One of Christian fiction's best romance writers turns her pen to fantasy in GIVER OF ROSES, a Tolkienesque tale and the first installment in the "Guardians of Gadiel" series. Interesting characters, rich cultural details, the expected romance, and an intriguing plot combine to make this an enjoyable read.
The story opens in the Year of the Ancients, 952, as the beautiful (of course!) captive Danae watches from the Fortress of Astara as her own people battle for possession of the town. Her feelings about their victory are mixed, as she has fallen hard for the handsome (of course!) and heroic Crown Prince Vartan of the royal family Karayan. But alas --- Vartan is married to the troubled elfin maiden Aelwyd, who teeters on the brink of madness. Danae feels torn between her love for Vartan and her loyal companionship to Aelwyd and her little son, Korien. But Danae senses that she and Vartan "in some curious way…were bound to each other, their lives and fates intertwined."
The story turns violent. Ladon has turned over his soul to Phaon, the Dark Lord, and the supernatural powers of darkness aid him in victory. By the end of the first chapter, Ladon wipes out most of the royal family and Vartan is left blind, with Danae leading him to safety. Morgan does an excellent job portraying the relentless powers of evil, including showing how these forces play out in the life of the grasping Hovan, who steals another man's beautiful wife and queen. "In his apparently endless quest to fill that strange, insatiable hole in his heart, Hovan couldn't seem to help himself."
Dwarves and elves, dragons and a race of demonic netherworldly imps called Pedars (think of Tolkien's orcs) populate the narrative. Portals to other places open and close, and magical doings help keep the pages turning. Perhaps Morgan's most compelling invention is the dragonmaids, a formidable community of virgins who (nun-like) swear vows to Athan, the All-Knowing and the Creator, and His precious son, Eisa. (Christian readers won't fail to miss the allegory here, nor the crucifixion allusions in the first battle). The maidens form a life-bond with their enchantingly beautiful dragons, who fly them into battle when called upon.
And called upon they are. As Vartan gains the allegiance of the Diya al Din --- the Desert people --- and romance and intrigue muddy the waters even more, the battle moves closer. Can they defeat the supernatural powers of evil that propel Ladon and his men? It's not long before the meaning of Vartan's name, "giver of roses," becomes clear as he is poised to fulfill prophecy.
Fantasy novels tend to run long, and Morgan's is no exception. For some readers used to the short, sweet romances of Christian fiction, there may be trouble spots. Morgan doesn't shy away from violence, and Ladon's dark sexual usage of Ankine, a sorceress, could surprise gentle readers. Passages can become a bit wordy or be a little overly detailed. There's also a scenario between Ladon and Danae recalling their attraction to one another that seems contrived without more of an earlier set-up.
However, fantasy fans used to the length, descriptives, and violence/sexual edginess of the genre will find Morgan's imaginary world compelling. Morgan ends her novel with plenty of loose ends dangling, leaving the reader anticipating the next installment.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011