Key of Valor
Grade : B

Since I can't imagine that too many people will find themselves buying Key of Valor without having read the first two books in the trilogy, knowing where I stand on those initial installments might help you decide how my grade for this one might align with yours. Like reviewer Donna Newman, my grade for Key of Light was a B- and that for Key of Knowledge aligned very closely to Blythe Barnhill's C+. With that said, Key of Valor is easily the best book in the trilogy, even if - and this is an important caveat - it isn't even close to Nora Roberts at her absolute best.

In this trilogy three women are given quests to locate magical keys that will free three half-goddess/half-mortal women from a glass prison. Each woman has 28 days to find her key. Malory went first, then Dana. Now it's Zoe's turn.

Like a lot of readers, I imagine, right from the very first book I've been waiting for Zoe and Brad's story, always with the sense that this was going to be the big one. And, within the confines of this trilogy, it absolutely is. But Zoe's almost inexplicable prickliness started to wear thin by the conclusion of the trilogy's second installment (we all hate handsome rich guys who are solicitous and sweet, don't we?), leaving me a bit leery of having to cope with out-of-control heroine feistiness for 300+ pages. But I forgot just how smart a writer Ms. Roberts is: She dispenses with Zoe's irritability almost immediately, focusing instead on the burgeoning relationship and, of course, the final confrontation with the evil Kane.

At the start of the book, the pressure is on Zoe to locate the third and final key that will release the imprisoned souls of the three goddesses. And, along with heroines Mallory and Dana from the first two books, the demands on the already over-extended young woman are further exacerbated by the myriad details and tasks associated with opening their own business. Add in her growing attraction to retail millionaire Bradley Vane and her concern for her young son regarding the dangerous days to come, and it's easy to understand why Zoe is operating on virtually her last nerve as she begins her quest.

The oblique clue from gods Rowena and Pitte doesn't give her much to go on. But soon enough Zoe begins to follow the path that leads her to, among other places, her childhood West Virginia home. Clearly, the key for Zoe is courage (she represents the warrior goddess of the three imprisoned souls) and it takes considerable valor on the part of the stalwart heroine before she ultimately finds the answer.

I don't think it's a spoiler to let you know that Zoe is, indeed, successful. (Duh.) But while the confrontations with Kane are a bit spookier this time out, they never became as interesting to me as Zoe and Brad's developing feelings and the relationship of both to Zoe's young son Simon. The romance grows believably and, equally important, Roberts deftly touches on the very real feelings of adults who have carved out lives for themselves and understandably wonder just what the heck they're getting into when they fall in love. But, unlike the trilogy's previous two stories, there is a third person in the middle of this particular romance and Roberts does an especially excellent job of showcasing the very real concern a mother would feel for her young son as she embarks on a relationship destined to change both their lives forever.

Without the terminal feistiness with which she was burdened in the first two books, Zoe comes to life here as an appealing, intelligent, and altogether stand up heroine. Her mystical connection to "her" goddess is closer than any of the others experienced during their quests, and the path she must follow to her key is as much about her individual choices in life as it is about the alternate reality with which she has become entangled. The final confrontation is as satisfying as anyone could ask, as is the happy ending Rowena, Pitte, and the goddesses so clearly deserve.

Roberts has the ability to write "guys" that we all recognize and Brad is another example of her sure hand in creating male characters. Though he is richer and handsomer than the guys we know in real life, Brad's reactions and feelings always ring true - as does his relationship with childhood friends Flynn and Jordan. I've never been a fly on the wall in a men's locker room, but if I ever managed it, this is very much how I think it would sound.

There is a reason that Nora Roberts is one of the best-selling authors in the world and, unlike a few of those other top-sellers, she actually deserves the honor. When all is said and done, Ms. Roberts has wrapped up her trilogy with an entry that clearly tops all the others. But, I do have to agree with Blythe: There is better stuff by the author out there. Nevertheless, even though Key of Valor isn't the author at the very top of the form, I certainly can't find it in myself to quibble too much with what your $7.99 brings you here - this is better than most new contemporaries available today. Ms. Roberts is a great storyteller and a few hours in her more-than-competent hands is pretty much always worth the investment for me.

Reviewed by Sandy Coleman
Grade : B

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : January 10, 2004

Publication Date: 2003

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