The Bonny Bride

Border Bride

The Carpetbagger's Wife

The Elusive Bride

A Gentleman of Substance

Lady Lyteís Little Secret

My Lord Protector

The Wedding Wager

Whitefeather's Woman

 
The Wizardís Ward by Deborah Hale
(Luna, $13.95, PG) ISBN 0-373-80205-6
****
The Wizardís Ward takes place in the mythical kingdom of Umbria, a war-torn land in which the ruthless Han invaders create havoc for the peaceful inhabitants. Maura Woodbury, a ward of the powerful wizard Langbard, has known no other life. The Han have always occupied her land. Maura grew up tutored in magic and the healing arts, and she is able to cast some useful spells Ė including making herself invisible. Her life changes forever on the day Langbard reveals that it is Mauraís destiny to seek out and marry Umbriaís legendary ďwaiting kingĒ, whoever or whatever he might be. It is the only hope of ridding their land of the Han.

Maura is astounded. Marry the king? She doesnít even know where to look. And before she and Langbard can set out to find him, Langbard is murdered, and Maura is left in the company of Rath, an outlaw. She only has until midsummerís moon to find the king, and only a few cryptic directions to guide her. Rath and Maura unwillingly join forces, and they set out on a journey of discovery that will bring them closer together. Maura, however, knows her destiny lies with the king. She cannot fall in love with an outlaw.

Maura and Rath have plenty of adventures on their journey, and both of them act with intelligence and maturity. Rath, particularly, is torn. He grows to love Maura, but knows that her hand must be given to the king for a higher purpose, and outlaw or no, he still has a deep loyalty to Umbria. Maura fears what lies ahead when she does finally find the king, but like Rath, accepts her destiny in order to bring peace to her land. This thread runs through the book and once established, isnít belabored, but it does provide a foundation for the charactersí actions.

This ďlook but donít touchĒ aura frees the author to deepen her charactersí friendship and build their love story on a sturdy foundation of its own. The best and most believable romance comes from two people who really get to know and understand one another, and Maura and Rath have that kind of romance. Their mutual attraction is plenty steamy, but the longing is palpable and increases the tension.

Rath does not, thank goodness, spend half the book rescuing Maura, though he does provide protection when needed. These two are equals. Mauraís talents as a healer come into play as much as Rathís ability with a weapon, and they are partners as well as emerging lovers. Maura isnít dragging Rath along, and Rath isnít pulling Maura behind him. They work together in their quest, which felt exactly right. The ending isnít a big surprise, but itís very well done and brings a satisfying happy ending to these two.

Deborah Hale has made a name for herself with historical romances such as The Wedding Wager and My Lord Protector. If The Wizardís Ward is any indication, she has a bright future ahead in fantasy romance. If you havenít tried one of the Luna offerings yet, this would be a good place to start. With its lovely romance and evocative, slightly mysterious setting, this is one novel thatís sure to please.

--Cathy Sova


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