by Elizabeth Vaughan
(Berkley Sensation, $7.99, PG-13)† ISBN 978-0-425-22061-0
Elizabeth Vaughan kicks off an intriguing new trilogy with Dagger-Star, the story of a female mercenary and a man who has lost nearly everything he holds dear.† Set in the same world as her phenomenally successful Warprize series, itís sure to please her many fans.† The introduction of magical elements adds a new dimension, as well.

Red Gloves is the aforementioned mercenary.† Skilled in battle, she wanders the land with her friend Bethral and their horses, looking for ways to use their warrior talents.† One night, during a driving rainstorm in the kingdom of Palins, they knock at the door of a hut and ask for shelter.† The owner, a gruff man, tells them they can sleep in the barn.

Red notices immediately that this is no peasantís barn, but a grand stable, now apparently unused.† Their host calls himself Josiah, and other than five devoted goats, he seems to live alone.† He brings them a hot meal, but then Josiah accidentally glimpses Red changing her clothes, undressed except for her gloves.† His attention is caught by the mark she bears under her breast - a dagger-star.† Though Red doesnít know it, this identifies her as predestined to save Palins and its people, who have been devastated by a civil war and the ensuing brutal regime.

Josiah is no common peasant.† Heís a Baron, and the land he lives on was once his prosperous estate.† It was reduced to rubble in the war, and many of his people were killed, including his family.† Josiah, once a powerful mage, lost his magic in the battle.† He is not without friends, however, and when Red and Bethral return to his estate with a nearly-dead slave theyíve purchased in a local town, he calls his cousin Evie, a priestess and powerful healer, to help the man.† Evie confirms Redís destiny and takes her through a portal to a neighboring land, where a small army is preparing to try and wrest the throne back from the brutal barons who have claimed it and slaughtered many Palinsí† population.†

Red, whose interest in and attraction to Josiah is steadily growing, agrees to help.† She has a condition: Josiah will share her bed until the battle campaign is over.† This twist on traditional roles leaves Josiah rather stunned, but intrigued and willing to go along with it.† Red and Josiah, of course, will soon find they have much more between them than just a physical passion.

Dagger-Star has many subplots, and itís a more complex story than Iíve outlined here.† Bethral and the slave form a friendship; Evie and her magic will be tested, and Red will start to come to terms with her traumatic past.† Josiah is perhaps the most sympathetic character of them all, as he tells Red (and the reader) exactly what heís lost, and how.† Heís scarred and heartsick, but eventually willing to hope for a better future.

Red doesnít fare as well.† Sheís feisty, brave, and completely willing to go after what she wants - in this case, Josiah - and readers will enjoy that part of her personality.† But the whole ďred glovesĒ thing doesnít work, and since this a major plot point, it detracts from the book.† Red apparently has made a vow to never - and that means NEVER - take them off. When Josiah first glimpses Red in the nude, all Bethral can ask him is ďDid she have her gloves on?Ē because if not, Red will try to kill him.† Josiah canít figure this out, and neither will the reader.† Aside from the obvious hygiene issues of skin fungus and stench, there had better be a pretty darn compelling reason for a character as strong and self-reliant as Red to make such an incredible vow.† When Redís reasoning comes to light later in the book, itís a big nothing and a huge letdown, and has the effect of making her seem a bit thickheaded, if not somewhat mentally unstable.† As a reader, my reaction was, ďAll that buildup for this

The author drops hints of who might be involved in her next book.† I predict Evie will star in one of them, and since sheís a interesting and enjoyable character, thatís one book Iíd like to read.† Gloves issue aside, Elizabeth Vaughan makes a successful return to fantasy romance with a book thatís hard to put down.† Dagger-Star will find a permanent home on many a bookshelf.†

--Cathy Sova

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