I adore books about medieval England, and I love having strong female characters who take charge of their own lives. The plot of The Warrior Trainer appealed to me for many reasons, and I deliberately ordered this book vs happening on it by chance in a store.
You have Scotia, a woman who was "bred to fight". Her family for many generations has been training Scottish warriors. It is always the women in this family who are known for their skills. Scotia is 25 and she knows it is her duty to breed the next daughter in line to take over the training. However, few men arrive for training now and none appeal to her.
Along comes Ian, an orphan who has been sent by his foster father to be trained. There is a menace in the land - four horsemen from England who are ravaging the villages - and Ian needs Scotia's training to be able to defeat them.
All of this would normally be a just about ideal setup for me. I love the scenes of the characters fighting with words, emotions and blades all intermingled. I love the "rationale" behind why she wields a sword, and why Ian accepts it.
But there were several issues which for me kept this book from being a five star book, despite the much-mentioned "American Title Contest" win. That is certainly a great contest, but it is not the Pulitzer Prize. To say a book must be perfect because it won a contest does not make a lot of sense.
First, although Ms. Russell's background includes editing, there are numerous grammar issues here. They got to be rather jarring after a while. Next, there were numerous "motivation" problems. Scotia says repeatedly how her entire life is about following the rules set by her mother and fulfilling her destiny. She has put all aside for it. But she also says "Oh and I won't have a child" which is probably her #1 task in life. Sure, she's afraid of being a mother - but a woman trained with a hard core discipline in her life wouldn't let that stop her. She would do her task and then go about raising the child in a disciplined manner, just as she has trained so many people who have come to her. It would have made much more sense if her reasons were more "logical" - "No man has come worthy of fathering my child" or so on.
The actions of many of the other characters are equally suspect. Ian's foster brother Griffin shows up early on. He sways wildly from anger to calm to fury to puppy-dog hopefulness in the blink of an eye. Characters' emotions seem to be driven by what the plot needs them to do, rather than having the characters live and breathe as human beings and having their growing and changing feelings pull you along.
I realize that a core component of many romance novels is the "convenient misunderstandings" where people lie or hide truths which then create dynamic tension. However, there were several situations in this story which just made no sense at all, where someone should have told someone else something and they didn't, again for plot reasons rather than logical ones.
Scotia is supposedly a brilliant strategist, expounding on the skills of her mother - but her strategical choices during the last third of the book did not make a lot of sense. She had a long term plan at the beginning, one that began succeeding, but then suddenly it is as if she had forgotten to actually plan the whole sequence of events out. That doesn't make sense for her character.
Finally, Scotia has a heritage of being an awesome female warrior. She is infinitely better than the well trained men who repeatedly come after her either to challege or train. Her skill is based on her being trained far better than any man around her ever was, with family secrets taught by her mother. However, Scotia was fourteen when her mother was slain. From age fourteen on, she only received training with the other men of the castle. There is no mention of any other "training assistant" or another person who fulfilled this position. Scotia talks about being the only trainer that worked with her mother on recruits as they came in, and that once her mother was dead that she alone took on this task. So from age 14 she has been training "alone", perhaps reading manuals and practicing against the other men of her castle system. I really find it hard to believe that on her own she managed to build up the skill necessary to fend off the "best of the best" that keep coming in at her during the story, including taking down seasoned warriors in six passes.
This was the key problem for me. Again, I really love women-warrior types of stories, but I want them to make sense. I don't want it to have to be a mystical leap of faith that a woman could hold her own against a taller, stronger male. It's not just that she's a woman, it's that she's physically at a big disadvantage. If she does win - just as if you were writing about a teen boy doing this - I would want a logical explanation of why. The book just says "Oh her mother was an expert - they knew 'martial arts'" and leaves it at that. But there is never any real sense that it is true in the story.
Still, the book was fun to zip through and if I got myself to ignore the stumbling blocks I did enjoy the ride. I'm encouraged to see that the cover of her next book (Warrior's Bride) also has a woman-with-sword on its cover and will be sure to get that. I would imagine that feedback Ms. Russell got from this book has helped her make improvements so that book 2 could have potential to become a favorite of mine. I definitely hope so!