Oh, how I wanted to like this book. I love fantasy novels, and I love romance novels. The intersection between the two genres should produce great books. And just think: a romance novelist working in a fantastic realm doesn’t need to get the historical details straight – so long as they’re consistent and internally logical, she can invent her own! Unfortunately, that’s where The Sorceress and the Savage flounders.
Shera is a member of the Bacleev, a devoutly religious people who believe that they are the favored children of the gods. They have beneficent mystical powers – they can heal the sick and make the rain fall. Shera is the most talented healer of the Bacleev, even though she has disdained the gods and the priesthood all her life. Now the Bacleev priests have ordered the people to leave their home and journey to the mountains, and Shera is worried. She’s been having visions of a sexy yet frightening man. Are the gods trying to warn her?
The Bacleev set off for their new home, a beautiful mountain valley with a waterfall where once they prospered. But as they near the valley they are persecuted by people called the Walkens and the large panther-like creatures that do their bidding. The Walkens kill several of the Bacleev, including Shera’s parents, in an attempt to persuade them to go away. Then Shera is kidnapped by Gar, the leader of the Walkens, who is also the gorgeous man she’s been seeing in her visions. He forces her to come to his mountain stronghold, where they give in to their mutual attraction and make love. All this happens in 67 pages.
Gar tells Shera that when her people reach the valley they will be corrupted by an evil power that lives behind the waterfall. When they used to live there, he says, the Bacleev enslaved the surrounding peoples, including the Walkens. Shera doesn’t believe him and escapes. She goes to the valley and experiences the evil that Gar warned her of. Now Shera knows that her people are going to be corrupted by evil – in fact, most of them seem eager to embrace it. What will she do?
The love story in The Sorceress and the Savage works fairly well, as far as it goes. As I’ve mentioned, Gar and Shera become lovers almost immediately, and quickly come to love and trust one another. It’s nice to see a romance between two people who spend most of the book devoted to one another and fighting together against an external threat. Unfortunately, because the romance is wrapped up satisfactorily fairly early on, most of the book focuses on the conflict against the Dark Ones and the evil Bacleev.
Here’s where the book becomes problematic. First of all, the setting is really hard to pin down. LoveSpell calls this a futuristic romance, but the setting seems medieval: the economy is apparently non-industrial and based on agriculture, there are dukes and lords who live in castles, all labor is manual, and people get from place to place on horseback. Then someone will pull out a rifle, or complain that his new cottage doesn’t have indoor plumbing.
The devil is in the details. Gar kidnaps Shera for no reason at all. None. Shera escapes from the Walkens with incredible ease, because when she isn’t actually in bed with Gar she’s completely unguarded. Inexplicable things happen, like when Shera’s powers grow exponentially, or when Gar discovers that he can turn himself into a panther at will, and the only explanation given is “this is the will of the gods.” The rifles wouldn’t have bothered me if there were some mention of industrialization, and the waterfall sure would have made more sense if there had been a river.
Also, Shera’s character needs work. She’s supposed to be a compassionate healer, but she comes across as a very cold lady. She has spent her life scorning her heritage and arrogantly disrespecting the gods who gave her the power to heal. Her actions, like so many things in this book, frequently do not make any sense. For instance, she cheerfully goes to bed with Gar only hours after she meets him, even though he murdered her friend before her eyes and was undoubtedly behind the murders of her parents as well. Oddly, she never seems to connect Gar to her parents’ deaths – in fact, I would have to say that once their bodies were cold she forgot all about them. I guess that’s one more detail that the author forgot to put in.
The best fantasy novels are the ones in which the imaginary universe is seamless, the rules of magic consistent, and the characters seem a natural part of this universe and magic. The fantastic elements of The Sorceress and the Savage are too nonsensical to support the plot. Saranne Dawson’s book is sometimes cheesily fun, but the details just don’t work and the main character is not sympathetic. The end result is a clunky, dull story. There are a few books out there that successfully combine fantasy with love stories. I recommend that you pass this one by and try to find a copy of Barbara Hambly’s exciting, intelligent, and very romantic fantasy The Ladies of Mandrigyn instead.
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