Book Review: Utterly Charming

Digging through some old print books on my shelves. I’ve got to keep reading and reducing — or open a used bookstore, I guess. 😉

Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson (originally from Kensington in 2000; reissued by Sourcebooks in 2011)

Nora Barr is a struggling young lawyer—two months behind on the rent on her office, driving a junker car, eating cheap. Part of the problem is that she is truly an ethical lawyer—doesn’t want to work for scumbags or defend the maybe-not-so-innocent. She’s at the end of her financial rope when some very odd clients appear—quite literally appearing and disappearing: Aethelstan Blackstone and his midget friend Sancho Panza. Nora sort of has to believe in their claims to be thousand-year-old magicians after a series of incidents that include fireball fights with an evil witch, mass hypnosis of the police, and “erasing” yesterday’s news. They hire Nora (and they pay VERY well) to hide their VW bus someplace unknown to them—and they’ll be back to claim it in, oh, ten or fifteen years. Oh, and she mustn’t look inside it.

Fast forward ten years. Nora is now an extremely successful and wealthy lawyer, head of her own firm, able to devote most of her personal legal time to pro bono cases. She married the defense lawyer she’d had the hots for ten years ago, but they are now in the midst of an unpleasant divorce. Nora is impelled to drive to the storage place where she’s been keeping that van. She opens it and finds inside a glass coffin and a letter of instruction. Yep, it’s Sleeping Beauty (well, the coffin is an element borrowed from the Snow White story). Nora ends up with a young woman on her hands who’s been in a magical sleep for a millenium. The modern world is quite a shock for poor Emma—she doesn’t have the mindset to grasp anything about it. And when Aethelstan shows up to claim her as his true love, she wants nothing to do with him—after all, he is partially responsible for that loooong nap she took. Unfortunately, the other person involved is the evil witch, who is also still around and determined to get her hands on Emma and put her back to sleep. So how do they defeat the witch and save Emma? How will Nora get over her attraction to Aethelstan, knowing that he is Emma’s destined soulmate? Will Nora’s mother, with the help of an old boyfriend who’s a university history prof, be able to teach Emma to function in the modern world? Why are the Three Fates kind to Nora but disdainful of all other humans? Why does Sancho keep saying Aethelstan misinterpreted the prophecy?

I really enjoyed this story. Nora is great, so determined to protect and help Emma even though Emma is not the easiest person to like or deal with. And Aethelstan starts out pretty superior and convinced of the rightness of his actions, but comes to see the consequences through Emma’s and Nora’s eyes, and recognize his errors. The secondary characters add to the story. Even the evil witch shows human quirks. I don’t like long separations or big time gaps in books, so I was initially concerned when I saw the section headings “Ten Years Ago” and “Now”, but the transition was handled smoothly and the action just flowed.

I found this interpretation of the fairy tale to be very unique in its plot twists and its focus on what it would actually be like for Sleeping Beauty to wake in a world totally different from the one she knew.

(The sequel is Thoroughly Kissed, about what happens to Sleeping Beauty—Emma Lord—after she wakes up in the back of that VW.)


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