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The Wizard's Ward    by Deborah Hale order for
Wizard's Ward
by Deborah Hale
Order:  USA  Can
Luna, 2004 (2004)
*   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Hanish invaders have taken over the peaceful country of Umbria and its citizens, and set its able-bodied men to work in the mines. Magic and the 'old ways' are not permitted, nor are whisperings of the legendary 'Waiting King'. But there are those who still believe that one day the King and his 'Destined Queen' will set Umbria free. Maura Woodbury has lived her whole life with the wizard Langbard, who has taught her much of magic and the old ways. He shocks Maura with his announcement that she is the Destined Queen and has only until the midsummer's moon to find her Waiting King. How can a girl who's never set foot outside her village have such a high destiny? But no sooner does the aging wizard utter his prophetic words than Maura's humble life changes.

While out gathering herbs she saves wounded outlaw Rath from Hanish troops, cloaking them both in invisibility until the danger passes. While recuperating, Rath finds himself enjoying not only the warmth of hearth and home but also the company of his hosts, particularly the outspoken Maura. Beholden to the young woman for saving his life (and though he's not a believer in the old ways), Rath promises Langbard to aid Maura in her quest. When the Hanish kill the wizard, Maura is heartbroken, yet realizes that the success of their quest is even more pressing. As she and Rath travel deeper and deeper into the lands of Prum, they fall in love, though they both know that Maura is promised to the Waiting King.

While the story starts on a high note with lively characterizations, dialogue and action, it bogs down halfway through. Maura and Rath spend too much time either arguing or complimenting each other about their 'good thinking'. Maura casts spells to the point of redundancy - after the fifth or sixth use of invisibility the novelty is gone - as well as spending far too much time searching out flora and fauna needed for her magic, when a simple transition would have sufficed. The author displays a fine fantasy voice and presents a steadfast, single-minded heroine in Maura and a charming, honorable outlaw in Rath. Unfortunately there is little genuinely fantastic or different about the plot (including the identity of the Waiting King) and the quest fizzles out before it's even begun.

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