Friday, July 11, 2014

Once Upon Stilettos

Once Upon Stilettos
by Shanna Swendson
Recommended Ages: 14+

It's been quite a few years since I read Enchanted, Inc. because, frankly, I'm a guy and chick lit isn't my thing. But it was such a funny and magical book that continuing with the series has often been on my mind. And now I find that the Katie Chandler series has grown to seven books. Based on the adventures of a Texas belle who finds adventure, romance, and professional fulfillment in New York, it combines the appeal of a Sex and the City spoof with the charm of a modern, urban fairy tale.

After a rocky first year in the Big Apple, Katie has a great job that relies on her ability to see through magical deceptions and glamors. Her company is called Magic, Spells, and Illusions. It sells its wares to the wizards, fairies, sprites, and other magical beings who call New York home. As executive assistant to the CEO, she reports directly to Merlin himself. Every day she works with women who wear wings, a giantess, an ogre, a talking frog, gnomes, gargoyles, you name it. The fact that she sees them for what they are, and can spot traps and stealth attacks by magic, makes her services to the company invaluable. But that doesn't change the fact that the guy of her dreams only seems to think of her as a friend, possibly a kind of sister figure. Nor does it stop her boyfriend, who also happens to be immune to magic, from dumping her because she is too grounded, too normal. It's got to be disenchanting to know that what makes you special is your complete lack of enchantment.

But then trouble starts to brew. First comes the evidence that somebody at MSI is spying for their nerdy nemesis, Phelan Idris. Katie is put in charge of the investigation, and part of her mission is to restore team morale when distrust and jealousy threaten to bring productivity to a standstill. Another part is to find out which of her co-workers, possibly even a close friend, is working with Idris. Meanwhile, she has to fend off a series of magical attacks, ranging from mildly irritating to downright dangerous, that always seem to target her during an evening out with her young man. Add to that the challenge of keeping her parents ignorant of the existence of magic during a week-long visit, even though Mrs. Chandler proves as immune to magic as her daughter, and Katie's ability to manage crises is strained to the limit. What a perfect time, then, for her to lose her one and only super-power: her immunity to magic!

Katie worries that without her special abilities, she will be of no use to MSI. So she hopes her condition is temporary, while struggling to seem normal amid a world that has gone crazy in a totally new way (for her). The office letch, who never struck her as particularly attractive while she could see through his sex-appeal spell, suddenly becomes irresistible. The security gargoyles tasked with her protection, have become invisible. The constant magical attacks targeting her, are starting to hit their target, since she not only can't see them coming, but can take real damage when they hit. Even her footwear turns against her, part of a magically powered master-plan that you'll probably have figured out before Katie and her dreamboat co-worker Owen do. There are certainly plenty of hints leading up to the crisis when, one cold December night, she finds herself alone outdoors, under-dressed, under attack, and in danger of losing her life, her mind, or her heart.

Though Katie's adventures are sometimes a little on the chilling side, their overall tone is light and sparkly, like the kind of wine served in a flute. You can sympathize with her heartaches and worries as a single girl who isn't getting any younger, knowing that she has found Mr. Right but seemingly unable to make him notice her. It is easy to enjoy her touched-by-magic take on the urban professional world, taken with her self-deprecating wit and her no-nonsense sleuthing skills. As for New York City, its taboo against noticing the people you meet on the street, no matter how oddly they may look or behave, makes it the perfect place for fairy-land to hide in plain sight.

Texas native Shanna Swendson also writes romance novels under the pen name Samantha Carter (no relation to the character on Stargate SG-1). Her other titles in the "Katie Chandler" or "Enchanted, Inc." series include Damsel Under Stress, Don't Hex with Texas, Much Ado About Magic, No Quest for the Wicked, and Kiss and Spell.

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