Author: Elizabeth Vaughan
Genre: Paranormal Romance, according to the publisher…I’d say, Romantic Fantasy
Stand alone or series: Stand alone, but set in the same world as the Warlands trilogy
Summary: (From amazon.com)
After captivating readers with her Chronicles of the Warlands trilogy, Elizabeth Vaughan now returns to that world with a beguiling tale of daggers and destiny, a cold and beautiful mercenary known as Red Gloves, and Josiah, a lone fighter emerging from the torched fields and razed farms of his homeland. All Josiah knows about the mysterious woman is her dagger-star birthmark, a sign that she is destined to free the people from a ruthless usurper’s reign of terror.
Why did I read the book: I really enjoyed the Warlands trilogy by this author, and the world she had created with Xylara and Kier. When I heard she was releasing a new book in the same universe, I was very pleased and naturally had to buy this one immediately.
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when something just doesn’t go the way you expected? That icky sensation that something, somehow has gone wrong? Disappointment. That’s how I felt about two chapters into reading Dagger-Star.
As I mentioned above, I loved Ms. Vaughan’s Warlands series. The universe was rich and compelling, the love story built slowly and drawn to a sweet fruition over the course of the three books. More importantly, I felt like I got to know and understand the characters in the series—especially Lara and Kier. Dagger-Star however does not accomplish any of these feats, and left me cold and frankly disappointed.
Red Gloves is a warrior woman, a travelling mercenary that picks up random assignments and floats through town to town, sleeping in inns and “scratching her itches”. And yes, by this I mean sleeping around with townies—the scratching line is one the character herself uses repeatedly. Red Gloves, our protagonist, is named as such because—surprise!—she wears red gloves. Always. She must never take them off, and no one must ever be allowed to see her hands. OR ELSE.
The story opens on a rainy night and Red Gloves and her mercenary partner warrior sister Bethral. They are soaked, cold and needing shelter for the night when they chance upon a farm. Josiah, the goat herder farmer who lives on the farm by himself, gives the warriors shelter for the night. Red Gloves sets off to give herself a bath, and the unwitting Josiah accidentally walks in on her and sees her naked body (except for the gloves, of course). Not only does he see that she has a nice rack, but her breast also bears a very peculiar birthmark—a dagger-star. This birthmark signifies that Red Gloves is Chosen—that is, one foretold in prophesy, who can reunite the ravaged land, and restore the throne.
In all honesty, I almost did not finish this book. I had no taste for either the heroine or her goat herder lover—in fact, I often found myself wishing that the protagonist of this story was Red Gloves’ sword sister, Bethral! First off, what kind of a lameass name is “Red Gloves”? Why not just “Red” (even though characters call her Red, knowing that her full name was Red Gloves was snicker inducing)? Silly name aside, the character was just plain un-likeable. She was crass and rude without any redeeming qualities, or believable character growth. Similarly, her ‘love’ interest Josiah was whiney and meek. As other reviewers have stated (check out the excellent jointreview over at Nath’s blog from Nath, Katie and Li), I believe that Ms. Vaughan was attempting some sort of role reversal here with her hero and heroine—having the heroine be the more masculine, dominant mercenary fighter, while the hero is a simple, meek farm boy. I guess I can appreciate the sentiment, but to be honest I hate this type of romantic storyline when the characters are in their conventional gender roles, and the heavy-handed reversal doesn’t improve the relationship any.
Furthermore, I didn’t buy that these two fell in love with each other. Somewhere in between Red Gloves sneering “Goat Herder” at Josiah and Josiah’s gathering of marjoram (seriously, what was up with all the marjoram?!), these two fell head over heels in love with each other. Ooookay.
The supporting cast was fine, I suppose. I did enjoy Bethral, and the story weaver character of Ezren. Although…I think it would have been much more interesting (and far ballsier of the author) had Ezren not been completely magically healed by…magic.
So far as the plotting goes, I felt that the story felt largely recycled and predictable. Mercenary anti-hero that knows nothing about her childhood grows up and is the Chosen One who will unite and save a kingdom. I did appreciate that her character at least remained as snarly and abrasive as she was initially and had no delusions of becoming a great Queen for her people (who aren’t really her people). The world building was all right–nothing to write home about. I did, however, find the story of the Twelve and the religious perspective (the way of the Twelve as foresaking religion, versus the Palains people’s belief in the Gods and magic) intriguing. The differences in religion and beliefs in Dagger-Star was a nice touch that echoed something I loved about Ms. Vaughan’s writing style in the Warlands trilogy: the culture shock and stark differences laid out between the people of the Plains and the people of Xy.
The entire plotseed of the secret behind the Red Gloves, however, was flat out ridiculous. I was giggling through the reveal when it finally happened. I don’t want to spoil anyone who might read this book—but suffice to say, it’s not good. Even the writing style that Ms. Vaughan shifts to (a stream of consciousness sort of flashback technique) was cringe-worthy. Just…no. The entire scene when the gloves come off (pardon the pun), and the aftermath was incredibly cheeseball and hardly worth the effort it took to get to that part of the story.
This novel did not work for me at all, on any level. It was much more romance-y (read: more sex and focus on the relationship between the two leads) than Warprize, but with characters I could care less for. The plot did not manage to capture my interest. Needless to say, I was very disappointed with this one.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I did enjoy a part of the novel when Red Gloves steps through a portal to a secret hideout for those rebels trying to reclaim the crown—and the revelation that she has there about the nature of her dagger-star birthmark was a welcome twist.
On the flip side, the whole Red Gloves reveal was gawdawful. One of those I-don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry sort of scenarios.
Additional Thoughts: I wonder, had I not read the Warlands trilogy, would I still feel this negatively towards Dagger-Star? I would be interested to see what other readers think—has anyone read Dagger-Star without prior knowledge of Ms. Vaughan’s work?
Or on a related note, have you ever read an author and loved some of their work only to later be let down?
Verdict: I was not impressed with this newest entry by Ms. Vaughan; this book is headed straight for the donation pile. I’m not sure if I am ready to give up completely on the author yet—everyone hits speed bumps. I’ll give her another shot when her next book comes out.
Rating: 4 Bad, but not without some merit
Reading Next: Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold