Dagger StarI adore stories with medieval / fantasy women who wield swords. A friend of mine recommended I try Dagger-Star. It's set in a Lord of the Rings style fantasy world, complete with elves who make lighter-than-normal armor. In general I enjoyed the story and details.
Red is a woman with a troubled past. She and her female friend Bethral are out taking jobs as mercenaries when they run across the farm of Josiah, a man raising goats. Soon they're also rescuing a male slave and getting embroiled in the power struggle of the whole kingdom.
So, first, the good. They story got me hooked fairly early on. I liked that all the characters have their flaws. There isn't the "perfect-arms handsome strong" male encountering the "perfect-breast beautiful wise" woman. These people are definitely "real". They each have their own quirks and personalities.
Elizabeth Vaughan clearly did her research into horses. I think I saw more horse-detail in here than in any other medieval / fantasy book I've read in a long while. This also goes in the editing-needed category, though. It's the *secondary* character, Bethral, who was into horses. And Bethral is the focus of the third book in this trilogy. So all of that heavy-horse-info should have been trimmed out here and used fully in that book about the horse-woman. This book here is focused on the feisty-all-about-battle woman.
In addition to the horse-heavy content, many other issues should also have been edited. We have situations where two people are in a room, a line of dialogue is given without attribution, and we have no idea who said it. There are continuity issues with a person doing something, then doing it again. I'm not counting the times that we go between the minds of characters and time "rewinds" in between. The moving between characters is sometimes fairly clunky. The way chapters are broken is sometimes disconnected. Word use is sometimes not handled well. I am changing the context so I don't give away spoilers, but a sentence will read "Lisa's heart leaped to see the cat leap out." or "Jeff scowled. Lisa turned and scowled ..." It's one thing if it's done for effect, to mirror a situation. That is done several times and that's fine. But in other places it simply seems the author forgot she just used a certain word.
We go quite a way into the story before we have any idea at all what the heroine looks like. It makes it hard to have the story visualized in one's head while reading. If one went by the cover, they'd be completely wrong about a KEY item. On the cover, Red's birthmark is above her left breast, i.e. fairly easy to see in many outfits. But in the story it is clearly BELOW her RIGHT breast. It's part of why it's not noticed normally.
Some of the names of characters / places are a bit heavy handed. Blackhart? For a villain? There are also pacing issues. Some scenes which are minor are covered in great detail. Other scenes which are incredibly important, and which directly relate to the heroine's "area of interest", are completely skimmed over. We get far more details about horses - again, not her area of interest - and not that lovely detail about her fights. Instead we get generic "she hit him in the groin" types of comments.
Still, again, these are things that a good editor should have polished up for her. It can be hard for an author to catch some of these types of issues even on multiple re-reads. So I give the author great credit for the underlying story, and it's the editing team I fault for many of these problems.
I do have a final comment, and that is about the actual character traits of the four main characters. We have Red, a woman swordfighter, and Josiah, a farmer. We have Bethral, also a woman swordfighter, and Ezren, the slave she rescues fairly early on (I'm avoiding spoilers in my review, so this all is known fairly quickly). I am clearly all for alpha females :). I love stories with them. And I enjoy male characters of all shapes and styles. However, the two males here are EXTREMELY passive. It is one thing to be a calm, steady supporter. I definitely love males who fall into that category. But these males are passive to the point of flaccid. It's hard to give examples without giving spoilers, and I suppose it's already sort of a spoiler to say they are at the earthworm level of activity. I just don't find that appealing at all. I always want a partnership where each person is actively providing SOMETHING to the relationship (and not just sex!). This issue almost drags the review down to three stars for me - but I also accept that some readers might not mind how passive the men are. That issue is more of a "my personal attitude towards relationships" one and not a "poorly written one". She wrote Josiah, accurately, to be broken, weak, unsupportive, and unmotivated. That's the way he is. It's just not a guy I would ever have any interest at all in being with.
So in summary, if this had been edited well it could be a five star book that's perfect for readers who enjoy that type of super-beta male character. Even if it was edited well, though, it just wouldn't be a book I would personally want to re-read, because I don't find the draw of that type of character. So in the end it would depend on what type of male characters you enjoy reading about.
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