Thieves Bounty
by Laine Morgan, fantasy (2005)
New Concepts Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-58608-639-1

Laine Morgan (who also writes as Summer West) presents a paranormal fantasy that, while set in a sword and sorcery setting, is nonetheless enjoyable because it doesn't have too much of the tedious healer/princess/virgin/vegetarian cliché and the hero isn't some cartoonish Dara Joy type of caricature. The title of the book, Thieves Bounty may make some English teachers out there frown, but if you're looking for a quick and breezy fantasy romance that isn't all about the heroine's reproductive functions and not overladen with soulmate/heartmate sugary stuff, this book may just be the thing.

Set in a world populated with Dwarves, Humans, Elves, and other familiar creatures, this story revolves around our mercenary heroine Thena who is currently working to raise enough funds to get her brother out of prison. Her latest mission has her tracking down a human thief, Eagen (like Thena, he doesn't seem to have a last name). Since this is a fantasy romance, it's inevitable that destiny and paranormal matchmakers start yammering that Thena is destined to revive the near-extinct Elven race. With Eagen, perhaps? Thankfully, the author solves this issue very nicely without using Thena's ovaries as a plot device to save the world. Instead, Thena is allowed to be a kickass heroine without doing uncharacteristically overemotional things in some misguided attempt to prove her "feminity".

I find nothing much to nitpick about regarding the characters. I wish the story is longer and has a wider focus than what it currently has, though. The whole revival of the Elven race issue is too significant - too "big", if you will - to be contained in this story. The premise of this story is simple but when the author mixes in issues like Thena's destiny and dreams, the story's length forces these issues to be resolved too quickly. The closure feels inadequate because Ms Morgan's build-up in the story leads me to believe that I will be getting some Luke-Skywalkerish story of a nobody becoming a hero and taking on a corrupt government. Instead, Thenna and Eagen get married, have babies, and it's love, the end. Huh? Where are the dramatic fights and heroic struggles for justice and freedom? Where are the Ewoks? (Okay, forget the Ewoks.)

This story seems like it could have been so much more with a promising heroine and a pretty nice hero so after a while, I can't help but to feel cheated a little because all that talk of destiny and what-not lead to a rather mundane conclusion. Still, this is a nice book to take a look at if you're looking for something that is romantic but leans more towards a fantasy story rather than a fantasy romance. Which is to say, there are no prophecy sex, overendowed men who drive women all over the galaxy into tsunami-spasms of orgasm looking for virgin princesses to fall in love with, stammering birdbrained healer heroines who can't do anything worthwhile, and other "fantasy is cute pink kittens and bubblegum balloons floating around a cuter version of Tantooine" stuff; things that cause you to scream in terror when you see the new Robin D Owen book on the bookshelves or weep when you see how Catherine Asaro wraps her fantasy romance stories in dumbed-down pink ruffles and shiny tutus, well, it's nice that Laine Morgan is writing some stories to reassure everyone that "fantasy" and "romance" need not always mate to produce some mentally-challenged ugly babies dressed in frilly fizzy pink ruffles.

Rating: 83

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