SHE MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN HER PEOPLE AND HER FREEDOM...
Xylara is the Daughter of the Warrior King, Xyron. With her father dead and her incompetent half-brother on the throne, the kingdom is in danger of falling to the warring Firelanders.
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...
I bought this book, and the second book in the trilogy, over a year ago, presumably based on seeing a review or something somewhere. They have sat on my bookshelf for all this time, looking very pretty. I heard some renewed positive feedback about them in a best of 2007 list, and decided that I really should give them a go. When I decided to sign up for Naida's Romance Reading Challenge this book caught my eye, so I added it to my challenge list, and the rest, as they say, is history.
For the first 50-100 pages I have to confess I was pretty underwhelmed by the book, but after that...whoa! I ended up staying up until 2am to finish this book (you know, the whole "I'll just read one more chapter" business, which ends up being "well...there's only two more chapters to go. Might as well finish it tonight"). Part of the reason for being underwhelmed I think is that I was reading it at night and so, being really tired, I was only getting through two or three pages at a time before I needed to put it down. That wasn't a factor on Sunday night apparently!
Xylara is a member of the royal family of Xy. Her half brother Xymund is ruler of the small country, which at the opening of the book is under invasion from the Firelanders, under the leadership of the Warlord. What makes Xylara quite unusual within the royal family is that she is also a Master Healer, pledged to always do anything she can to assist those in need. When the people in need are enemy soldiers who have been captured, she incurs the wrath of her brother (there were already some issues in the relationship anyway) but it is a consequence that she is prepared to take.
She begins to learn more about the strangers, including some of their language and customs, and in the process of trying to assist them she meets a stranger in the market who knows where she can get hold of some kavage, a drink that the Firelanders love (that sounds suspiciously like coffee). Little does she know, the stranger is Keir, Warlord of the Plains.
As Keir comes to the castle to receive his dues as conqueror of Xylan, he names his price - he wants Lara as his Warprize. For her, this means leaving behind those she loves, and her life of healing to become slave - a high personal price to pay for the safety of her people. By tradition, the warprize can accept nothing that is not from the Warlord and so she is reliant on Keir for food, clothing and shelter. It is some surprise to her to find that her Warlord is the man from the market.
Lara must learn the strange ways of a people who appear to be less civilised, and definitely tend to be more act first and then think later kind of people, but as she gets to know and understand at least some of their ways she begins to appreciate more of their strengths. And it is only after some time that she begins to understand exactly what it does mean to be the Warprize.
Keir and Lara go well together. Keir is that always attractive combination of strong and ruthless, but also can be tender and gentle when necessary. He is willing to make changes to the way that his people live in order to find a lasting peace with the lands that he has conquered, and is willing to deal with any internal opposition that he might have. He demands, and receives respect from everyone. Lara is prepared to stand up to Keir when she needs to, even if there are times when she has to somewhat grudgingly concede to allow him to do whatever is necessary to protect her from danger.
There is a good cast of interesting secondary characters from the incredibly loyal but demanding assistant Marcus, to the guards, to Gils, the young boy who volunteers to learn some of Lara's healing ways.
I think that this is one of those series which are being marketed as romance but where we are going to have to wait for the third book in order to be sure of a Happy Ever After, but if the other two books are as good as this one, then it will be a fun ride!
Book 1 in the Romance Reading Challenge down.....4 to go!