Maria's Reviews > Warrior

Warrior by Zoe Archer
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May 02, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: romance, gaslamp-fantasy, paranormal-romance
Recommended to Maria by: Gaslight Gathering
Read from May 04 to 09, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1

I find that I have to add my voice to that of fellow readers who have said this book was just ok. I read this book because I was expecting to see author Zoe Archer at a Steampunk convention and I wanted to be familiar with her work before meeting her in person. To be fair, I did find the story in general to be interesting: It takes place in Outer Mongolia, and offers a Victorian romance outside of England; the narrative has a cinematic quality that is reminiscent of an Indiana Jones or Mummy movie; and there is a little gadgetry towards the end of the story for those who are hoping for a Steampunk feel. Overall, however, I would say this story is more gaslamp fantasy or gaslight romance and, even as such, it contains flaws that some readers might find problematic.

Captain Gabriel Huntley escaped the poverty of lower middle class England by joining the British Army as a young man. He’s been all over the world serving Queen Victoria and now, fifteen years later, he has retired and is returning to England to settle down with a factory job and a wife. He’s fresh off the boat in Southampton when he comes across a scuffle taking place in an alley in which a group is attacking a lone man; never one to tolerate bullies, Gabe jumps right in to help. He manages to chase the villains off but it’s too late: The stranger, Anthony Morris, has been mortally wounded and is now dying. Morris has an item that absolutely must not fall into the wrong hands, and he begs Gabe to take the pocket watch-like device to Outer Mongolia. This peril-filled journey by sea to Asia will take three months and Gabe has no idea why Morris’ jewelry or the message he has been asked to convey is so important, but Gabe shrugs off all of his plans and arrangements to engage in a new adventure.

Gabe arrives in Outer Mongolia and discovers that the man he has been sent to find, Franklin Burgess, understands his message but will not reveal what the message means. Gabe has suffered hardship and spent all of his savings to deliver this message and he isn’t happy to be told “thanks for your effort, now you can leave.” Gabe knows that whatever Burgess plans, he won’t be able to undertake a journey because he has recently broken a leg. Gabe lies in wait nearby and, sure enough, Burgess’ daughter Thalia departs early in the morning. Thalia knows she’s being followed and (correctly) assumes that it’s Gabe, but in her preoccupation with shaking him off she fails to realize there is a second group who is also following her. When this second group attacks Gabe is in perfect position to come to her rescue, but she still won’t tell him what all this is about. Gabe refuses to give up, however, and he insists on continuing in the role of escort. This persistence comes from equal parts determination to get some answers and to stay with Thalia, whose strength and intelligence has caused Gabe to realize that he was insane to think that an English milk and water miss would ever be for him.

As the pair run all over Outer Mongolia trying to decode Morris’ last cryptic message they continue to be chased by a group of oddly persistent aggressors. Thalia is finally forced to reveal that there is a secret battle being waged all over the world and the British branch, known as The Heirs of Albion, has been chasing them. Further, there is magic in the world, and this magic is contained in objects that the Heirs are determined to find so that they can dominate the world. Thalia’s father is a member of the group that opposes the Heirs, The Blades of the Rose, and he has been station in Outer Mongolia to protect the magical items that are located there and to identify any new items. Morris’ last message indicates there is a new item to be found, and the only question is who will find it first: The Blades, or The Heirs?

The story that results is a romp across Outer Mongolia, including the Gobi Desert. The Heirs use magic indiscriminately and are the sexist and racist super baddies and the Blades are their complete opposites who never use magic and always do the right thing. If there seems to be implied sarcasm in the previous statement it may because there is: much of this book happens in extremes. Gabe gives up everything to deliver a message and a pocket watch, and refuses to leave despite a catastrophic event that reveals magic is real and lethal. The people of Outer Mongolia are extremely welcoming of the Europeans even though there aren’t any others in the region, and they don’t seem to have much problem with the decisions Gabe and Thalia make even though the reasoning provided seems lacking. Further, Thalia has extreme amounts of freedom, even by the standards of 1870’s China, and none of the men she comes across (besides the sexist Heirs, who don’t count) question her presence on the quest for the magical item or her right to be a part of decision making. Yes, I understand that this is a romance novel, and it’s supposed to be fun, but it is set in the real historic past, something that Ms. Archer has gone to length to establish through her accurate descriptions of the region and their culture. It seems odd to do so much work to establish the historicity of the story and then have the actors behave in a thoroughly modern fashion.

Another issue that I take with the book involves Gabe and Thalia’s sexual relationship, which seems to develop in a measured pace for the first half of the book and then explode in the second half. No mention is made of the possibility of pregnancy, and the couple seems to be far more worried about privacy than about the loss of reputation. Don’t get me wrong—I love both period and paranormal romance—but the disregard of the costs of sexuality before marriage and cultural attitudes towards sex shifts the book down from four stars to three.

Despite the problems I had with the story, I did find some of the details interesting and engaging. As I stated before, there are some gadgets in the book that are clever and behave like some of the modern inventions we are all familiar with. Ms. Archer handles these items and descriptions fairly effectively, and they add some interest to the story. Gabriel feels authentic as a retired soldier who thinks he’s ready to settle down when, in reality, that kind of life would be miserable and boring. I also give Zoe Archer major credit for exploring a different culture in her text, even if it happens through a colonial lens (i.e., the Heirs are easily able to recruit locals to do their dirty work even though they treat the locals terribly and are intensely destructive to the region). Finally, I appreciate the Archer departs from the tradition of upper class characters to focus on working class individuals in this story because it makes Gabe and Thalia relatable characters.
Overall, although I found this story to be enjoyable and entertaining, it falls short of being a great story.
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Reading Progress

05/04/2011 page 51
14.0% "Gabriel Huntley hated an unfair fight. He hated it as a boy in school, he hated it during his service in Her Majesty's army, and he hated it now."
05/04/2011 page 105
30.0% "The woman had been in shock, for God's sake, and there he had been, stealing her touch like a randy schoolboy. Sometimes, he thought disgustedly, he just wanted to punch his own face in."
05/05/2011 page 228
64.0% ""I served my country," Huntley shot back, "but I never stood for bu;;ying. I didn't in the army, and I don't now. That goes for men, women, and nations.""
05/05/2011 page 228
64.0% ""I served my country," Huntley shot back, "but I never stood for bullying. I didn't in the army, and I don't now. That goes for men, women, and nations.""
05/09/2011 page 334
94.0% "Henry Lamb was a ponce, or so Jonas Edgeworth thought. He'd complained to his father about being sent to Mongolia with a man who had more starch in his underwear than most blokes had in their entire wardrobe, including shirts for church. For Christ's sake, Lamb didn't even follow cricket."

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