The Charioteer: In the City of Har
Ancient Africa, a kingdom whose King is on the verge of death with 178 legal sons but no named heir, probability for bloodshed of legendary proportions - who you gonna call?
Xena and Gabrielle!
Sorry. Just had an 80s moment there.
"The Charioteer" has it all. Our heroines summoned to an unfamiliar kingdom, a land where Great Mother rules all and whose subjects follow a culture dedicated to sensual pleasures and decadent living, are to help preserve a tenuous sense of order and calm in the face of King's imminent death. If he should die without a named heir, a likely outcome due to the fact the Sovereign had slipped into a coma, infighting between the great number of possible heirs would ruin the kingdom and cause a great deal of bloodshed.
Xena and Gabrielle are to feel out the situation, keep the balance of power intact, discover any possible pockets of insurrection - and help the Great Priestess figure out who the heir should be. Piece of cake, right?
Well, then - add to that adjusting to the culture whose focus is on the pleasures of the flesh as a manifestation of the Great Mother, dealing with metamorphosing relationship between our two heroines, *and* a Sacred Harlot Priestess who might put a wrench in that very relationship - and you have yourself just the beginning of one of the *best* classic X:WP stories I have ever read.
I should not even really bother to tell you that the evocative power of Smitty's language is breath-taking, or that the supporting cast of characters could carry a story on their own. Glorious.
The added bonus is the very obvious fact that Smitty had put in a lot of research time, talent and mastery of the language aside, into knowing and presenting all the details of ancient goddess-worshiping cultures of Africa. Both her flair as a story-teller and her love and knowledge of the subject shine clearly through each and every sentence written.
Once you have read "The Charioteer", take yourselves directly to "The Amazons of Dahomey", a direct sequel to this tale, and then plead, beg, cajole Smitty into continuing her efforts in the third in the series, "The Death Cult of Lydia".
You'll thank me for pointing you to this one, but - more importantly - thank Smitty for exposing her talent to us.