by Bonnie Dee, fantasy (2007)
Loose Id, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-59632-464-0
Bonnie Dee seems to be on a roll, doesn't she? Each book she has written belongs to a subgenre that is different from the previous book. The Warrior's Gift is a sword-and-sorcery type fantasy romance with an oh-so-typical plot of erotic paranormal romances: the heroine is offered to the hero as a bride/brood mare. It's tradition, don't you know?
The people of Geveldon depend of the bunch of manly warriors called most imaginatively the Warriors to keep them safe from scary mean people out there called the Revocs, and in return, the Warriors want a bride for their elite Guardians so that they can get their rocks off and beget baby Warriors in the process. Our heroine Katya is not happy that her private parts win the lucky lottery that year but no amount of "What about me, what about my dreams, my life? Am I nothing but a brood mare?" postmodern feminist yammering on her part can prevent her being sent to the most distinguished Warrior that year like a reluctant cheerleader who is being coerced to service the football player of the year in the locker room after the games.
The Warriors are a monastic bunch, living in isolation from the people of Geveldon and trained to suppress all their energy into the art of warfare. Those poor dears - they have no idea what they are getting when they accept Katya with her feminist and anti-war principles into their lives. Make no mistake, the Warriors are a bunch of monsters, but fortunately for Katya, the Warrior she is intended for, Turan, isn't just a virgin - he has no idea what sex is. The harsh lifestyle of the Warriors which apparently could put the Spartans to shame causes poor Turan to know nothing beyond fighting and tending to his weapons. He asks Katya what he should do with her. She knows what sex is but our dear quickly tells him that men and women "talk" behind closed doors and proceeds to do just that, heh heh heh. But when she realizes that Turan is also a very lonely fellow who lives such a pitifully sparse existence that his sole pleasure - carving - is done in secret and shame, she is moved to touch him. You can guess what happens next, I'm sure.
A very nice play on the Beauty And The Beast theme, The Warrior's Gift pairs a heroine who may be a virgin but is no stranger to some heavy petting with a hulking man who is a gentle dear underneath all that muscle. This story is also unusual in that it is the heroine who leads the way as both she and the hero lose their virginities to each other. I am worried that this story will go down the drain by being fixated too much on sex scenes, but to my delight, Ms Dee has Turan and Katya bonding emotionally as well as physically. Some of the conversations these two have are pretty poignant, especially when Turan asks Katya to tell her what her life back home was like since he doesn't know anything but fighting.
Turan is an inquisitive fellow underneath all that muscle - he's actually quite geeky as he is fascinated by nature every time he leaves the monastery to conduct some killing spree (I know, I know) and he tries to capture what he experiences by secretly carving them onto pieces of wood in his room. The part about him not experiencing libido until Katya lets him touch her breasts is not the most realistic thing that I've read, but after all those heroines in romance novels that have no clue what desire is until they meet the hero, I'd say it's about time the hero gets the same clueless treatment.
As for Katya, she's glorious. If she's not strong enough to fight back physically, she'll just organize a revolution with the other women imprisoned with her. She's probably too smart, I suppose, since Ms Dee never gives any indication as to how educated Katya is or how she finds the spine to stand up and defy tradition. But given the length of this story, I'd take Katya as she is because in my opinion it's better to have a smart heroine rather than a foolish one under any circumstances.
The book's length is its biggest problem here. If this book has another hundred or so pages, perhaps Ms Dee could have fleshed out the relationship between Katya and Turan a little bit more. More importantly, she could have build up the story so that the promised rebellion, when it happens, doesn't happen so soon and too easily like it does in this book. The problem with The Warrior's Gift is that it is wrapped up too easily and the revolution is carried out too effortlessly, although it is cool to see Katya using that cattle-prod like thing on the bad guys.
Still, Turan is a very appealing hero with his nice guy personality - he's the epitome of the phrase "gentle giant", although he can really go crazy and dangerous if he thinks that someone is out to hurt Katya. Katya is in a way like Belle in that Walt Disney version of Beauty And The Beast - she's all about breaking traditions, putting out injustice, and promoting her own version of the Tennis Court Oath for all and sundry. She'd probably become the Queen of that country in five years time, I tell you. As a plus, this story feels like a sly subversive feminist take on the popular "captive female slave" fantasy - the author is saying that ultimately a man and a woman should love in equal term.
The Warrior's Gift is a most entertaining tale and I find my enjoyment not too affected by its flaws at the end of the day. The characters are adorable and worth rooting for, their relationship has a pretty credible emotional foundation underneath all that lusting, and all in all, this is a most entertaining tale to savor.
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