Warsworn by Elizabeth Vaughan
(Tor, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-765-35265-6
The second in Elizabeth Vaughan's Warprize trilogy is an intriguing, sensual romance wrapped in an engrossing story. Fans who enjoyed Warprize should head directly to the bookstore - the wait is over.

Xylara, Queen of the Kingdom of Xy, is on the way to the land of the Warlord of the Plains, Keir of the Tribe of the Cat. Lara is a master healer, but her main value to Keir's people is that she is the Warprize, or avowed mate of their Warlord. Though Keir and Lara have not officially wed, their emotional bond is strong. And while Lara regrets leaving her kingdom behind for an unknown life on the Plains, she knows she is where she belongs - at Keir's side. Now that the kingdom of Xy has sworn allegiance to Keir, Lara will help Keir to meld their two different cultures and bring peace to their respective peoples.

The tedium of a long march on horseback comes to an unexpected end when Keir's army passes a village that appears to be rebelling against him. Keir is set to storm the village and punish the inhabitants when Lara recognizes the unmistakable signs of plague. The villagers are trying to keep Keir's army away, and trying to keep themselves inside until the disease passes.

Lara, displaying a bit of foolhardiness, decides that she must enter the village and try to help the inhabitants, while also attempting to identify the plague. Her somewhat rash insistence on using her healing skills will have far-reaching consequences. Lara manages to save an infant girl, but soon falls ill with the plague herself. No sooner does she start to recover than Keir sickens, and this is far more dangerous. Not all of Keir's soldiers believe in what he is trying to accomplish, and one, Iften, will use Keir's illness as a reason to revolt.

Lara has her hands full trying to treat the many ill soldiers. She also must try to hold onto Keir's position for him, not an easy task when many are beginning to blame her for the sickness itself. To lose him is unthinkable.

This is a story of maturing love, moving past the first flash of passion and into the territory of deeper understanding and friendship. Lara and Keir are surrounded by a literal army of people, and not all wish them well. At times, all they seem to have is each other, and the author does a wonderful job of capturing their determination to trust one another and make their love work. Their romance has lost none of its spice, either. Readers who enjoy a sensual read will not be disappointed.

Side characters play important roles in this story. Kudos to the author for not trying to give everyone a happy ending, either. Given the setting - an army camped in desperate conditions in the middle of an epidemic - it rings true. Lara and Keir's romance seems all the more vivid because of the starkness of their surroundings. We only hear Lara's thoughts, however, as this story is also told in first-person, as was Warprize. Perhaps the author felt she had to maintain that point of view, but it would have made the story richer if we could have heard from Keir as well.

The stage is set for the third volume, and readers will close the book anxiously awaiting the next installment. Warsworn is an excellent sophomore effort from an author with a unique voice and a clever ability to draw readers into her world. It definitely rates a place on your bookshelf.

--Cathy Sova

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