Warrior Angel
by Margaret and Lizz Weis, paranormal (2007)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-083325-1

With the recent overlap of the fantasy and romance genres, I do wonder why it took Margaret Weis this long to make her appearance in the romance genre. You may have heard of her - she and Tracy Hickman created the world of Krynn that spawned what seems like ten million and counting Dragonlance books and then some. Raistlin Majere will always be one of my favorite antiheroes, sigh. When I was a big fantasy fan, I was a big fan of the collaborative works of her and Mr Hickman, so I am pretty eager to get my hands on Warrior Angel, Ms Weis' collaboration with her daughter Lizz.

As per the current trend in urban fantasy where angels and demons are slowly phasing out the vampires and werewolves, Warrior Angel features a trademark hero that fans of Ms Weis' previous works may immediately identify: the loner outsider who is essentially a good person but has lost his faith. In this case, Derek de Molay was a Knight Templar who died under the gruesome tortures of the Inquisitors in 1307 with his faith in God absolute and unwavering. However, he rejects Heaven (and vice-versa) when he realizes after his death that his fellow Knight Templars confessed to all the false sins that the Inquisitors pressed on them on the pain of torture. Is his death in vain? Is there any point in holding true to faith?

Being the stubborn mule that he is, Derek decides that clearly in this matter God has some serious issues. Believing that God has abandoned him, Derek now serves as an angelic crusader in the Blood War, cutting down demons and agents of Hell. Only, while he believes in and follows his own moral code, he doesn't have much faith in God anymore. This is probably why the Archangel Michael does not seem too keen on sending Derek on an unusual mission to Earth. Derek is, after all, unreliable and seems likely to decamp to the other side anytime soon.

Apparently some Dark Angels have escaped from Hell to wreck havoc on Earth. So, in this case, Derek is sent to investigate the disappearance of a Guardian Angel and nab the fellow behind this. Our unusual angel who doesn't belong in Heaven finds himself human again, a doorman in the apartment block where the human charge of the missing Guardian Angel, Rachel Duncan, lives. Sparks fly between the doorman and the very ambitious Chicago Mercantile Exchange trader, but complications arise when Rachel is also courted by Andreas Zanus, a mysterious millionaire whom Derek recognizes at once as one of the Dark Angels of Hell. Rachel is clearly a pawn of Zanus in some nefarious scheme. What will poor Derek do now?

Let's start with the good things first. Warrior Angel breaks every rule where Rachel is concerned. Good heavens, she is an ambitious career woman, which is something I don't come across every day, and she behaves like one. She sleeps with Zanus before she knows Derek better, which seems natural given that she believes she is attracted to Zanus. I enjoy the fact that Rachel makes no apologies for her ambitions and her love of material things. I adore the fact that she knows how to hang out with the big boys in a career dominated by men and if she has to look pretty in order to score an advantage or two, there's no crime in doing that. Oh, and Rachel gets to where she is without relying on Daddy or an ex-boyfriend to pave the way for her. When I factor in the fact that she is smart, she can take care of herself, and she also is willing to take responsibilities for her mistakes, Rachel is a heroine that I can really root for.

Derek is also a pretty adorable hero. He's not tortured, despite his past. Like most of this Ms Weis' heroes in previous stories, Derek is a proactive fellow who channels his energy into getting things done. He doesn't whine, he does thing he believes is right. He also gets a redemption arc that, while pretty rushed all things considered, actually makes me shed a tear or two. He's no Raistlin Majere or even Haplo the Patryn, but there is enough well-balanced angst and nobility in Derek to make him a most appealing hero. However, he shines as a hero only in the second half of this book. The authors make him behave like a contrived silly boy sometimes in the first half of the book, such as running straight after the heroine into the ladies' room and making a complete mess of things when he tries to tell her about Zanus. Perhaps he can be excused since he was, after all, a fourteenth century man at heart, but he is supposed to have a 21st-century cultural immersion before this and he later confesses that he knows he has made a mess of things so... ugh.

The first half of this story gives me the biggest problems because it seems as if the authors are trying probably too hard to incorporate all kind of clichés of a Harlequin Mills and Boon book published in 1980 into these pages. Derek is supposed to be this fellow who doesn't believe that a woman has the intelligence to do the things Rachel does for a living, he is apparently ready to blame Rachel for his current mission, et cetera - it does seem as if the authors are tentatively trying to create a ridiculous caricature of an alpha male that they believe all romance readers want in their books. Fortunately by the second half of the book the authors let their hair down and write what comes naturally - which results in a pretty good action-filled story complete with redemption arcs that Margaret Weis does well in most of her pretty fantasy books. But the first half is pretty tough to slough through, what with Derek tentatively being molded into some alpha male thing and some long-winded and bizarre paragraphs on Rachel's fashion sense and daily habits.

Still, once the authors decide to stop trying so hard to second-guess romance readers and just do what comes naturally, Warrior Angel is a most satisfying read for me. Rachel and Derek are a most likable couple who can kick behinds and enact a goofy unlikely courtship that makes me smile at the same time. I find Warrior Angel probably too tentative for its own good at times, as if the authors are unsure whether to be themselves or write in a way that panders to all the stereotypes associated with romance novels. Nonetheless, I have a good time with the most satisfying second half of the book. At the end of the day, I hope the Weises will stick around. When is the next book coming out?

Rating: 85

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