's malign magic at work in Kadar's castle, and secrets that could prove deadly for himself and his people. Lark, who practices her own magic in secret, must face the threat this evil poses and finally accept her own powers, which she has always kept hidden.
As always, Pope's writing is lushly sensual, hauntingly descriptive without shading into purple prose like those fantasy novels where there are so many adjectives readers begin to wonder if the writer was being paid by the word. The Latter Kingdoms may be fantastic realms, but the details of the day-to-day lives of the characters that live there have a realistic familiarity. Gowns get dirty; food stores have to be replenished; inconvenient mistresses need to be sent away.
The characters share that reality and are dimensional and believable. Lark is a serious-minded young woman whose growing love for her husband eventually extends to everyone in his domain. Indeed, one of the best scenes in the book occurs when Lark uses his ability to sense lies to dispense justice in Kadar's "Hall of Grievances."
Kadar is a flawed man whose flaws bring him to the brink of terrible actions, but those flaws also make him more than the usual "alpha male" hero. The attraction between him and Lark goes beyond chemical into the alchemical, and their bond is stronger than any magic. (Pope makes her readers wait for her lovers to consummate their passion but she makes the wait worth it.)
What fantasy would be complete without an evil magician? There's one here, and he's a great character, the kind of manipulator you would get if you crossed Iago with Grima Wormtongue. You'll know he's trouble the moment you see him, just as Lark does.
Fans of the Latter Kingdom series will be amused by the references Pope makes to plot-points from earlier books, and be intrigued by the teasing hints she offers of characters that will appear in later books. With each "tale," this series gets richer and more developed and while the books stand alone, readers really should treat themselves to all of them.