Tricky when you're starting a new series, when you've really loved the previous books an author has written. Instead of settling down with old friends you're meeting strangers.
Sometimes it works for you as a reader - I love both S.L. Viehl's Stardoc series and the Darkyn series she writes as Lynn Viehl. Sometimes it doesn't. Anne Bishop's Black Jewel books I could re-read over and over, But her other series have never interested me.
So we come to Dagger-Star, Elizabeth Vaughan's first book after the War Plains trilogy. Which I was privileged to receive an ARC for.
Dagger-Star tells the story of Red Gloves - a female mercenary who has come to the land of Palins in search of work. Josiah - a goatherder - knows very little about her, but he knows her dagger-star birthmark indicates she's a Chosen. Part of a prophecy that may set the land of Palins free.
I had some concerns about this story, mainly to do with how it links to the War Plains trilogy. So I'll come to that later and initially deal with the story as if it were a standalone.
Red Gloves is a name, that for me, took a little getting used to and I think it distanced me a little from the story to begin with, though by page 7 I was interested and by page 40 completely hooked. It's more like a label than a name as such - she's a mercenary who wears red gloves. This is in a world where people change their names as their circumstances change.
Red is the alpha in this story, and is not exactly the most sensitive person. She's a much more prickly character than Lara(from the War Plains books) not so ready to be the martyr. She's practical to the point of insensitivity, stroppy, knows her own mind. But she's also loyal, brave and determined. This is a woman we believe capable of leading an army.
There is a slight role reversal. Red is very take charge, whilst Josiah is more beta. That doesn't mean he's a wuss or a wimp - think Daniel Jackson from Stargate. There's strength in being able to bend rather than break. I also think it can be harder to write a believable beta hero, than a believable alpha.
The relationship between Red and Josiah starts off on the wrong foot. They're attracted though, almost despite themselves. They rub each other up the wrong way, and this friction creates chemistry. In a way it's a much more romantic tale than the War Plains trilogy - but there's still plenty of fighting, scheming and plotting going on.
Red follows the Way of the Twelve, whilst Josiah follows the religion of the Lord and the Lady. I think this is where Elizabeth Vaughan excels. She creates religions and beliefs that give her world depth. I think her storytelling style appears deceptively simple.
This book has a large 'cast' and is told from multiple points of view, but each character has their own beliefs, quirks, desires and ambitions. Red - the mercenary, Bethral her sword-sister, Ezren - the storyteller, Evelyn - the priestess. I suspect for some people this style won't work, but I do like seeing the same situation through different eyes. There are a couple of wonderfully written parallel scenes where it's clear Red and Josiah are thinking the same thing, but are convinced the other person is thinking something else. They need to talk. :) I think as long as it adds more to the story then it's working. I wish the book had been longer so we could have gone into more depth, but hopefully there will be more books to come.
My main concern whilst I was reading was how this world fits in with that of the War Plains trilogy. The thing I liked about the trilogy was that it was a fantasy which dealt with the cultural conflict between two peoples. There was no magic, no easy solution. Everything had to be strived for.
There are hints that this is the same world - kavage, references to the Tribes of the Plains. I think what concerns me, is how what we find out in Dagger-Star, affects the world of the Plains.
In Dagger-Star we find out there is magic - elves, portals, magical fire. And in a way I wish Dagger-Star had been set in a new world, that the two worlds had been kept separate. If magic is real then maybe the warrior-priests of the plains weren't lying to Lara.
That aside, this was another story I immersed myself into and at the end there are still questions that haven't been answered. Still stories there to be told. I want to know what happens next not only to Red and Josiah, but also to Ezren, Bethral, Evelyn, Dominic, Fael, Helene. And I really want to know how Verice and Warna got together.
Elizabeth Vaughan writes stories about women who change their world. Heroines who may doubt themselves or their gifts but who ultimately triumph. And it's not through use of magic but through self-belief and determination. She's one of my favourite authors and I'm counting the days 'til the next book.