Swashbuckling adventure, secret societies, plenty of bad guys, exotic locales, and a heated romance - Zoe Archer has really hit upon something with Warrior, the first book in her Blades Of The Rose quartet. This is the stuff of old-fashioned Saturday matinees, Errol Flynn movies and Indiana Jones.
Captain Gabriel Huntley has resigned his commission from Her Majesty's army with no concrete plans for the future. He's got a letter in his pocket from an old army buddy who says he can get him a nice, steady (read: boring) job and help hook him up with a nice, steady, proper English bride (read: boring). Gabriel doesn't have any better ideas, which is why he heads back to England even though he's not particularly anxious to "settle down." It's on his way to a pub to quench his thirst that he comes across a man getting the crap kicked out of him in a dark alley. Gabriel rides to the rescue, but the man is gravely injured. As he lays dying, he gets Gabriel to promise him that he'll deliver a message to Mongolia. Delivering a cryptic message he doesn't understand, from a dying man he didn't know from Adam, is enough to spur our hero into action. Plus an adventure in Mongolia sounds a bit more exciting then the quiet, staid (read: boring) life that awaits him in the English countryside.
It's in Mongolia that he delivers the message to Thalia Burgess' father. Gabriel might have no clue what the message means, but Thalia and her Daddy certainly do! The bad guys are headed their way to steal an ancient magical artifact. Before the bad guys can get their grubby mitts on it, Thalia needs to find it. What she wasn't planning on was the ever resourceful, Captain Huntley tagging along. They don't call them secret societies for nothing, and she's not entirely sure she can trust this Captain - no matter how sexy he is.
What we have here is your classic road romance, with plenty of adventure and derring-do tossed in on the side. Thalia, while English, has spent the majority of her years being raised by a single father and in Mongolia, of all places. She's hardly proper. She's slightly rebellious, smart, resourceful, and just the sort of woman that Gabriel finds himself extremely attracted to. He's been in the army so long, he has no clue how to act around a "proper lady." But Thalia? This is a girl after his own heart. The more time he spends with her, the further in love he falls.
This entire story takes place in the deserts of Mongolia, with the hero and heroine trying to outrun, outsmart, and out-maneuver the bad guys. The plot ebbs and flows, with moments of high action, and quieter moments where the pace slows a bit. It culminates in a final battle scene, and sets up the remaining three books in this series quite nicely.
A word about the fantasy elements in this story. The secret society that Thalia's father belongs to is charged with guarding the world's magical artifacts and protecting them from falling into the wrong hands. As someone who is beyond (as in, way way way beyond) burnt out on anything remotely otherworldly/paranormal, I can tell you these elements of the story are painted with a light brush. Certainly there are fantastical inventions, and magical feats, but honestly this story reads very much like a Victorian historical romance first, adventure novel second, fantasy novel third. For readers who think they're not all that wild about paranormal, but they love historicals? I encourage you to give this one a go.
Plenty of action, intriguing characters, a completely different-from-the-norm setting, and a good old fashioned adventure yarn made this a fun read. I'm looking forward to the next three books in the series.
Final Grade = B