Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, reviews
Tags:Blades of the Rose, SL Wendy, Steampunk, TBR Challenge, Zoë Archer
Apparently I’ve managed to keep up with SLWendy’s TBR Challenge for the third month in a row! (given how crazy my work schedule is, and how little reviewing mojo I seem to have these days, I am honestly amazed by this). This month’s theme, a new to me author. Drumroll and welcome to…
Warrior, by Zoë Archer
Despite having read many positive reviews of Ms Archer’s Blades of the Rose, to the point where the lot of them exist physically in the humongous, ever growing, mountain range of a TBR pile, I had been resistant to, you know, actually read them. What if I didn’t like them?
Well, I should have trusted the instinct that made me grab them in the first place, for I enjoyed Warrior very much indeed.
From the back cover:
To most people, the realm of magic is the stuff of nursery rhymes and dusty libraries. But for the Blades of the Rose, it’s quite real, and in danger of being misused by a powerful enemy…
In hot pursuit…
The vicious attack Capt. Gabriel Huntley witnesses in a dark alley sparks a chain of events that will take him to the ends of the Earth and beyond—where what is real and what is imagined become terribly confused. Intrigue, danger, and a beautiful woman in distress—just what he needs.
In hotter water…
Raised thousand of miles from England, Thalia Burgess is no typial Victorian lady. A good thing, since as a Blade, she’s trying to protect a priceless magical artifact. Huntley’s assistance might come in handy, though she has to keep him in the dark. But this distractingly handsome soldier isn’t easy to deceive…
Despite the wonderful covers, there is not much steampunk in this series (or perhaps it’s more evident in later installments). The premise of the series is this: mythical objects, the sort that appear in fables and legend, are actually real artifacts imbued with magical powers. When found, these objects, known as Sources (of power, I imagine) can be activated and their magic used—usually with fairly destructive consequences. Human nature being what it is, there are all sorts of groups very keen on finding and using any and all such objects to advance their own interests, regardless of what it would mean to humanity at large.
And then there are the Blades of the Rose, whose aim is exclusively to protect these artifacts and, by extension, the world.
I really like that the scope of the series is actually global—not only are the Sources located in all sorts of exotic places (Warrior takes place in Mongolia and the Gobi desert, people!), not only are the Blades of different national and ethnic origins, but so are the various groups who seek to use the Sources. While in this novel (and at least the next one, Scoundrel) we are stuck with the Heirs of Albion as the main adversaries of the Blades, there are mentions of other such groups actively seeking (and occasionally finding) other Sources all over the world.
Ms Archer’s voice is very engaging and I really enjoyed that she starts the novel with a bang—or rather, a fight. We are introduced to our warrior, one Captain Gabriel Huntley, as he is evening the odds in a fight. Little does he know that the losing part is a Blade, or that keeping his word to the dying man will take him not only to the other side of the globe, but into a realm where the impossible exists. From there on, the pace of the story never slows down.
Mind you, there are some moments of relative calm within the action, but the story never drags, on either level—the quest to find (and then protect) the Source, and the romance between Gabriel and Thalia.
A word about these two. I am one of those readers who must care about the characters in order to enjoy a novel. This is even more important when it’s a romance—I may enjoy finding out the answer to a mystery even if I wouldn’t care to have a coffee with the detective in charge, but in a romance it’s imperative, for me, that I care for the protagonists, individually and together. In this, Ms Archer delivers beautifully.
Thalia is a great heroine. In a rather fantastic setup, she is very realistic. On the one hand, she is self assured about her own worth as a potential Blade. She never doubts her own ingenuity, skills and intelligence. More than that, she likes herself. On the rare occasions where she pouts over not being the ideal Victorian lady (because of course a good Englishman would want such a woman as his wife), she doesn’t indulge for long. She is who she is, thank you very much. Her only real regret is actually a very realistic one—and even in that regard she doesn’t sink into the cliché, “oh, I’ve been hurt before, so I’ll never fall for a man before!” for more than a few pages. She is intelligent enough to see Gabriel as himself and stops comparing him to anyone else in pretty short order.
And Gabriel is also great. I really enjoyed his point of view as a soldier, and his internal dialogue was an absolute riot. At one point, he refrains from telling Thalia about the time he almost had his arm shot off “because bragging never did anybody any good, except make him or her look like a bleating fool.” Even though he has sold his commission as a Captain, he is of very humble origins, so it would be understandable if he were to cling to a certain inferiority complex—there is a marked difference in class between him and Thalia, after all. But not only does Gabriel know his own worth, he realizes rather quickly just how unique Thalia is—unique enough to see him as her equal in all ways.
I had a few issues with the novel¹ and I really disliked the epilogue-disguised-as-last-chapter, mostly because it makes light of the sense of danger the author worked so hard to build during the novel itself (perhaps as a way to portray Thalia’s and Gabriel’s married life as their perfect HEA—if so, it just plain didn’t work for me), but I am definitely digging out Scoundrel to read very soon.
Oh, and let me note that I loved the chapter titles—it’s not often that I actively look for them, but I found myself doing so here.
Warrior is a solid 7.75 out of 10.
¹ one typo that never fails to yank me out of a book, so fast my head spins: to have a character “pouring” over books (Warrior, pg 314) *headdesk*