"A Virtual Gem of a Fantasy"
Neil Scott, co-owner of the Virtual Heaven video game shop,
was not a warrior. He was not out to conquer the world. In
fact he'd given up a lucrative job in New York to return
home to Ocean City. There he had hoped to become a teacher,
but even that dream had been put on hold, while he
attempted to help his mother straighten out her messed up
life. Solid, reliable, and responsible, that was the kind
of man Neil was. But no more. Every failure had torn away a
little piece of his heart, and in the end it had been an
exercise in futility. Her funeral had been this morning,
her death another DUI statistic.
Now a small salt water taffy box containing a few pieces of
expensive jewelry, and a pair of glass rose earrings made
his grandfather, were all that were left of what had once
been his family. Other than the roses, the jewelry would be
useful where he was going.
Where was he going? That's what his partner Gwen Marlowe
wanted to know, when she walked into the shop late that
night. She was more than worried when she realized that he
was studying the Astronomaniacs progam. Gwen had visited
the virtual world inside the Tolemac Wars game. It had
given her her beloved Vad, but she cautioned Neil that the
Virtual world was barbaric and hostile, especially for one
who did not possess the armbands of a warrior or a noble.
But Neil had a plan, and according to his research tonight
was the night of the required conjunction. Not possessing
a warrior's armbands, he'd donned the costume of a wealthy
merchant left over from Tolemac Wars balls. He had chosen
to assume the role of the popular Unknown player, a
faceless character who was free to chose his own destiny.
Neil could start over in a place where no one knew his
name. In any event he'd chosen a new one for himself,
Lien. There he would be responsible for no one, and he
would definitely steer clear of the new game's featured
character, whom he had dubbed Refrigerator Girl.
Neil may have run away from home, but he can't run away
from himself, and no sooner has he begun to materialize in
the virtual world he is already fighting someone else's
battle. What else could he do? The poor woman was vastly
outnumbered and about to be brutally violated. He takes a
beating for his effort and is stripped of all his
possessions. So much for his best laid plans.
The woman is none other than Ardra, the Selaw guardian of
the ice, Refrigerator Girl herself. She's got big problems.
Her elderly life mate, Tol, is on his death bed, and her
son is much too young to assume responsibility for the
Fortress of Ravens. Women in this world have no power, and
the Tolemac High Councilor, Samoht is waiting like a
vulture on the border for Tol's passing to lay claim to the
fortress, and her person. The last thing Lien wanted to do
was get involved with Ardra's problems. The fate of the
Selaw people would not rest on his shoulders if he had
anything to say about it.
Lien is different from any man Ardra has ever known, from
his dark hair and eyes, to the contradictory serpent
painted on his arm where rings should be, to the symbols of
Tolemac loyalty he wears on a chain around his neck, which
he swears are simply jewelry in his land beyond the ice
fields. She may owe him her life, but she's not about to
trust him. Although Nilrem gives the perception that he is
merely a harmless old wiseman, those familiar with the
series will understand when the canny old coot insists that
the pair stay together until Ardra's debt to Lien is paid.
Tol's death puts Ardra just where Samoht wants her. Though
two men bear witness to Tol's last request that Ardra alone
be allowed to rule the fortress in his stead, Samoht
declares it madness. However he would prefer Ardra to
submit to him willingly. Giving the illusion of fairness,
Samoht trades on Ardra's honor by sending her on a futile
quest, knowing that he would have her compliance when she
failed. When Lien learns that the High Councilor plans to
accompany her party, he reluctantly agrees to act as
protector. It doesn't take the eight day limit for Lien to
realize that here is a woman who is capable of being
responsible for herself, or that everything he'd once found
lacking in her were the very things that attracted him to
her. Now he's the one with the problems!
Ann Lawrence has once again managed to pen a tale that is
both inspirational and humorous at the same time. Lien is
the unlikely hero, he is the common man, not a conqueror,
but a defender of those smaller and weaker than himself. It
is simply part of his nature and often taken for granted,
until a crisis forces us to take a closer look. We know
Ardra too, she is the woman who puts her own wants aside
and does what is best for those in her care. She is what
she is, no intrigue, no surprises, her name spelled the
same backwards and forwards. These two are made for each
other and one can't help but pull for their success. They
are reflections of the best within ourselves. VIRTUAL
WARRIOR not only shows us this reflection but allows us
to laugh at ourselves as well. This book is a real gem. I
highly recommend it.
Copyright © 2002
Reviewed by Leslie Tramposch
Posted July 8, 2002