Warprize, by Elizabeth Vaughan

12 Apr

Warprize, by Elizabeth Vaughan

This is both a debut novel and the first installment in the “Warlands Chronicles” trilogy. I read the first two installments the moment they came out, and then despaired because the third one wasn’t going to be released for months and months and months. By the time it did come out, I had moved on, and so it languished, buried in my TBR mountain for… well, it seems like forever (but it was probably slightly less than that). A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to reading it—which I did in one night, instead of sleeping. Boy, was I vividly reminded of why I was waiting so eagerly for the third installment to come out!

And so, here’s my (oh man so belated) review.

The back cover blurb:

She must choose between her people and her freedom…

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 dethrone her brother or negotiate peace—but she can heal the brave men injured in battle.

But not only her countrymen are wounded, and Xylara’s conscience won’t let Firelanders 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 she must trade the life she has always known for the well-being of her people, and so she becomes the…

Warprize.

As the story begins, we find ourselves in the fortified city of Water Falls, in the kingdom of Xy, during a siege. The barbarians known as Firelanders raid the southern border every spring, leaving behind tales of their savagery and strangeness. This year, however, they have not content with border raids, and so have advanced on to the city, conquering the towns and villages in their way.

This year, Keir of the Cat is the Warlord who leads all of the Firelanders—a warrior to the bone, but also a leader with a vision for a different future. A future that involves more trading and learning, and less raiding and fighting.

Keir is an intelligent and resourceful leader; Xymund, the current king, is conceited and more than a little incompetent. Water Falls—and therefore Xy—is close to falling under the onslaught of hordes of Firelanders. The Warlord names his terms for a lasting peace, and Xymund, left with no choice, gives in. Fealty, taxes… and tribute.

For true peace, Keir claims Xylara, Daughter of Xy.

Lara, presented with this as a fait accompli, a way to save her people and end the slaughter, agrees to become an object, a slave. Not out of courage, she thinks, but out of love for her people. “The price of privilege is responsibility,” her father would have said. And so, she agrees to be given as tribute, and taken to the enemy’s camp, to belong to them, to live among them. To become one of them.

At this point, both Lara and Keir believe they are open-minded enough to accept the ways of the other. Lara, because she has already interacted with some of the wounded Firelanders in order to treat them. Keir, because he’s looking for ways to improve his people’s lives, and believes in learning as much as possible about those who may become allies… or enemies.

Of course, they both discover the tangible, and occasionally painful, difference between abstraction and reality, since almost every action has inherently different meanings for each of them. The manner of dress, food, family, religious beliefs, games, even words—all of these and more seem so far apart as to be irreconcilable.

There are both amusing and traumatic incidents stemming from what seem the most trivial things. The color of a dress, the meaning of a word.

But Keir is determined, and Lara has no choice.

At first, Lara seems to have the most trouble appreciating the vastly different ways of these warrior people. It’s not that she’s xenophobic, only that she has lived a relatively sheltered life. As a Master Healer, she’s become familiar with many of life’s aspects that a lady would be expected to know nothing of, while remaining quite insulated from Court life, politics, and the business of ruling a kingdom. Yet she’s of royal blood, and heir to the throne until her brother marries and produces an heir, and therefore protected from the harsher realities of her world.

However, these are warring people, and her ways are just as foreign to them—and not every Firelander agrees with Keir’s vision of the future, not even his closest friends. The novel very effectively tracks the currents and undercurrents of change through Lara’s eyes.

We meet a host of well realized secondary characters, from Lara’s childhood friends and teachers to Keir’s friends, enemies and allies. Perhaps only Xymund, out of a cast of more than a dozen, comes close to being two dimensional.

This was one of the first novels in first person narrative that I actually enjoyed—so much so that I had completely forgotten that it was told in first person. I liked the world building very much indeed, but what ultimately sold the story and the characters to me, was Lara’s growth and increasing self awareness.

Having moved to another country as a very young newlywed, I can relate perfectly well with Lara’s confusion, with her initial shock at, and disdain of, the (to her mind) ignorant ways of those she calls Firelanders… and her slowly waning reluctance to admit that there are many good habits and ideas to be gleaned from them. Quite realistically, Lara doesn’t immediately chuck everything she grew up with in favor of these new ways—she’s able to see the good aspects of both cultures, and subconsciously works to mesh them into something else, something more.

The writing is vivid, and the characters are all individuals, complex and real—some likable, some not, but never flat. Best of all, the voice and quality of the writing remain consistent across the next two books, Warswornand Warlord.

8 out of 10

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