A young woman named "Cross" is sent out into the post-apocalyptic wasteland by her father to find "the soldier", a man believed to hold the key to saving their plague-ridden village. Before the desert can claim her, a warrior-priest named "Zero" discovers Cross and learns of her mission. When he spies a silver cross, the symbol of his brotherhood, glinting in her hair, he pledges his sword to defend her.
Although billed as a post-apocalyptic fantasy, this is, in fact, a post-apocalyptic romance novel. And were it not for a couple of references to said apocalypse and cultural references, one could not be blamed for thinking the story took place during the Middle Ages, perhaps even post-Crusades. Lying somewhere east of the Pyramids and south of Jerusalem, the wasteland is home to brigands and marauders, merchants and slavers, heathens and sinners. The men are misogynistic at best. Women are property—slaves to the whims of the men that own them. It matters not if the man is Muslim or Christian; women are inferior and must be treated as such. Love is a delusion.
So where's the romantic element? Cross and Zero. Cross spends most of her time pining for Zero, hating him for putting his faith before her, dwelling in her negative self-esteem, and believing that she's just a "stupid girl", as so many people call her. Meanwhile Zero struggles with his inner demons, trying to repent for the sins he commits and has committed. He could lose himself in her but fears it will cost him his soul.
A good deal of the novel is spent between these two characters exploring their feelings for the other. There's some action, too. Oh, and I don't just mean the sexual kind; there's some melee combat as Zero battles brigands and his former brother-in-arms.
While romance novels aren't my cup of tea (or, more accurately, my pint of beer), I do appreciate colorful prose. Whether it's from an action scene,
"The sword's voice sounded shy, not much more than a whisper. A fountain of blood gushed high in the sky, and seconds later, pattering like rain, the drops fell back down to the ground, leaving little red dents all over the freshly scuffed sand."
a moment of personal struggle,
"Empty now, and cold, she trembled as the wind leered at her nakedness, raking her body with its icy, invisible touch. So she drew up her knees and folded her arms over her head, weeping as the lost rhythms of childhood tried to rock her to peace."
or a point of tension.
"There was no sound but the rushing of the waterfall. Even the droplets of grease hanging from the hare simply shuddered in the firelight, like tears too frightened to fall."
For me, it was passages like these that got me through the ugliness of this world that Scot-Hays has sifted from the ashes. It made for a welcome contrast to the brutality that all the women in the novel had to endure.
In "The Silver Cross", Gayla Scot-Hays posits a grim world for women after the apocalypse. But aided by the use of colorful prose and characters desperately seeking redemption, she manages to grow a romance novel in the misogynistic wasteland.
(reviewed 29 days after purchase)