by Elizabeth Vaughan, fantasy (2005)
Tor Romance, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35264-8
Given that I have heard so much rave reviews about Elizabeth Vaughan's debut Warprize, perhaps my expectations are raised too high. What I get is a fantasy story that, while blessedly free from cheesy "Must have sex to unite the two kingdoms because the baby we make will be so powerful, ooh!" fantasies, is nonetheless a familiar one revolving around captive fantasies and female healers wanting to save the country and what-not.
Xylara is the daughter of the Warrior King, Xyron, of the kingdom of Xy. Her half-brother Xymund is currently the king. I'm sure the absent brother Xylem will show up in the upcoming sequels. Xymund is viewed by all as a weak king and apparently his weakness is genetic (he is supposed to be the illegitimate offspring of his mother and one of her lovers). Ms Vaughan will use this genetic weakness of Xymund as an easy way out to give Lara, our heroine, and her lover a happy ending. This lover in question is Keir, the warrior from north who shows up and plunders and razes Xy with his army. Lara is supposedly against the war and she openly defies Xymund by healing wounded troops of the enemy - Lara, naturally, is the Best Healer In The Land - but once she decides that she's in love with Keir, Keir is the good guy now. Hmmph.
Depth is one thing sorely lacking in this book. Lara is sweet, selfless, kind, and good at healing; everyone but the basest one-dimensional scumbag loves her. At the same time, she doesn't really know what is going on and apart from volunteering to be the martyr or healing sick people, she doesn't take much of a proactive stance in this book. Kier is the cheesy Most Powerful Lord With A Soft Core Only The Heroine Can Penetrate. The villain is obvious, his plot transparent, and the denouement can be seen coming a mile away. But because Lara is such a sweet heroine who has no sense of how much she is worth, she starts doubting Kier's affections for her. I suppose Ms Vaughan needs a way to stretch the story to span three books, after all.
This book reminds me of those prehistoric soap-operas starring some lone woman against the world falling in love with a powerful lord of some tribe that flooded the markets after Jean M Auel made a killing with her Ayla the Neanderthal Barbie soap opera series Earth's Children. I can never really get into those books because they all have the same storyline, always featuring some healer woman who will get accepted into some powerful tribe and eventually into the heart of the handsome and fearsome leader because she is this superbly beautiful, mystically talented, and supremely good-hearted woman. Warprize is especially handicapped by the fact that the plot is direly predictable and the characters are one-dimensional. Is it readable? Sure, and it is also an engrossing read in the same way a soap-opera can be engaging. But I am hard-pressed at the same time to find anything memorable about this book in order to rave about it. It's a book, a pretty enjoyable one, but I honestly doubt I will remember this book come next month. This kind of stories isn't my cup of tea unless the author does a little extra work to introduce character development and depths to the plot instead of merely reenacting a familiar storyline using flat stereotypes.
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