Desert Isle Keeper
I haven’t had the best of luck with Tor’s new Romantic Fantasy line, and when I picked up Warprize, I admit my expectations were low. My expectations sunk lower when I learned that the heroine is named Xylara, princess of the land of Xy – that sounds really cheesy, doesn’t it? However, it was not long before I found myself totally engrossed in this book. Warprize is not deep and it’s not perfect, but it is the most entertaining book I’ve read all year.
Xylara (or Lara, as everyone calls her, to my relief) is the first-person narrator. Her country is at war. A terrifying army of horseback barbarians who call themselves the People of the Plains has invaded. Lara’s half-brother King Xymund is an ineffectual leader, and the enemy surrounds the capital city. Lara has bucked royal tradition to become a healer; she divides her time between nursing the wounded of her own side, and nursing the enemy wounded in the prisoner-of-war camp on the castle grounds. Xymund would just as soon let these prisoners die, in spite of his promise to treat enemy wounded with honor, so Lara’s tending of their wounds is an act of open defiance. This comes to the attention of the Plains Warlord, a handsome blue-eyed man named Keir. When he goes to Xymund to demand surrender, Keir also demands tribute: Lara will become his warprize.
Xymund all too readily agrees. Stripped of her belongings and clothing, Lara is given to Keir. She assumes that she will be made a sex slave, or perhaps even a camp follower. But she is treated unexpectedly well, except when she accidentally offends Plains custom. Lara makes a life for herself in the camp, healing the wounded, and is frequently confronted with strange traditions that seem barbaric to her. Slowly, she comes to understand her strange captors. She also grows closer to the enigmatic Keir. But she doesn’t really know what he wants of her, and she has to wonder how many other warprize women he has.
This sounds like a captive-slave book, which is not one of my favorite romantic plotlines, but it’s not like that at all. In fact, this is a book about a clash of cultures. Lara’s understanding of what it means to be a warprize is totally different from that of the Plains people. As a member of one society plunged into another, Lara misunderstands a great deal, until the end of the novel when all is revealed.
Lara is a heroic sort of heroine, always sacrificing herself for the good of her people and tending the wounds of her enemies as well as her friends. The fact that the entire novel is told from her point of view, and that she is completely bewildered most of the time, helps to lessen the impact of her virtuousness. Keir is a great hero. He’s an alpha male, a leader of men, a warrior – and he proves that alpha heroes do not have to be brutes. He understands Lara as little as she understands him, but his unfailing respect for her won my heart.
Interestingly, although Warprize is set in a totally imaginary world, it doesn’t feature any magic at all. The plot stems from realistic characters and their different cultures, not from sorcery.
I was left with a lot of questions about Plains culture, which I suspect the author hasn’t yet thought out. There are a few non-parallel paragraphs and other writing glitches that remind me that Elizabeth Vaughan is a first-time author (one who deserves a better editor). The author sees fit to endow a few characters with annoying accents, for no reason that I could fathom. And Warprize does not have the depth and richness of my favorite romantic fantasies, like Barbara Hambly’s The Ladies of Mandrigyn.
Still, Warprize is, quite simply, great escapist entertainment and as pleasurable a way of whiling away a few hours as any you’ll find. If you’re longing for a good, fun Fantasy Romance, you should definitely pick it up. Since this is the first of a trilogy, plan on getting the next one, too. With any luck, this is the beginning of a long and prolific career.