The Warrior Trainer
The Warrior Trainer is the 2006 winner of the American Title Contest, a kind of romance novel American Idol competition sponsored by Dorchester Books and Romantic Times Magazine. While Russell shows some promise, there were some fundamental writing problems that really pulled me out of the story.
The premise is an interesting one. Legend has it that the country of Scotland was named after a woman warrior named Scotia who brought the Stone of Destiny (aka the Stone of Scone) from the Middle East to Britain. The Warrior Trainer posits that the daughters of the original Scotia (all named Scotia in their turn) are warriors who train other warriors, and whose sacred duty it is to guard the Stone of Destiny. The current Scotia’s mother was killed when Edward I’s men stole the Stone and took it back to England. However, there are whispers that Edward got the wrong stone and English knights, calling themselves the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are terrorizing Scottish villages trying to find the real stone, even as rumors of a new warrior woman abound.
Ian MacKinnon’s brother was killed by the White Horseman, the same man who killed Scotia’s mother and put an arrow in the current Scotia’s own back. His father sends him to Scotia to train, after which he intends to hunt down and kill the White Horseman. Scotia is thrilled to have him; she has gained the reputation as the greatest warrior in Scotland and, while many men have arrived at her castle gates to challenge her in single combat to prove their prowess, none have come to train before Ian. Scotia hopes to eventually have a well-trained army capable of defeating the Four Horsemen for then the Stone, whose location she alone knows, will finally be safe.
Scotia is also, at 25, getting a bit long in the tooth and needs to get about producing a daughter to carry on after her. She is conflicted about binding a child to that kind of fate, for she knows how hard it has been on her. Scotia wears her armor 24 hours a day, and is always vigilant, always on guard. But her iron control is slipping due to the mutual attraction she and Ian feel. Russell has written a very good tormented heroine here and her stoicism and world-weariness are well portrayed.
Ian is a bit less well-defined. He was adopted into his clan and has had to fight for his place in it. He is torn between his wish to stay with Scotia and returning to help his family. He is conflicted, yes, but his “I’m staying, no I’m going, maybe I’ll stay, but I really must go” vacillating got a bit wearing after a time.
There were some aspects of the writing itself that I had problems with as well. Russell has some difficulty in describing some of the physical actions of her characters. I visualize the action as I read and often the narrative didn’t scan. For example, during some of the battle sequences, the combatants who were in one place are suddenly in another. At one point, Scotia and Ian’s right hands are tied together, but yet they still manage to get their clothes off without removing the bindings.
And Russell makes a big point about the fact that Scotia never removes her armor – she even bathes with it on. All I could think was ewwww! Ian removes Scotia’s armor in order to make love to her in what is supposed to be an intimate scene, a metaphorical as well as physical baring of herself, but all I could think about was the state of her poor skin after months/years of not being exposed to the sun or air. And what about the smell of that padding between her armor and her skin? Talk about ruining the mood.
There are some good moments to be found in The Warrior Trainer. I especially liked the strength of the heroine and that she was very much the dominant partner of the two – something very unusual in romance. And the story itself was interesting with an unexpected, surprise ending. I will probably pick up Russell’s next novel in the hopes that some of the writing problems will have improved with experience.