Review: Warrior by Zoe Archer (Blades of the Rose #1)

Format: Kindle ebook (also available in mass market and other e-formats)
Publisher: Zebra
FTC: Purchased myself (although I did win a print copy on a blog ;) )

The Blurb:

To most people, the realm of magic is the stuff of nursery rhymes and dusty libraries. But for Capt. Gabriel Huntley, it's become quite real and quite dangerous...
In Hot Pursuit...
The vicious attack Capt. Gabriel Huntley witnesses in a dark alley sparks a chain of events that will take him to the ends of the Earth and beyond—where what is real and what is imagined become terribly confused. And frankly, Huntley couldn't be more pleased. Intrigue, danger, and a beautiful woman in distress—just what he needs.
In Hotter Water...
Raised thousands of miles from England, Thalia Burgess is no typical Victorian lady. A good thing, because a proper lady would have no hope of recovering the priceless magical artifact Thalia is after. Huntley's assistance might come in handy, though she has to keep him in the dark. But this distractingly handsome soldier isn't easy to deceive... 

I haven't read a book like Warrior in a long, long time. In some ways, it's very old fashioned. In a good way. In other ways, this book is entirely new and fresh. There are echoes of Rider Haggard, the Amelia Peabody series, the Mummy movies, and even Indiana Jones in this book. The setting is one I haven't read a lot about: Mongolia. But it's clear that the author has done her research. The climate, customs, even the sprinkling of Mongolian words throughout the story all add to a nice sense of authenticity.

I love that this book is hard to pin down to a single subgenre. There's suspense. There's paranormal. There's history. Even some steampunkish elements. But all of it is woven with such subtle skill that no one element dominates any other. It's entirely new, yet borrows from an extensive film and literature lore—which only adds to the richness of the storytelling.

I don't think the cover of this book really does it justice. Although it does have that Indy feel, this is about much, much more than a rogue adventurer. At its heart, Warrior is a romance about two people who have trouble fitting into society who discover that with each other, they can be accepted and appreciated as they are. Gabriel is a recently retired soldier who isn't thrilled with what retired life holds in store for him. Thalia is an Englishwoman living in Mongolia. She's far too accustomed to freedom to ever be comfortable being "proper." But their unconventionality is exactly what makes a relationship between the two of them possible.

There's a lot to love about Archer's writing, too. Although it's told in the third person, she makes sure that whenever we read about a character's thoughts or emotions it is clear which character it is. Plus the book is incredibly funny.

Upon seeing Thalia ogle him in a native wrestling costume during one point in the story:

"It took every drop of self-control he had to keep from showing her just how much he enjoyed seeing that naked lust in her face. If he wasn't careful, he'd pop right out of the damned trunks and give every one of the tribesmen an eyeful of genuine English sausage."

Or this line when he first hears her swear.

"...to hear such language come from her edible-looking mouth was something of a thrill for Huntley, not unlike going to a prayer meeting and finding it full of unrepentant strumpets."

I also really love how Gabriel treats Thalia as an equal. He's protective and arrogant. But not smothering. And he doesn't devalue her feelings, capabilities, or skills. I was really fascinated by the scene where he comforts her after she kills someone for the first time.  This isn't a weepy, sentimental there-there pat on the shoulder. It's pragmatic. He treats her as a soldier. Makes her eat when her stomach rebels. Explains that part of his job as an officer in the army was to help soldiers recover from shocks like hers. He gives her her pride—which shows a high degree of sensitivity for a gruff warrior like him.

I love the descriptions in this book. The exotic locale is part of the charm here, but even personal revelations are described in ways that are new and provocative. As Gabriel realizes that his understanding of the world and its possibilities has shifted:

"He felt the surface of reality growing soft and porous like an orange, peeling away to reveal a world underneath the one he thought he knew." 

This book was flat-out fun to read. I think it will appeal to a wide variety of readers and wish it were available in audio format because my husband (who only listens to audiobooks) would love this book.

I am so happy that we have future installments of the Blades of the Rose series coming out in the next few months. The next one, Scoundrel, is scheduled for release October 5 (next week!)

My Grade: A

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