Finally got round to posting this review. :)
Xylara (Lara) is a healer as well as being the King of Xy's half-sister. The kingdom is currently at war with the barbarian Firelanders, but Lara refuses to take sides, treating the injured of both armies. Terms of surrender are agreed and they are fair, but for the peace to hold Lara must go to the Firelander's Warlord and be his Warprize.
I first read this story in 2005, when it was my joint favourite book of the year (The other being Dark Lover by J.R.Ward). I think it is possibly the best fantasy romance I've read and it definitely ranks as one of the best first books in a trilogy. So please excuse me if I gush slightly here, it's a bad habit I have when I've really enjoyed a book. LOL - I want everyone else to like it too.
The reason it works so well for me is because of the heroine - Lara. The story is told from her point of view and she makes us experience her world through her eyes - we know her hopes, confusions, fears and desires. She is not a perfect heroine; she is stubborn, opinionated and occasionally acts without thinking.
What raises Warprize above other similar books is the depth of the storytelling. Elizabeth Vaughn virtually paints a picture with words allowing the reader to fully experience the world she has created. There is a huge cultural difference between Lara, daughter of Xy and the Warlord of the plains who claims her which leads to misunderstandings. But these are not two-dimensional conveniences; there is a feeling of a vast Firelander culture that gives them substance and meaning.
There is also an intense chemistry between the Warlord and his Warprize, apparent whenever they are together. Whilst the relationship between Lara and the Warlord is at the heart of the book, it is everything that surrounds it that makes this such a satisfying read. The secondary characters are well-written - each an individual with their own story to tell, the cultural differences between the two peoples, the vivid descriptions of the world and the machinations of various characters who oppose the tenuous peace - these all add layers to Keir and Lara's world.
If you come to this book just wanting to read a romance you will be disappointed or perhaps pleasantly surprised :) . Although Lara is always on page as the story is told from her point of view, she is often separated from Keir. And the story is as much about how difficult it can be to adapt to a new culture. For me this was the most fascinating part of the book, learning about the Firelanders through Lara's experiences. The revelation of what a Warprize truly is may require some readers to suspend their disbelief, after all Lara is an intelligent woman - why didn't she question her position sooner? I however was more than willing to go with it, being completely drawn into the story by this point.
Sharp eyed readers may spot that the spelling of Keir's name changes from Kier to Keir in this book. This was true of the original US paperback and the UK hardback. I don't know if it has been corrected in the reissue which for some reason is being marketed as a paranormal romance!
Elizabeth Vaughn has written a book where you care what happens to the characters. Highly recommended.