Before she was old enough for a marriage-of-alliance, Xylara was trained as a healer. She can't usurp her brother or negotiate a peace--but she can heal the brave ones injured in battle.
But not only her countrymen are wounded, and Xylara's conscience won't let Firelander warriors die when she can do something to save them. She learns their language and their customs and tries to make them as comfortable as possible, despite their prisoner-of-war status.
She never expects that these deeds, done in good faith, would lead to the handsome and mysterious Firelander Warlord demanding her in exchange for a cease-fire. Xylara knows must trade the life she has always known for the well-being of her people, and so she becomes...
This goes under the category of "Why Did I Wait So Long To Read This Book?" A number of months ago I was engaged in my occasional raid of my daughter's reading shelves when she stuck this book in my face and said: "Mother, you absolutely HAVE to read this book!!" And of course, being a sensitive parent with the emotional well-being of my daughter being a priority, I took the book, asked some questions about it, and put in the TBR pile--the one that is not very close to the pile I grab from ordinarily. She also gave me Books 2 and 3 in this trilogy, so I was obligated to read Book 1 eventually.
OMG -- was I missing a treat!! I have not read much fantasy/historical stuff recently but thought I could wade through this just to please my kid, and I was hooked--top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Incredible writing that laid out the plot and the characters immediately became real.
Told from the perspective of Lara, Daughter of Xy, who eventually becomes the Warprize, it is a riveting story of a woman who has no political ambition, who is second in the royal line of accession, but who has no desire to rule. She is a Master Healer and a person whose heart is so big she will put her skills to work for anyone, friend or foe. Her half-brother has ascended to the throne at the death of their father just three months earlier, yet he has always looked at her with anger and distaste. Her people are now embroiled in a war with the People of the Plains led by the Warlord, a savvy, clever, adept military strategist whose campaigns ultimately prevail and Lara's brother has no option but to agree to the terms of surrender. While this is going on, Lara is applying her healing skills to both the warriors of Xy as well as the prisoners of war, one of whom is second only to the Warlord. Unbeknownst to her, the Warlord meets her as she is attending to his friend and it is there that he decides he must have her.
Thus, the link between the conquered and the overlord is Lara. The Warlord demands that she be given to him as the Warprize, and her continued cooperation and that of her brother will maintain the peace between their two peoples.
This is, at its core, an intense love story between Lara and Kier, but Lara has been told the nature of the relationship by her brother who even went so far as to style her future standing as that of "body slave" and recommended that she poison herself rather than become Kier's "plaything." Lara is all about saving lives and thus she rejects the possibility of suicide, but she goes to Kier thinking that she is just a thing in his eyes. It is only several months later that she learns that her brother has lied to her, that Kier intends to make her his Consort and is wooing her.
Elizabeth Vaughan is one of those authors whose imagination is way beyond most people's, who has created a world wherein two cultures exist side by side but fraught with prejudice and misunderstanding. Few understand the other's language, and communication is sometimes as problematic as it is helpful. Lara battles her considerable homesickness, her need to adapt and change from a "city dweller" to a woman of the Plains. The moral guidelines are different, her own innate modesty is a puzzle to a society where men and women are completely comfortable with nudity, where women are prized as warriors, where babies are seen as propagating a race rather than belonging to their mothers, where medical care is in the hands of warrior-priests who have convinced everyone that healing is magic and not a system of the application of remedies that aid the body in its healing tasks. Lara as the Warprize is looked upon by most as a treasure and a gift to their people. Kier's enemies attack her readily and seek every way to humiliate and diminish her in her own eyes as well as those of the people.
This story delves into the issues that divide all societies, whether ancient or contemporary--an unwillingness to change, a lack of good communication, prejudice against those who look different or speak differently, or whose moral code differs significantly. Set in ancient times, it is a wonderful story about a man and woman who want to bring their people together peacefully, and who want to see attitudes and beliefs change for the betterment of their citizens. As has been true down through history, any such sweeping change or the effort to cause them are met with significant opposition and these detractors not only endanger Kier & Lara's efforts for peace, but end up endangering their relationship and their future together.
This is fiction writing at its best and the kind of book lovers of really good romance fiction long to encounter. This book has been around for about six years, but it is a literary treasure that should be revisited or discovered and prized for being the wonderful piece of storytelling it truly is. Together with the other two books in the Chronicles of the Warlands, it forms a wonderful body of writing that tells Kier & Lara's story and moves them from war campaigns to the nitty gritty of what it means to be People of the Plains. There is love and deep devotion here, disappointment and disillusionment when old friends become detractors, struggles to find the best in themselves, and a never-ending watchfulness for those enemies who would plunge the People of the Plains once again into war and death.
This story has as one of its less obvious strands the stubbornness that Lara battles, especially when she just can't let an illness go or when she continues to fight for a life that was already lost. That stubbornness stands her in good stead often, but it will ultimately put her relationship with Kier in danger, will cause him irreparable harm politically, and cause the deaths of many of their friends and of warriors who would otherwise survive the war. It will be the source of great grief down the road.
This is a "must read" book and I am still kicking myself around the block for waiting so long to read it. I read it and the two sequels all in one sitting. I think I turned the light out at 4:00 AM. It was worth it! I give this novel a rating of 5 out of 5.