Deathweave by Cary G. Osborne (1998) – I’ll start this review with a disclaimer: Cary Osborne is a friend of mine, and I’ve visited her critique group in Oklahoma City and attended workshops with her. I’d never read one of her professionally published (Ace Books) before so I was excited when Bothari43 and I found one of her out of print books while shopping in Marietta, Georgia.
If you like strong female leads and exciting space opera, this is the book for you. Arden, the princess’s bodyguard allows her charge to escape the political palace intrigue in the prologue. While I’m not a big fan of prologues, this one does a great job of telling us why our heroine is in prison six years later when chapter 1 begins.
The emperor’s consort, a powerful seer and the princess’s mother, is addicted to lifeweave, a hallucenogenic fiber she weaves on a loom to determine the empire’s future in their ongoing war with nearby planets. Since she’s blind and near death, the emperor offers to pardon Arden if she can locate the princess and have her take her place at the loom.
Agreeing to kidnap the princess or face execution, Arden travels to Calendra, a world of volcanoes where her own lightweaving has told her Princess Jessa will appear. She’s been hiding out as a regular crewman on Rafe’s salvage ship and doesn’t want to return to the lonely life her mother had.
One of the subplots (there are a lot of subplots) deals with Arden’s romances. She’s tingly all over for Captain Rafe and for a handsome private investigator who saves her life when she’s attacked by the assassin’s league. When she finds Jessa and tries to convince her to return to Glory and her loom, the emperor’s men take matters into their own hands and try to capture Jessa and Arden.
They succeed and Arden is torn between her loyalty to the emperor and her friend, Jessa. Mercenaries, people who want the princess to be empress and stop the war, monks who trained Arden, and Rafe’s intrepid crew struggle to rescue Jessa and Arden.
To complicate things, Jessa is immune to lightweave and couldn’t predict the future if her life depended on it. The detective turns out to be a traitor (not a spoiler since you know from the onset that there’s something highly suspicious about him), Arden finds solace in Rafe’s arms and her katana, and might become the traitor’s consort when he discovers she’s a powerful lightweaver.
The climax takes place in a burning house (you can’t get more exciting than that) and Arden defeats the enemy before agreeing to be the new empress’s bodyguard since the seer and the emperor are dead.
The romance isn’t nicely tied up. Rage and Arden choose duty over passion and go their separate ways, but Rafe promises to return when he’s in the neighborhood.
Arden isn’t Superwoman. Sure, she has a sword and the ability to predict the future, but she’s got her flaws. She’s not a good judge of character, especially lovers, she doesn’t take her vows very seriously, and she’s shot, stabbed, and almost burned alive. She’s very relatable. Several times, I worried, “How’s she going to get out of this?” and that’s a good thing in a space opera.
Thanks, Cary. Good job.