The Warrior Trainer
by Gerri Russell
(Leisure, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-8439-5825-1
***
The Warrior Trainer is the American Title Contest Winner from Romantic Times. The story is unique and generally engaging.

Set in Scotland in the early 1300ís, the story is based on the legend of the Stone of Destiny. It is said that whoever controls the stone, controls Scotland. The stone is hidden and is protected by female warriors, whose sole purpose is to protect the stone, train warriors in defending Scotland and produce a girl child who will inherit the duties. Scotia is the current warrior trainer and her life has not been easy. She watched her mother get killed by the White Horseman, an Englishman who continues to search for the stone and rides with a group of four, determined to destroy Scotland if they canít find the stone. Scotia was wounded in the attack, and her followers put out the rumor that she was dead and the stone lost. This was done to protect her. It is now 10 years later and she is of child-bearing age. They have now put out the rumor that she is alive and her castle is open for warriors who want to train and learn her advanced fighting skills.

Scotia uses a mixture of what sounds like martial arts and traditional swordplay. She has learned to follow her instincts and to anticipate her opponentís moves. She spends her days training and recently, she has fought off challengers who think they can beat her and get the power of the stone. One man who comes to her keep is Ian MacKinnon. He has sworn vengeance against the four horsemen, specifically the White Horseman because he killed Ianís brother. He agrees to train with Scotia and learn all she knows after their battle in which she prevailed.

This is the story of Ian and Scotia. They battle, they train, they strategize about how best to beat the enemy and they fight their internal battles of love vs. duty and attraction vs. distraction. They confront their demons and they try to figure out how to survive.

There is action, yet much of the story is the internal battles they fight. There is sadness and victory, yet the majority of the time is spent on struggles of the mind and emotions. Both Ian and Scotia are strong yet have vulnerabilities. Both are heroic, valiant and often hard-headed. They see the forest but have trouble seeing the trees that make up that forest.

There is much to like here, with Ian and Scotia being well-defined. There is uniqueness in the storyline about the stone. Yet, the story has a slow pace and at times, I felt that there wasnít enough to keep me reading. Several times I choose to watch TV rather than read, a real sign for me that I wasnít fully engaged in the tale.

Scotia is duty-bound and yet she yearns for a real life. At the same time her mother had indoctrinated her to ignore her emotions and she worries that she will not be able to love a child and provide more than a home. She also recognizes that she is the last of her line.

Ian has demons of his own. He is a MacKinnon by fostering and doesnít really know his lineage. This makes him question why he has been chosen to learn from the Warrior Trainer and avenge his clan. When his younger brother comes to train, this adds to his confusion and causes him to rethink his duty. His feelings for Scotia further muddy the water.

The Warrior Trainer has some interesting plot lines and at times, is very engaging. There are other times it plods along leaving the reader feeling that while acceptable, it is not more. The glimpses where there is engagement lend me to think that Russell has potential and should be kept on the radar as a new author.

--Shirley Lyons


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