Captain Gabriel Huntley, late of the army, is on his way to a future he isn't sure he wants, one in which he has retired and taken a stable and settled job and taken a wife. It's true he's left the army, but he isn't sure that he wants to be saddled with a wife so soon. So when he comes across a fight in an alley, with one man fighting off multiple attackers, he jumps in on the side of the lone target, to both save the man's life, and to find his own saved as well.
But when a chance strike takes the man down, that man, Anthony Morris, implores Gabriel to deliver a message in person. And not just any message, but one that could determine the fate of the world- and the destination is Mongolia, even further than halfway around the world. But Gerald knows he owes Anthony his life, and agrees to take the message, even if the message makes no sense to him.
The man whom the message is for is Franklin Burgess, and he is one of the Blades of the Rose. Normally, he'd gladly take on the job of finding the object mentioned in Anthony Morris' letter, but an accident has left him with a broken leg, so he assigns the job to his daughter, Thalia, and her servant, the Mongol known as Batu. Gabriel himself is unsure that sending out a woman to do the job is wise, and he respects Burgess' knowledge in this, but at the same time, he feels that Thalia would be safer with someone like him along to be her protector.
So when she leaves early in the morning, he follows her. She, with her senses trained from her life in Mongolia, can feel that Gabriel is following her, but she doesn't also know that two of the Heirs of Albion are also on her trail, along with some Mongols who have betrayed their country and heritage by trading their knowledge of the Source for money. So when Thalia is attacked on the road by the Heirs, it is Gabriel who rides to her rescue, and who helps her deal with the loss of her innocence over taking a life, which he has had to do many times in his stint in the Army.
Afterwards, she reluctantly lets him accompany them, but doesn't actually tell him about the Blades, the Heirs and Sources until all of them nearly die in a storm raised by one of the Sources that the Heirs control, the Hammer of Thor. When he saves not only Thalia, but Batu as well, she bows to necessity and tells him all about those subjects, and about the Source they are going to find- as much as she knows about it, anyway. The only part she knows is that they must find "she that feeds the turtle", and while she doesn't know who the "She" is, Thalia does know where to find the turtle, the ruined city of Karakorum.
Once they find the turtle, and the mysterious woman who feeds it, they next must find the source, and a mysterious red banner that will surround it. With that done, they must take part in a Mongol festival and win the right to be the guardians of the mysterious source from all the tribesmen who come to win that right for themselves as well. Including the Mongol who is travelling with the Heirs, Tsend, who cares nothing for magic, but only money and power. And once they have won the right to protect the source, can they keep it safe from the Heirs, or will they lose it to Brigands, only to have them lose it to the Heirs?
Will Thalia realize her greatest dream, to become a Blade of the Rose, and will she win the love of Gabriel, who she has come to love in their time together? And will he be able to overcome his shyness in matters of the heart, and profess his love to Thalia by finally be asking a woman to marry him and being comfortable with the fact?
This is the first book in the Blades of the Rose series, and its a strong introduction to the characters and groups that will dominate later books, like Bennett Day, who is the Hero of "Scoundrel", and even Catullus Graves, who comes into his own in "Stranger". The characters from the second book, "Rebel", are generally not mentioned until the very end, but it's nice to see them all mentioned here. Despite having read the last two books first, if I had read this book first, it would definitely have made me want to read more, whereas before, I had already wanted to read them all.
I liked the way that both the characters were portrayed. Thalia and Gabriel are strong characters, but as they come together as comrades and lovers, each of them grows stronger, and they were not afraid to show parts of themselves which would have been discounted had they met in more genteel surroundings. For example, Gabriel is rough and ready, with a tongue that is too blunt to suit women unused to adventure, whereas Thalia is used to dressing like a man and riding astride, and would come off as too mannish and uncouth in "polite" society, but both suit each other down to the ground, and neither minds the other having traits and skills that the other does not. It's nice to see them appreciating each other for what they are, and not putting each other down for skills they either don't possess or which they are unused to using, like polite conversation.
In short, the book was a grand adventure, as well as a romance. And it wasn't like one part could be picked out wholesale. leaving the other alone, the romance and the adventure were interwoven skillfully, and reinforced each other, so that reading the book was a sheer delight. I also loved seeing the different sources, and the magic, at work, from the source that shot golden bees like bullets at the beginning of the book to the Strength of Antaeus enchantment that Gabriel had to fight when beating Tsend in the wrestling portion of the naadam that gave him and Thalia the right to be protectors of the ruby. I recommend this book, and the entire series, highly. It's fun to read, and the romance is excellent.