Rosemary Edghill, The Warslayer (Baen, 2002)

A common occurrence in the fantasy genre is to take someone from our (the real) world, and plunge them headfirst into a fantasy world, one based on magic or populated with creatures of myth, thus allowing the author to play with culture shock and upset all sorts of cultural expectations.  Certainly, the plot is nothing new; we've seen it any number of times, whether it's played seriously, such as in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant or mostly seriously, in Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom For Sale - Sold! series.  A few years back, there was Lost in Translation by Margaret Ball, in which a teenage girl is cast into a world of magic.  Certain stories in the Chicks in Chainmail series of anthologies have played with the idea of a suburban mother who commutes: mommy by night, barbarian warrior by day.  Even the science fiction genre has found a way to get in on the act with a twist: Not only do your heroes get yanked out of their ordinary world into one they don't quite understand, but it's because they've been mistaken for a role they play.  This can be taken seriously, or played for laughs, such as with the movie, Galaxy Quest.  Even classics, such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and the Narnia series have made free use of the "stranger in a strange land" motif to great effect.  So with such a studied and venerable heritage, how can one find something new to say?

Easy, just take the plunge.  In The Warslayer, a book which expands and elaborates upon one of the stories in the aforementioned Chicks in Chainmail anthologies, Rosemary Edgehill takes an actress and throws her headfirst into an all new world.  Here's the twist.  She's really Glory McArdle, former Australian gymnast, portraying Vixen the Slayer, Elizabethan-era demon hunter, in the highly popular syndicated television series, The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer.  (Think Buffy crossed with Xena, and set in the Elizabethan era, and you're pretty much dead on target.)  The problem is, the strange people that come and visit her while she's on tour in America think Glory really is Vixen.  And since they've bred violence and war out of their race, and a very nasty creature called the Warmother has escaped an age-old imprisonment, they need a Hero.

Like we didn't see this coming.  Predictably, it's up to Glory to take up the sword and stakes of Vixen the Slayer, and go forth to save the day, earning the mantle of hero and living up to the immense trust placed in her.  What's a girl to do?  Take one ex-Olympic gymnast and a healthy dose of 21st century ingenuity, throw in some native magic, pit them against the unkillable Warmother and her legions of doom, and watch out!

There's not much more one can say for the plot in general.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  Because while Vixen -- I mean Glory -- is learning how to be a hero and going up against the Warmother, she'll find her true potential and discover that there's a far deeper, stranger game being played.  She's not the only one with a role to play...

The Warslayer is quick and funny, and deceptively enjoyable.  The plot and concept look like pure camp, but Edghill is capable of keeping it from falling into pure farce.  Sure, on the surface it may seem simple, but there's a lot more going on when you take a second look, and even our heroine will be surprised by the revelations.  And it really gets messy when an infrequent costar of hers turns up in the same world... working for the wrong team.

The real bonuses in this book come with the introduction, which fellow author Greg Cox delivers in the form of an essay about the origins and popularity of The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer as though it really existed.  This is the sort of in-depth, thoughtful essay you'd expect to see in any unauthorized handbook for a popular show (and we've seen more than a few of those for Xena, Buffy, and friends, haven't we?); and with the appendix, which gives us loving and insightful summaries into the first (and only so far) season of Vixen the Slayer.  Anachronisms, continuity blips, and cameos be damned, I think I've seen this show on late at night on a syndicated channel!  Or maybe it's just a little too convincing...

All in all, The Warslayer suffers from a number of preconceptions, which it does its best to encourage.  From the title (as generic and hack-and-slash as any Conan) to the cover art (redhead with sword and improbable corset facing off against angry monster) to the concept (star of cheesy syndicated action show is recruited to live the part she plays), it seems like it shouldn't work.  On the contrary.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and wouldn't mind seeing more adventures of "Vixen" in the future.  This book overcomes the seeming flaws, to reveal that in truth, they were all part of the act.  If you enjoy fantasy with a twist, you might get a kick out of The Warslayer: An Incredibly True Adventure of Vixen the Slayer.
 

[Michael M. Jones]