Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Elizabeth Vaughan - Dagger-Star

She is a mercenary trained in the ways of war and the blade--nothing more. A woman known only as Red Gloves has come to the land of Palins in search of work. What she finds, however, is the torched fields and razed farms of a land defiled.
If you see her without the gloves, run... This is all Josiah knows about the mysterious woman--until he catches a glimpse of the dagger-star birthmark, a sign that she is destined to free his people from a ruthless usurper's reign of terror.
ut she is more dangerous when following her heart... Red doesn't believe in gods. Nevertheless, she finds herself drawn into the rebellion--not by the prophecy or the chance to win the throne, but by the pain of untold loss in Josiah's eyes...

Comment: This was the last book I've read in the month of September. I didn't plan on reading it but it's one of those that has been in the pile for a long time (since 2010...) and I decided to jump in. I knew the author has another series which is more popular - according to goodreads, this is a sort of spin off - but what made me buy this book all those years ago was the promise of a good fantasy romance, even if it's labeled paranormal. I'm glad to say that to me this one has survived the passage of time albeit I recognize some less interesting elements.

This is a fantasy story and it starts when two friends, Red Gloves and Bethral, arrive at night at a place asking to stay because it's raining a lot and there doesn't seem to be anything else close by. In there they meet Josiah, a solitary man who has some animals with him but lives in a very humble house.
Very quickly, however, Josiah makes an impression on Red and she thought about him as a good way to spend the time when he suddenly sees a birthmark she has and starts saying she is a Chosen, a person the kingdom's prophecies have always claimed would be the rightful ruler.
From then on, Red sees herself in the middle of an assault team, more or less guided by her, to get back the throne of the kingdom where they are.
There are many secrets both Josiah and Red have but as time goes by and challenges appear in their way, the stronger their relationship gets... but can Red rule the kingdom with such a cursed man with her?

As I've said before about other books, this has been in the pile for years and when I added them to my reading list I had all kinds of expectations. I was quite dedicated to the idea of fantasy romance, mostly to see how people with different characteristics would match and would deal with one another in a romantic context. This has led me to some disappointments because some just weren't that great (which would have happened at any time I would read them) and others because they inferred one thing and delivered another (these can be frustrating and are usually focused on details I'd rather not spend so much time with).

This said, I think Dagger-Star is a well achieved story and has many elements I loved reading about. I especially like the idea of the premise and the overall execution: two strangers discover they are a match while uncovering personal secrets and sharing a common goal of getting a kingdom back to life.
By reading some comments, I suppose because this is a spin of, there are some situations which almost feel like the reader should know some things already. I don't think this is so obvious that ruins the reading experience but I admit it made me not as comfortable with the settings and world building. These details are rich and part of the story of course does feel as if something is missing, that it could have even better.

I won't go into spoilers about the secrets we learn as the plot moves along but there is a reason why Red Gloves has her name. When I discovered why it was a huge let down. Not that her reason to have the gloves isn't a good one (especially psychologically) but it was so pointless.
As for Josiah's secrets, these are not as secret but he still thinks of some as a detail he should hide and his reasons made more sense. It was nice, of course, to see that each other regarded the other as someone worthy and special and their bonding was very cute. 

I just think that Red Gloves has a personality I wasn't always fond of. I like she is loyal, brave, has worth of her own, knows her strengths and limits but the way she approached Josiah initially isn't a behavior I appreciate in heroines. I just like heroines who are sort of vulnerable in the emotional level and Red is that but she acted s if not and I just can't really like her that much while thinking about those first scenes.
As for Josiah, he was also emotionally depressed but he recovered and I liked his character more than I did Red's. There's an HEA, as one can imagine, for them and it's sweet. I suppose the next two installments of the trilogy spin-off might mention what happens to them but I don't know if I'll read them in the near future...

All in all, this was an interesting read, with all the usual ingredients such as a task to accomplish, a villain to fight (and I'm very glad the villain didn't have center stage) and the heroes obviously achieve their goal at the end. Some scenes seem off, as if they didn't have to be there but how could we get certain information? I'm not that annoyed to be honest and I think it does meet its goal in terms of romance and fantasy. I just think that, compared with som many new stories, stronger on the world building and the complexity of relationships and characters, this was good but not as much as it could.
Grade: 7/10

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