Beloved Warrior by Judy DiCanio
(Love Spell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52325-6
**
Beloved Warrior, the debut novel of Judi DiCanio, starts out with a fun premise. Dar is a Viking warrior/sorcerer, living in Asgard, home of the fabled Valhalla. Tricked by rival sorcerer Loki, Dar is transported to present-day Pennsylvania with his pet dragon, Firedrake. He finds himself on a country road at night, in a rainstorm, with a fearsome monster approaching. Its huge eyes pierce the darkness with their light. Drawing his sword, he attacks.

Jennifer Giordano has plenty of trouble on her plate already, and having a huge fellow attack her Jeep with a sword isn't helping. He calls himself Dar, claims he's from someplace called Asgard, and says he needs to find the Bifrost Bridge in order to return to his home. Jennifer, who's unemployed and wondering how to pay the bills, decides he's harmless and offers him shelter for the night. Then she agrees to let him rent a room. As for the funky pet, well, he better learn not to singe her upholstery, that's all.

Jennifer comes to believe in Dar's story of transportation from another time and place. She'll help him try and find the Bifrost Bridge, and meanwhile, they'll try to suppress their growing interest in one another.

Loki has other ideas, though. He'll try to do away with Dar, in this time and place. And there are some villains who want to get their hands on Firedrake.

I don't have any problem suspending belief for the purposes of setting up a time-travel plot. Beloved Warrior had a premise I could enjoy right from the start. But as soon as Dar arrives, the plot begins to turn on coincidence, and soon the old eyeballs were rolling.

How likely is it, for example, that Dar and Jennifer would go into town (and we are talking very small-town Pennsylvania here) and run into an evil scientist from a mysterious Institute who has been trying to genetically engineer dragons? One who spies Firedrake and decides to capture him? Or that the townspeople would look at this winged, snorting creature with no more than mild interest, deciding it's some new kind of pet?

Or that the Institute also happens to have a scientist investigating time travel? A scientist who is a predatory vamp, interested in Dar's biceps, conveniently forcing Jennifer to examine her feelings for him?

Maybe I wouldn't have minded if this stuff hadn't formed the core of the external conflict. Maybe it wouldn't have registered if the writing had been a little less overwrought. Here people don't walk, they saunter or stroll or glide. They moan and mutter and snarl. They glare daggers and send looks hot enough to make the wallpaper burst into flames. It's overdone and distracting. Less would have been so much more.

As for Dar and Jennifer, well, he's hunky and quick to learn. I liked him. Jennifer is more of a conventional heroine -- I'll help this guy and try to keep my hands off him. She didn't make much impact. And the secondary characters were cut-and-paste, although the evil Loki does offer some highlights.

Kudos to Ms. DiCanio for formulating an interesting premise for a time-travel romance. It's a genre in trouble, and new ideas are needed. A stronger plot and cleaner prose would have made Beloved Warrior much more enjoyable to read. Time-travel readers, you may feel differently.

--Cathy Sova


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