Oh, and to honor both the alchemy of the book and the magick of this post, I've got some photos that look like fireworks but aren't and some photos that don't look like fireworks but are.
I posted yesterday about the bare bones plot -- all of which is conveyed by the cover art (okay, yeah, so I can't tell a wolf from a fox) and the back cover blurb -- destitute & orphaned scholar Rose takes a job with the mysterious Jason Cameron at his estate south of San Francisco. He's a fire mage, she's expected to read archaic texts on alchemy to him. Oh, and you know it's a variation on Beauty and the Beast, and you know it will have a happy ending.
But there are lots of ways in which the author, Mercedes Lackey, plays with the conventions of the Beauty and the Beast myth without losing its essential spirit. At its heart, the story works because Beauty comes to love the Beast despite his beastly appearance. Thus, it's a story much beloved by women, for Beauty almost always reveals herself to be so much more than a pretty face.
Rose is a thinker. She reasons out problems that she encounters along the way. She doesn't always get things right, but she never loses sight of her values and her goals. The situation she finds herself in teaches Rose some valuable lessons about human nature, temptation, discipline, and rewards.
By contrast, Jason changes only a little, gaining a bit more patience and a kinder heart by the end.
So what makes this a wonderful book? Alchemy, of course. When you take a story about a heroine that really could stand on its own (frankly, make a few minor changes, and it's a Girl Power YA story par excellence) and a subplot about the hubris of men, stir them together with some fantastical revisions of history, mutter some quatrains in Latin . . . hey, presto you get a nice romance.
But I need to be honest. There are two things the book lacks. I can tell you about one but I can't explain the other. The one I can write about here is sex. There isn't any. Well, that's not quite true: there is sex in the book, but it's all the wrong sorts of sex. There are hints that this couple will be fine in bed, but we are never actually shown or told that. It's a shame, really, because it's a part of the HEA I was interested in. Not in a "get to the good parts" way, but in a "this couple will need a particularly happy sex life" sort of way. I'm afraid that will merely have to be inferred.
(In case you're thinking, Well, Magdalen, be fair -- it's a fantasy book that teens might read so it has to remain PG, I have to tell you that there are some tangential references to sexual matters that teens don't really need to be thinking about. They just aren't nice sexual matters, and they have nothing to do with Rose and Jason Having stuck them in there, I do feel Lackey could have counterbalanced them with some equally tangential references to nice sex that does have to do with Rose and Jason.)
The other thing? -- sorry, can't say. Read the book and email me; we'll talk then.
One last point: You want world building? This book presents a very subtle but charming alternate reality that is quite believable. A lot of thought went into the details, and it's a book that repays attention to those details. I can't, of course, give you any examples. But you won't be disappointed.