The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes

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Friday, April 03, 2009
by Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, Anne Stuart (2007)

The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes are three magical sisters living in Salem's Fork, West Virginia. Their flighty but gifted parents are long dead under what now appear to be suspicious circumstances -- the girls have been on the run, trying to conceal their talents and live normal lives, but of course this is complicated when you can turn into a bird or change your clothes without taking them off or throw things at people without lifting a finger.

Let's meet the sisters: Dee Fortune (power of: shape shifter!) is the overly serious, red-haired, responsible oldest sister; Lizzie Fortune (power of: alchemy!) is the peacemaker middle sister with hippie skirts, long blonde hair, and the wildest, most potentially world-disruptive magic; Mare Fortune (power of: telekinesis and perfect movie recommendations!) is the impetuous black-haired baby of the family. They each have a signature color (green, purple and blue, respectively) which is usually expressed in little puffs of colored smoke in moments of high emotion. (reminiscent of the three fairy godmothers in Disney's Sleeping Beauty.) Xan is the villainous witch-aunt of a certain age who wants their power and will take it any way she can.

The title of the novel and the name of the town indicate that Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, and Anne Stuart set out to write a fast and funny book filled with sister-power, romance, and cartoon evil -- a worthy destination! It reminds me of the TV show Charmed. I don't think it's just because of the obvious three magical sisters similarities, but also because it aims for the same kind of cheesy, breezy, danger-kissing-RUN-stop-sexy dance-I smite thee target. Fun, sometimes almost scary, but it doesn't take itself very seriously. It's safe unless you're Shannen Doherty.

But maybe it's too safe! I think this book could have taken itself a little more seriously -- I definitely get that these three authors love each other's company -- a lot of that fun comes through, but it also has a wide stripe of slapdash, "hey ladies! let's write a supernatural romance novel!" It seems possible that with three powerhouses like this writing (between them over 100 novels published), they held back a bit or didn't give it as much attention as they would a standalone novel.

One of the problems of a collaborative novel with this much plot is that it feels all crammed up; three separate romance novels representing three separate styles duke it out (each author takes a sister), all while trying to serve the overarching story. Dee is featured in a secret sheik/greek billionaire-style romance, Lizzie receives humid tutoring from a powerful (and sexy, of course) sorcerer, and Mare faces job/destiny/little sister issues and the complications of long-lost love.

I love Jennifer Crusie. She doesn't just write couples, she writes communities; her characters all live in a larger world. She reminds me of Austen in this regard -- you don't just get Eliza Bennett and Mr. Darcy giving each other incendiary looks across the dance floor, you get her sisters and his snobby friends and so and so's Aunt Mary noticing and offering their opinions, asked for or not. I haven't read Eileen Dreyer or Anne Stuart apart from this collaboration so I'm not sure what their regular style is, but I do know I could spot the Crusie sections in a hot minute -- they were where the world got bigger while remaining intimate. (She wrote for Mare, and I think Xan, but I'm not positive on the latter.) I would love to read a solo-Crusie supernatural novel.

I had a few moments of true enjoyment while reading this book, but it mostly felt like a middling episode of Charmed when I suspect it could have been like a GREAT episode of Charmed.
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