Warrior, by Zoë Archer

>> Thursday, September 23, 2010

TITLE: Warrior
AUTHOR: Zoë Archer

PAGES: 370

SETTING: Outer Mongolia, late 19th century
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: #1 in Blades of the Rose series.

REASON FOR READING: Just see setting above. Setting a book in Outer Mongolia will make me want to read it, whatever the plot.

To most people, the realm of magic is the stuff of nursery rhymes and dusty libraries. But for Capt. Gabriel Huntley, it’s become quite real and quite dangerous…

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. And frankly, Huntley couldn’t be more pleased. Intrigue, danger, and a beautiful woman in distress—just what he needs.

Raised thousands of miles from England, Thalia Burgess is no typical Victorian lady. A good thing, because a proper lady would have no hope of recovering the priceless magical artifact Thalia is after. 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…
Captain Gabriel Huntley has only just resigned his commission in the British Army and after 15 years of non-stop action all over the world, isn't too excited about the idea of settling down back home into a quiet life. Mere minutes after getting off his ship in Southampton, he comes across a man being beaten up by a group of people. Gabriel doesn't like bullies, so he dives in to the man's defense and succeeds in beating off his attackers.

Unfortunately, the man dies of his injuries, but before he does, he passes on a cryptic message to Gabriel that he says will save thousands of lives. This message needs to go to a man in Outer Mongolia, and oh, yes, the only ship that will get Gabriel there in time leaves in hours. Since the man saved Gabriel's life during the fight, he feels obliged to do it (and of course, his reluctance to abandon all adventure helps).

After arduous weeks of travel, Gabriel finally reaches the home of Franklin Burgess and his daughter Thalia and delivers the message. Noticing Burgess has an injured leg, Gabriel offers his further help, but is rebuffed. Partly out of a sense of duty, partly out of the same adventure-seeking that brought him to Mongolia and wanting to see where this goes, Gabriel is determined to help and decides to stick around. But the person who sets out the next morning, clearly prepared for a long trip, is not Burgess, but Thalia.

Thalia isn't initially any more disposed to accept Gabriel's help than she was at the beginning, but after he helps repel an attack by Thalia's enemies, she decides to accept his help. And as they travel all over Mongolia, Gabriel is introduced to a world he didn't even suspect existed, one of secret societies and powerful magic.

Now, the setting was as good as I might have hoped. The landscape, the people, the culture... all those were well drawn and very unique. Obviously, since beyond having met a couple of Mongolian people, I know very little about the country, I have no way of judging whether it was accurate. It was fun and interesting and felt different, though, and that's enough for me.

Unfortunately, however, apart from the setting, this was one of those books where I liked the idea of it, I liked the bare bones of what was going on, but just didn't like the actual book as much as I wished I would. It was very frustrating.

So what made me wish I'd like the book more? Well, I've mentioned the setting already, but there's also the fact that we have a strong, unusual heroine, whose unusualness is perfectly well justified. We also have a hero who really values that strength and unusualness and considers it one of the main reasons he loves the heroine. But much as I liked that in theory, I couldn't bring myself to care all that much about Gabriel and Thalia and their relationship. I just wasn't engaged. I had to fight very hard to avoid the temptation of skimming over their scenes together.

This is an adventure romance, and there's a lot going on, as they ride all over Mongolia, escape supernatural storms, participate in a Mongolian tournament and finally make their final stand in what sounded like a really cool location. There's powerful magic and secret societies. But again, as exciting as that sounds, I wasn't as excited as I should have been. I wasn't turning the pages desperate to know how things were going to turn up, but trying to force myself to keep reading and not get distracted, so I could get to the end of the book. That sounds awful, but I'm afraid it's the truth.

All of these are things that I expect will strike other people very differently. It could be just me not clicking with Archer's voice, or not being inthe right mood. I have no doubt that many other readers will have a completely different experience and love this. There was one thing I thought as really bad, though, and that was the villains. They were beyond cartoonish and flat. They babbled for no reason and in completely out-of-character ways, leered at the heroine, made racist comments for no other reason than to show us readers how evil they were, etc. I rolled my eyes quite a bit when these people showed up.

MY GRADE: Warrior was at best a C+ for me. However, I think I might actually give the future books in the series a shot and see if they work better for me. Not only do the settings sound as great as Outer Mongolia, there's also the fact that one of the heroes, the inventor Catullus Graves, whom we meet in this book, is a black Briton. I actually thought when he was first referred to in the book that he sounded really cool, and what a shame that he most probably wouldn't have his own book. It's very, very nice to hear that he will.

NOTE: After writing my review, I like to seek out others. I notice that quite a few describe Warrior as steampunk. Good thing I didn't see them before I read it, because I love steampunk, and I would have been disappointed. Yes, Catullus' inventions are advanced for their time, but that was a very minor element, especially compared to the magic, which was a huge part of the plot.


Maili,  23 September 2010 at 20:51  

Aw. I was planning to get it because it was touted around as a steampunk rom, but I had no idea until this review that it contains magic (my least favourite fantasy element). Plus you and I have a similar taste (and as far as I know, it's not digitally available). Yeah, it's nice that Catullus gets his own story. (Third book, I think?)

rosario001,  24 September 2010 at 07:56  

Maili: This is one which I'd be reluctant to predict whether people will like. There's nothing really wrong with it (well, apart from the villains), it might be just me. But I do think that if had gone in expecting steampunk you would have been very annoyed. I will most probably try Catullus' book (the last one, but it looks like they're coming in consecutive months, so it won't be too long a wait) 

It's available on kindle, and quite cheap, too.

Li,  25 September 2010 at 18:38  

I'm still on the fence about getting this one, and your review doesn't help!  I love the sound of the setting (and that cowboy hat on the cover model - shallow, me?) but reviews have been lukewarm as far as I can see...

rosario001,  26 September 2010 at 19:42  

Li: I really wish I'd been able to give this a better review... definitely want to encourage more books with settings such as this one. Oh, well!

Anonymous,  29 September 2010 at 04:52  

ha, I am going to test my thought, your post get me some good ideas, it's truly amazing, thanks.

- Murk

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