Thursday, April 17

Review: Dagger Star by Elizabeth Vaughan

Along with Strike Zone, Dagger Star by Elizabeth Vaughan was another of my most anticipated book for April. Talk about two complete different genres, no? LOL :) Turns out I wasn’t the only one looking forward for Dagger Star and so, I’ve been able to enlist Li from Book Daze and Katie(babs) from Ramblings on Romance, Etc. to buddy review this book with me!

Oh, there’ll be lots of spoilers in this review ^_^; Sorry, we couldn’t help it. I put up warnings for those who don't want to know...

ps - For those wondering about the follow-up for the polls, it'll be coming soon.

Dagger Star by Elizabeth Vaughan
published by Berkley in April 2007

A cold and beautiful mercenary known as Red Gloves finds Josiah, a lone figure emerging from the torched fields and razed farms of his homeland.

All Josiah knows about the mysterious woman is her dagger-star birthmark, a sign that she is destined to free the people from a ruthless usurper's reign of terror…

Genre: fantasy, romance
Series: Palins, book #1

The Story: Red Gloves and Bethral are two mercenaries from Soccia, traveling to Palins, a kingdom of unrest, to find work. One rainy night, they stopped at Josiah’s place for shelter and Red Gloves’ life is about to change drastically. It turns out that Red Gloves bears the dagger-start birthmark which makes her the “Chosen” in the prophecy to free Palins from the evil regent.

Nath: I asked Li and Katie(babs) to do this review with me, because all three of us really enjoyed The Chronicles of Warlands trilogy. However, it seems that our opinion of Dagger Star is very different from each other. So what did you ladies think of the book?

Li: How do I put this - if it wasn't for this buddy review thing, I would have put the book down halfway, and it would probably still be on my TBR pile a year from now. It just didn't excite me.

Nath: That bad?

Li: I loved Warprize (the first book in her Chronicles of Warlands trilogy) - I thought it was a refreshingly different fantasy romance. In Dagger Star, it was almost as though the romance and the quest/adventure were independent of each other. And I thought the fantasy part was rather cliched and predictable... and the h/h relationship didn't quite work for me. I couldn't feel the romance - when did it change from lust to love?

Nath: What about you, Katie(babs)?

Katie(babs): Overall, I really enjoyed Dagger Star as much as Vaughan's Chronicles of Warlands trilogy :) Dagger Star was everything I was looking for in a fantasy/alternative world book. I have already read Vaughan's three other books in her Chronicles of the Warlands and her voice in those books is very much alive in Dagger Star. I really enjoyed the character of Red Gloves. Vaughan's heroine of Red Gloves made this story an excellent read.

Nath: I stand in the middle of the two of you ^_^; I was disappointed, but I didn't find the book as bad as Li. I guess I was expecting a great or at least, a good read, but this was just okay. I think that Katie(babs) and I enjoyed it more because we don’t read as much as fantasy as Li. I actually love “prophecy” storyline, LOL, and I didn’t find the plot too cliché, but the direction it took disappointed me. Character-wise, I think this book was great and it sets up for very interesting storylines in the future. As for romance, I think it was a bit lacking. Like Li, I don’t know when the relationship turns from lust to love…

***Spoilers from here on, read at your own risks***

Nath: So let’s take it from the beginning. What did you think of Red Gloves and Josiah as characters?

Katie(babs): I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Red Gloves and the mystery behind her wearing these gloves and of course her nickname. She comes across a bit of a bitch but in this world she has to be because she is a mercenary. But I also realized that Red is very scarred and lonely. Because of her past she is afraid to trust and love. Her relationships are very much about money and what a person can do for her and how she will come on top. I originally thought this was her being selfish and cold, but because she is a survivor, she needs the comfort of the coin. With Josiah, she let go and was allowed to love and love freely.

Nath: I liked both characters a lot and how they were so different. I think you really nailed Red Gloves, Katie(babs). It’s also because Red Gloves has such a strong personality and has such fearlessness that I loved Josiah. Josiah is so calm and melancholic… such a huge contrast. It’s also very interesting in a fantasy novel to have a male character like Josiah, someone who is not a fighter or a soldier. Sure, he was a mage, but he didn’t excel in weapons or even in strategies which led to his tragedies. When you read a fantasy novel, I think you expect the hero to be more like Keir from the Chronicles of Warlands trilogy. Next to Keir, Josiah seems flawed and I think that it added a lot of depth to his character.

That’s why I felt so disappointed…. I loved the characters, the world building and the setting up, but I think the let-down was really the storyline. Perhaps my disappointment was due to my expectations. Like I said, I really like the “chosen” and prophecy plot and was expecting the whole prophecy - finding the chosen, rallying people behind her, going after the throne, i.e. the whole enchilada to last the whole trilogy/series... and although that would have been really cliched, that's what I wanted. Li complained about the fantasy part being cliché and she wasn't the only one... and I agree to a certain extent. The problem is that when the storyline deviates from those clichés, that's where my enjoyment starts to dim. For example, I would have preferred only ONE chosen... not several.

Li: Oh, we are so different then! Because those bits that were unexpected, the multiple Chosens, that's what I liked - I thought it was a clever way of turning the prophecy on its head. Also, there were other bits that worked - I liked the thought put into the various religions and how they differed from one another. But apart from that, it just felt like standard fantasy plotlines assembled together - the battle-scarred mercenary who turns out the be the long-lost heir to the throne or whatever, the treks to various lords to get support, the end-battle, etc. Even the twist at the end wasn't surprising, especially because it was hinted at right at the very beginning!

Nath: I thought that the various religions added a touch of reality in the world building. What I didn’t like was the magic ^_^; As for the twist, true - it wasn’t very surprising; however, it did fit Red Gloves’ character. Something else I expected to see was Red Gloves starting to believe in the prophecy and that she was the Chosen, then convincing and rally people. The way it happened, it was too easy. Red Gloves didn’t have to do much ground work, she just had to show up and ask for support, because Evie had set up everything. Also, the whole battle was over wayyyy too quickly.

Katie(babs): Personally, I was expecting a bit more battle scenes rather than all the planning. We see everyone talking about going into the battle, but the final fight was a bit dull IMO. And, perhaps the ending was a bit rushed?

Li: I definitely felt that too. Maybe part of that was because we didn't really get to see the final battle from Red's perspective. Instead, it was from Josiah's POV and from a distance.

Nath: I think you’re right, Katie(babs), the ending was rushed. See, when you combine everything that happened, you end up with an awkward pacing. The story started out well, but then it became slow and suddenly, everything was over. It wouldn’t have been too bad if it was only fantasy, but it affected the romance.

The main problem about the romance was that the timeline went by so fast, I felt the author had difficulty developing the romance between Red Gloves and Josiah. That’s why I think, Li, that you felt that the romance and fantasy seem independent from each other.

Li: They just didn't spend that much time together, did they? Especially in the second half of the book, when Red is running off trying to drum up support for her cause, and Josiah is left holding the fort.

Katie(babs): I also agree things went a bit too fast, but the romance had some interesting moments, especially when Josiah thinks he is losing Red and then the next page Red is thinking how she is losing him in turn.

Nath: I thought if they talked to each other a bit more, we could have been spared that scene ^_^; Not my favorite at all…

Katie(babs): I have to admit, I didn't see the attraction to each other at first. I understand Red's attraction to Josiah because, hey, he is a hunky goat herder after all, but it was definitely at first a very physical one between them. Josiah was the first one to fall for Red and I felt he was in touch with his emotions, where as Red is more stiff and cold.

Li: Speaking of Red/Josiah and their relationship - what did you think of the role-reversal? It was like Ms Vaughan was deliberately turning the romance hero/heroine convention on its head. I found it quite heavy-handed to be honest. And then when he started calling her "kitten", it then felt as though she was trying to bring them back to a more conventional h/h relationship. It left me confused and really not feeling their connection.

Katie(babs): She was the alpha one in this relationship. Josiah is a Beta hero, which I enjoyed. He allows Red to take him by the hand and do what she wants with him, well till the final scene that is. *G* I thought him calling Red "kitten" was sweet and when she heard him call her that, I let out a chuckle. Makes her a bit more soft in his eyes because she has been around harsh circumstances. And her nickname for his was "Lover," again the whole role reversal comes into play. Usually a hero will call the heroine lover or baby. Red calls Josiah her lover as a term of endearment.

Nath: I didn’t mind the H/H reversal. I thought it work well with their personalities… Josiah calling her by an endearment is not that surprising, since he seems to be the more romantic in the relationship :P However, I probably would have chosen “lioness” instead of “kitten.” Fits better LOL.

Li: Was I the only one to find the gloves thing a complete letdown??! I was expecting... I don't know... magic tattoos that would completely destroy her surroundings or something. Instead well... I thought the scene was just OTT! I very hurriedly skimmed those pages...

Katie(babs): I assumed wearing the red gloves was more of a emotional reason or maybe she had some scarring and couldn't bear to look at them. But when when they are taken off, I thought the scene was written very well as we see Red remembering back in time why she has decided to wear them.

Nath: I’m with Li, I thought her hands were magic… that perhaps, she had a void in her hand that would suck everything around her like a vacuum ^_^; However, kudos to Ms Vaughan because it really surprised me, even with all the hints throughout the book… although, I didn’t think it was necessary to make up a tragic past for Red Gloves. In my opinion, with out without that twist, I think that Red Gloves would still be who she is.

To tell the truth, aside from the main storyline and the romance, which I know is very, very important, the rest was very good ^_^; I like how Ms Vaughan tried something new with this series and switched from the 1st person POV to the 3rd person POV. It changes things up and definitively gives options for Ms. Vaughan.

I can see 2 future narrators: Evie and Glorianna. I'm also thinking that Ezren & Bethral relationship will be continued as a secondary storyline in the next books as well... and seriously, I’m interested in reading what happens in the aftermath of the Chosen taking the throne (which is something we rarely get to read about). Evie is going to be an interesting narrator because she knows the people and what happened. For example, the elven Baron marrying the human woman... she seems to have had a hand in their relationship and I hope we'll learn more about it. She's also the one who did a lot of the leg work that was supposed to be Red Gloves'. Plus, it seems to me that Ms Vaughan was hinting a romance between her and Blackhart, the traitorous High Baron.

Li: I felt as though there had been another book that we missed out on - the elven Baron and his human wife. Did you feel the same way? You may have guessed I'm not hugely excited about reading a follow-up to Dagger Star, but I wouldn't mind reading their story!

Katie(babs): I thought the elven lord and his wife was adorable! This kingly elf is all gruff and very pompous, but then his wife comes along and the change in his is sweet. I also would love to see their story and how a human and elf became man and wife. I am interested in a follow up to Dagger Star because of all the unfinished stories with the other characters such as Bethral and Ezren and I also Evelyn and Blackhart. What was up with those two? What did Evelyn promise to him that he kept sharing a look with her?

Li: I definitely got the feeling that Ms Vaughan was laying the groundwork for another story there!

Nath: However, I like how Ms Vaughan was setting up for the other books. It fits in the story so well and it didn’t feel to me like she was baiting us. Of course, there were tons of characters introduced, but that was not unexpected since this is a trilogy/series and I thought they were all so interesting. By the way, isn’t Evie a priestess? As in, she cannot marry, no?

***End of Spoilers***

Katie(babs): Something I found wonderful is that we have two female mercenaries who have made their own way in the world without the help of men. Red and Bethral have an incredible relationship as friends and sisters. I also wondered what if Vaughan had decided to make these two lovers and gone with a lesbian romance rather than the romance between Red and Josiah…

I also enjoyed Bethral and her tentative romance with the storyteller Ezren. He calls her is Angel of Light, which made me go awwww.... :) I would love to see these two in a future story and how far along their relationship has come. Ezren was actually my favorite character behind Red Gloves. He is not a fighter like Red or Bethral but a simple man who uses words to get his actions across.

Nath: Speaking of Ezren… something he said intrigued me. Ezren alludes to the Daughter of Xy "legend" and that makes me think that many, many years have gone by. I'd like to know how much, since I’m secretly hoping for a WarKing book... (either Keir or their son, Keirson :P) If I'm not wrong, I remember reading somewhere that characters from the Plain should appear in the second or third book...

Li: I caught that reference too! Agree - it sounds as though it's in the distant past.

Katie(babs): Vaughan may write a fourth book with Keir and Lara about her pregnancy and birth of their first child. That is one story I would definitely read. I also like the references about the Plains people and the fact in Dagger Star they also drink kavage! And did you notice how this story takes plain in a Palins? Palins has the same letters as Plains but moved around ;)

What I couldn't stand in this book were those goats!! They annoyed me. But that is just me. I know there is some point for them being in the story but their purpose was lost on me.

Li: Yes, the magic goats! Yes, I kept on waiting for them to be explained but they never were. Why were they in the story? Apart from some comic relief, I suppose...

Were there any standout scenes for you both? Because I'm trying to think back to when I read the book - and a week later, nothing really sticks in my mind.

Katie(babs): The one scene that sticks out for me was when Red and Josiah are making love and she removes her gloves to touch him wit her naked hands as Josiah allows himself to be blindfolded and tied up. A turning point in their relationship just as well as if they finally said "I love you" to one another.

Nath: None really except for some comedy relief scenes ^_^; However, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book :) I’m actually giving it a B. Sure, the plot wasn’t what I expected and the romance was a bit weak, but I enjoyed the characters and I’m definitively looking forward for the next books :) What about you ladies?

Li: Gradewise, it's C+ for me. Not one of my favourite reads this year, unfortunately!

Katie(babs): For my grade I would give Dagger Star a solid B and look forward to a sequel. Hopefully with less goats! LOL


MaryKate said...

Great review, ladies! Li, I'm with you. I had such incredibly high hopes for this book...and wow, was I disappointed. I think mostly because I felt like Vaughan was suffering from Sherilyn Kenyon disease. There was just WAY too much going on in this book. Too many characters with funny names, too much world building for very little pay out. And I felt like we got robbed on this h/h relationship. And those damn magical goats -- just a silly convention that did nothing to advance the story. SIGH. Disappointing outing for me, for sure.

Vaughan will remain an autobuy for me for one more book, then I might end up having to chalk her Chronicles of the Warlands series up to a fluke.

Ana said...

Really liked your review girls. Nice to see what each of you thought. I haven't read the book but I could get a good idea of what it's about. Nice format.

nath said...

MaryKate - Hi MaryKate... i think it's all a matter of expectations. I couldn't wait to read it and sure, I was disappointed, but I think that it does set up well for the rest of the series. And perhaps there was a lot going on, but the voice and the writing was better than SK in my opinion.

Ana - Thanks Ana :D Glad that you enjoyed the review :D

Katie(babs) said...

Why I believe this is the best buddy review I have ever read. ;)

MaryKate said...

nath - Is it going to be a series? I got the impression this was a single title and that was the end of the story.

If she is world building for a series, I guess I'd be slightly better with that, since she's done a lot of the info dumping in this book. Maybe the next one will have a little less going on.

nath said...

MaryKate - I'm pretty sure there is more to this book. I don't know if this is going to be another trilogy or a series and there's little information on it... but there is at least one other book. Originally, Dagger Star was supposed to be named Red Gloves and the next book, White Robe(s?)... so yeah, I'm thinking there's going to be more.

Li said...

MaryKate - I really didn't feel that the fantasy and the romance melded together in this one.

Completely see what you mean about this book having a lot of set-up for a single story. I suspect the next book (if there is one) will have different lead characters but in the same setting.

li said...

Katie(babs) - LOL. It's a good effort, isn't it? ;-)

Katie(babs) said...

There better be a sequel! I want to know if Bethral and Ezren get it on!!