Key Of Valor
by Nora Roberts, contemporary (2004)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-13653-0

Key Of Valor is the conclusion to Nora Roberts' Key To Bad Paranormal Premises trilogy (this book follows Key Of Light and Key Of Knowledge). In this book, it's the turn of Zoe McCourt, the "courageous" one, to spend 28 days to look for the last and final key that will release last of three slumbering demigoddesses. You can read the review of Key Of Light to get the entire back story if you have no idea what I am talking about.

Everyone seems happy when this book begins. Zoe and the heroines of the previous books, Malory and Dana, are planning to start their businesses together in one nice building they are now renovating. Dana and Malory are happily married, but Zoe is still not sure whether she wants to get it on with Bradley Charles Vane IV, a gazillionaire hunk. Yes, I know, normally we sane and rational women will never even have to be asked twice before getting on with a gazillionaire hunk that loves us and wants to marry us, but we are talking about a romance novel heroine, so allowances will have to be made for Zoe in this case.

But alas, now Kane, the bad guy, is focusing his attentions on Zoe - that is, if Ms Roberts give him some meager screen time. Never mind, Rowena and Pitt have cast a magical protective spell over Zoe's kid Simon, leaving Zoe free to find the key.

Rowena, our wise goddess, has helpfully provided this clue to help Zoe: "Beauty and truth are lost without the courage to hold them. But one pair of hands can grip too hard, so that the precious slips though the fingers. Loss and pain, sorrow and will, blaze the rough part through the forest. Along the journey there is blood, and there is death of innocence and the ghosts of what might have been." And it goes on and on in that vein for a few more paragraphs. Helpful, isn't it, that clue? It sounds like a botched wedding night to me, all that blazing through forest and blood spilling all over one's journey, but hey, let's not dwell on that too much.

The romance in Key Of Valor is as one-dimensional as the romance in the previous two novels, namely, this is a love story where the heroine takes her time and ponder over trivialities like trust and what-not before taking hold of the rich hero with both her hands and gripping too hard so that the precious slips through her fingers. Or something. (Rowena will be so proud of me.) But Zoe is slightly more interesting than Malory or Dana in that at least she has that single momma act to give her a valid reason for her trust issues. It doesn't excuse the fact that she's as dumb as planks to turn down a hunky and besotted gazillionaire, but at least she has half a decent excuse to whine.

Unfortunately, the author keeps hitting me in the head about how courageous and strong Zoe is that Ms Roberts soon loses me. It's quite ridiculous - every time Zoe makes a decision, she will make sure the reader knows that she is doing this for her kid and that she has been knocked up at sixteen and left to live a Horrible and Miserable Existence. Damn, her history comes up again and again. Zoe is so often described as strong and courageous and self-sacrificing that her whole martyr act is blown way out of proportion. It is not as if Zoe is the leukemia-stricken refugee of a war-torn country eking out a living by prostituting herself so that she can feed her mentally handicapped children. We are talking about an employable and healthy woman being wooed by a gazillionaire hunk and being surrounded by friends that will chip in and help if she will just stop acting like a stupid mule getting off on being a martyr.

The whole "Zoe is forced to work with a disagreeable salon owner until she gets fired because Zoe is the best hairdresser ever" angle is ridiculous instead of heartrending because if she is such a great hairdresser, it's not as if she can't find a job elsewhere. Her clients love her. So what's the problem? The whole "I am suffering for my kid" angle doesn't hold because Zoe is, frankly, suffering for the sake of suffering alone. She does not need to suffer. That's my biggest problem with the whole "Zoe is the Key of Valor" nonsense.

Basically, the whole conflict of trust and courage comes off as trivial and unnecessary, prolonged only by Zoe's perplexing need to make her life as blue as possible so that she can win an award or something. Key Of Valor comes off like a much ado about nothing story, where everything will be okay if the heroine will just wise up for once, snag that hunky gazillionaire, and then drive off into the sunset to a new and happier luxury-laden lifestyle by page twenty - let the sleeping demigoddesses and their nonsensical verbal diarrhea rot. But alas, apparently "valor" is synonymous with "dumb bulb" in this instance.

Rating: 73

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