Warprize, by Elizabeth Vaughan

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TITLE: Warprize
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Vaughan

PAGES: 314

SETTING: Another world
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: First in the Chronicles of the Warlands.

REASON FOR READING: Warprize seems to be widely loved, and a lot of people with excellent taste have recommended it.


Xylara is the Daughter of the Warrior King, Xyron. With her father dead and her incompetent half-brother on the throne, the kingdom is in danger of falling to the warring Firelanders.

Before she was old enough for a marriage-of-alliance, Xylara was trained as a healer. She can't usurp her brother or negotiate a peace--but she can heal the brave ones injured in battle.

But not only her countrymen are wounded, and Xylara's conscience won't let Firelander warriors die when she can do something to save them. She learns their language and their customs and tries to make them as comfortable as possible, despite their prisoner-of-war status.

She never expects that these deeds, done in good faith, would lead to the handsome and mysterious Firelander Warlord demanding her in exchange for a cease-fire. Xylara knows must trade the life she has always known for the well-being of her people, and so she becomes...

The Warprize
Xylara (known as Lara) is a princess of the Xy. Her land is facing invasion by a group who couldn't be more different to them. The Xy are city-dwellers and very "civilised". They don't know much at all about their invaders, the People of the Plains, only that they come on horseback, ride like devils and look even wilder. Rumours abound that they truly are barbarians.

Soon enough, the Xy are surrounded and at the verge of defeat. Keir, leader of the Plains people demands their surrender, promising to spare them carnage and grant them certain privileges if they do so. Scarily, though, the deal also includes the demand that Lara be handed over as a warprize.

Lara's brother, the current king, accepts without a minute's hesitation, even though no one really knows what this entails and most assume the worst. So does Lara, even though as a healer, she met several Plains prisoners when she sneaked in to heal them, and all seemed quite normal and distinctly less scary than most people thought. Her fear doesn't even diminish much when she realises that the leader she's been given to is one of the men she met in the prisoners' tent, who obviously knows that she's been kind to some of his people.
Lara still expects to become a sort of sex slave, and is very surprised when it becomes apparent that the role of a warprize is like nothing she could have imagined.

Warprize is all about culture clash. The differences between the Xy and the Plains people go a lot deeper than the superficial civilised-barbarian contrast of their lifestyles, and I found exploring those differences very enjoyable. Vaughan has clearly spent a lot of time developing the world in which she's set her story, and it shows. Each of her peoples have a history and traditions, and these have shaped the way they see the world and behave. At the same time, each of the characters are individuals, rather than stereotypes.

Warprize is also a romance (it's quite obvious to the seasoned romance reader what Keir's intentions are, even if we only see Lara's POV and she's pretty oblivious to them), and this aspect is also very much affected by the cultural differences. Keir and Lara fall in love and there are personality differences they have to lear to deal with, but most of them stem from the cultural differences as well.

The only thing that keeps this book from a higher grade is that I felt Keir left Lara to wonder about his intentions and exactly what the real role of a warprize was for far too long. He's not a stupid man; after the first couple of blunders, it's obvious Lara knows nothing about his people. And even if nobody realises Lara has misconceptions about what being a warprize means and everyone assumes she's well aware of everything, it didn't feel natural that no one would have mentioned anything that would have made Lara wonder. Come to think of it, it didn't feel natural that Lara herself didn't just go ahead and ask Keir, especially when it became clear that she was not going to be sacrificed/prostituted/etc. I'm afraid this felt like an excuse to keep Lara making mistakes and accidentally offending people, thus generating conflict a bit artificially.

Hmm, that sounds awfully critical, but while it was something I kept wondering at the back of my mind throughout most of the book, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.


NOTE: I had to laugh when I read one of the review quotes at the beginning. "You will never look at a warlord the same way again". Er... good to know, I'll keep that in mind the next time I meet one.


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