This is the third book in Elizabeth Vaughan's trilogy featuring Xylara, Queen of Xy, and Keir, Warlord of the Plains. The first book, Warprize, was a brilliant work of fantasy with a slow-burn and engaging romance. The second book, Warsworn, didn't quite reach the same heights for me as our heroine, Xylara, seemed to be the cause of an awful lot of suffering, although whether she was to blame
is debatable. Still, that book ended with hero and heroine having learned that trust in each other is something that has to be earned.
Warlord begins as the army of the People of the Plains is travelling to the Heart of the Plains (sort of like their capital city, only made
up of tents) to have Xylara validated as Warprize. It seems throughout this story that people tend to keep Lara in the dark; they don't seem to spend a lot of time explaining cultural matters to her, and as they travel towards the Heart of the Plains she doesn't really know what her validation involves. Keir's time as they journey is spent in trying to keep his army together after the devastation of the plague and to counteract the machinations of Iften, Keir's second-in-command.
We meet some new characters such as Keekai, one of the Elders who will be making judgment on Lara's status as Warprize, and we learn a lot more about the Warrior-Priests, who have had a
bad reputation since book one and whom Keir has vowed to destroy. When Lara arrives at the Heart of the Plains, the descriptions of life there are excellent - the reality of a harsh nomadic life is tempered by joy of their dances and community spirit. However, by the time Lara arrives, news has arrived from other locations
that paints her as an evil city dweller who has spread plague, who lies, and who cannot be trusted.
She has to fight her corner in a culture so different that it is hard for her to know what's right. She is separated from Keir, who hasn't really told her what to expect, so Lara has to make her own decisions and choices to try and help things to turn out right.
There are some really fascinating parts to this book - particularly the ehat hunt - and as in the other two stories, the world-building and cultural differences between Lara's and Keir's people are very well written. We understand the confusion of each of them when dealing with strange aspects of the other's world, yet their bond of love is stronger than these differences. The lifestyles of the Plains people, including homosexuality, are strange to Lara, but she is able to accommodate within her limits (such as
continuing to bathe privately) in a fashion that is a good model of cultural merging.
While reading this trilogy, I wondered about Iften, the apparent baddie. Would he change? Would we understand and appreciate his opposition to Keir? Would he prove to be a worthy and stalwart supporter at the end? He has some chances to change in this book, and we hear just a few hints about his life, but I think a little more could have been done with his character.
What I particularly liked about this book is that it doesn't take the easy option of everything working out fine in the end. It
has a satisfying ending, one that feels possible, but our characters are by no means now headed for a life of
smooth sailing. There are still a handful of loose ends for the reader to think about after finishing. All in all, this is a
top-notch series, well-written and enjoyable.