With her debut Warlands trilogy, Elizabeth Vaughan established herself as an author capable of balancing good fantasy world-building with romance. It was a mix that worked perfectly for me and was well done throughout the three books. Given that, I expected good things from her new novel set in the same world (though in a different area of that world). Since I loved the first books so well, I probably had higher expectations than most will. Happily, for the most part my expectations were met.
Red Gloves and her partner Bethral are mercenaries. They’ve come to Palins in search of work, but what Red Gloves finds instead is a prophesy and a quest. What she thinks is a small farm is instead a devastated war zone. And she meets Josiah, who she believes will make for a nice earthy tumble in the hay. Instead, he is desperate to restore his people’s land, and by morning’s light Red Gloves witnesses the magical devastation done to the land and to Josiah, who pushes her to accept her destiny as the Chosen of Palins.
Josiah can’t believe his eyes (in more ways then one) when Red Gloves takes her shirt off for him. Certainly he notices she’s attractive, but what truly catches his eye is the dagger-star birthmark she bears. Because of the mark he’s convinced she’s just the person to stop the usurpers who have taken the crown and are driving Palins into the ground. Josiah is himself a personal victim who watched his home and lands destroyed after he was betrayed. Now, with his magic gone, he is determined to persuade Red Gloves to take on the role of champion and future ruler.
I loved the setup on this one. Red Gloves is so named because of the gloves she never removes (not even when she bathes), and just why she won’t take off the gloves is an intriguing question. That she’s also a coarse, uncouth woman who is supposed to save this country was a nice touch. Add in Josiah, the six magical goats who are always with him (you’ll have to read the book), and the very real tragedy that has befallen him and his people, and the author had me.
What was even better then the general plotting and characterization was the role-reversal. Red Gloves is every romance hero you’ve ever met who shows up at the manor house and is instantly attracted to good-hearted heroine who has kept the manse going against incredible odds. She doesn’t see Josiah as a long-term prospect, she isn’t looking for hearts and flowers – at least not initially. And Josiah is the reluctant (at first) love interest whose own feelings – he thinks – must be sublimated while Red Gloves fulfills her quest. Though I’m not describing it as well as I’d like to, the reversal works. Though Josiah is definitely in the beta mode, he’s not a shrinking violet and his tenderness with Red Gloves is great. Think A Brother’s Price by Wen Spenser rather than that weird Regency one by Dara Joy.
While the story and characters had me, the pacing and denouement were just a little off. When I started the book, I assumed this was the first in a new trilogy (as far as I can tell, it’s not). Because of that assumption the story worked well, but as I realized that much of what had been set up in the first half was going to have to be resolved in the second half, I became concerned. My concern was warranted. The ending – involving the fight for Palins, the romance between Red Gloves and Josiah, and the revelations about Red Gloves’ own mysterious past – was far too rushed and given way too short a shrift. All of which made it harder to believe.
Ending aside, I do recommend Dagger-Star and I actually have high hopes that there will be a sequel. Now that I come to think of it, those six magical goats never got an explanation.