Pros: Wonderful characters; great plot and twists; fascinating world
Rating: 5 out of 5
Red Gloves and Bethral are hardened mercenaries. Their own lands are fat with peace, so they’ve journeyed to Palins looking for work. The signs of unrest and civil war certainly hint at danger, but no one is willing to hire them. When Bethral buys an abused slave and refuses to sell him back after it turns out he was sold by accident, they become targeted by someone who wants the man back—and who cut out his tongue to keep him silent in the first place.
The sword-sisters take shelter with Josiah, a goat-herder living on burned-out lands, a deep sorrow in his eyes. Red would just love to take him to bed, but all he seems to care about is her birthmark—the one that marks her as Chosen, destined to free the lands from their current tyranny—and she never did like religious prophecies, magics, and all that rot. Unfortunately they’re stuck in one place until Bethral’s new charge heals, and Josiah’s cousin Evelyn, a priestess, is determined to convince Red to take up her destiny.
There are just a few things standing in the way of that, not the least of which is an army of undead.
I was drawn into Elizabeth Vaughan’s Dagger-Star just as surely as Red Gloves was drawn into Evelyn’s rebellion, if far less reluctantly. This tale plays host to a panoply of fantastic characters; not only are all the main faces made into fascinating, multi-faceted people, but so are many of the ones that only appear briefly.
Red Gloves is a wonderful main character: stubborn, willful, far from perfect yet perfectly enjoyable. Bethral, a quiet ‘mountain’ of a woman who talks to animals and takes on every lost cause she comes across, makes the perfect foil to Red’s bluster, temper, and crudeness. Josiah, too, is far from the expected male lead of a romance or fantasy novel: quiet, contemplative, and a farmer at heart, surrounded by an odd quintet of magical goats that go everywhere he does. Everyone stuck with me, leaving me with a haze of faces and personalities running around in my head afterward.
The chemistry between Red and Josiah is quite good; the sex is explicit and for adults only, but not extremely adventuresome. The book does touch on some dark adult subject matter, however.
I’d love to babble about some of the wonderful plot twists; in particular, an incredibly interesting variant on what should be a tired-and-true (no, that isn’t a typo) prophecy plot. However, I’d hate to spoil anything. There are lovely twists near the end that absolutely delighted me. You’ll also find laugh-out-loud funny moments, such as a scene that makes unashamed fun of the impracticality of female armor designed to appeal to male readers, game-players, etc.
It seems obvious that there are meant to be more books—there are certainly things that don’t get wrapped up in this volume—but happily, it does stand alone well enough.
All in all, Dagger-Star was a sheer delight to read. I finished it night before last and I’m still reading a non-fiction book because I can’t quite get myself to supplant that world’s place in my imagination with another.