Retro Review: Red Gloves / White Star

Red Gloves

Beth Vaughan

Gollancz (2008)

ISBN: 978 0575084001

Epic of Palins #1

The most disappointing part of this book was the back cover blurb. It didn’t do justice to the story inside the pages and was a bit of a turn off for the seasoned fantasy reader. Hence, this book languished on the “to be read” pile for some weeks before I finally picked it up, with no little trepidation. Fortunately, the story is far better than the cover implies, and it was easy to enjoy.

Under the guise of a fantasy novel, Vaughan has spun a romance, where the main story really seems to be the growing relationship between the emotionally and physically scarred mercenary, a woman known as Red Gloves, and the mage lord who lost his power and his people, Josiah.

For me, the evolving love story worked better than the fantasy elements, which were not as fresh or believable as I would have liked. This was punctuated by seeming anachronisms (or, perhaps, Americanisms) which didn’t fit the tone of the book (such as “sexy” and “mom”). The action and plot were serviceable but at times felt forced.

I did find the mystery of the title character’s red gloves unusual, and the way this was dealt with was interesting. But what I remember best about the story afterwards was definitely the romance. With the female character taking the dominant role in the pairing, and the male having the greater emotional investment initially, it makes a nice change from the usual fare in a medieval setting, without feeling forced. Josiah is sweetly endearing while still retaining his manliness, and Red Gloves comes to regain trust and femininity through her relationship with him.

The overarching plot of regaining a lost throne with an unlikely monarch is nothing new but, as I’ve said, was well written, with enough action, magic and interesting characters to maintain pace, and the engagement of the reader.

I recommend Red Gloves as a foray into fantasy by readers who usually forage in the historical romance shelves of bookstores; long time readers of the genre may not be as enamored but newcomers and part-time readers will enjoy.

White Star

Beth Vaughan

ISBN: 978 0 575 08424 7

Gollancz (2009)

Epic of Palins #2

White Star is the follow up fantasy romance to Red Gloves, Vaughn’s debut novel of 2008. Fantasy romance is not a phrase I have used before, but that’s completely how I felt reading this book. While Red Gloves had a romantic element to the story, the plot and magical parts of the story outweighed the romance so that it became much more usual fantasy fare. White Star has a different balance altogether.

The Lady High Priestess Evelyn is a healer, trained in many of the magical arts, but dedicated to serving others. Orrin Blackhart appears to be at the opposite end of the human spectrum, known as a murderer and mercenary of the darkest sort. When Evelyn’s goddess insists she save Blackhart from a death sentence, neither could be more astonished. And a bond begins to grow between them.

But there are other forces at work, and Evelyn finds herself out of favour and sent away from those she loves, while Blackhart is sentenced to rid the land of the zombie-like creatures left behind when his previous employer was killed. Even now, they are fated to work together to not only destroy the walking dead, but save the country from those working from within to tear it apart.

When I was reading White Star, I was frequently put in the mind of the historical romances I read as a teenager – overwhelming odds stacked against two protagonists, the clearly misunderstood dark hero, the somewhat naïve but still wonderfully endowed (with brains, I mean!) heroine, thrown together by forces outside themselves, seemingly incompatible but somehow turning out to be the other halves of each others’ souls… And while this book is well written, with a bit more polish than it’s also enjoyable debut predecessor Red Gloves, it almost felt like I was reading a romance under false pretences – it was a bit obvious.

I still enjoyed it, but hard core fantasists might choose something a little more edgy and a little less fluffy. However, for transition readers, or those new to fantasy, this might be just what you’re looking for!

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