I found some old book reviews I did years ago. Including the first Ann Lawrence book I read. Ann died a few months ago, so it seems appropriate to post this review.
Virtual Desire by Ann Lawrence (2000; reissued 2013)
Gwen Marlowe owns a video gaming shop in Atlantic City, where the main hit is the virtual reality game Tolemac Wars II. The game is especially popular with women, who adore Vad, the angelically beautiful warrior hero of the game. In the midst of a major storm, Gwen finds a semiconscious and very confused Vad lookalike inside her shop’s virtual reality game chamber. She assumes he is the actor she hired to play Vad at her Tolemac-themed costume ball that night. His constant remarks about his “honor” and his strange behaviour (such as attributing modern appliances and vehicles to magic or the gods) could be taken as part of his devotion to his role. But after the ball, Vad insists he must return to his own home–and Gwen is accidentally zapped back with him to the alternate world of Tolemac.
Tolemac is similar to ancient Norse societies of legend, except for fantasy elements like multiple suns. Despite the frequent (and sometimes confusing) allusions to Arthurian legends (try reading all those place names backwards), this is not a medieval European world. It is also a place where women have no control or position–they are either slaves or the powerless possessions of their fathers or husbands. Gwen has quite understandable problems accepting the restrictions and conventions of Tolemac, and determines to show Vad that women can also have honor and play important roles.
Once the pair are in Tolemac, the story becomes an exciting action adventure. Vad and Gwen must deal with the puzzle of a missing magician, escape devious villagers, help the princess of the neighboring land of Selaw save her father from evil influences, rescue kidnapped maidens, defeat an evil wizard, find a hidden map, and embark on a quest to locate mythical treasures of the gods. There is also the mystery of Vad’s unknown origins and his link to our “real” world. Through all this, the sexual tension between the two of them builds, as Gwen struggles with her position in this society and Vad resists his attraction to a woman who can only be a “slave” and never his wife. My only complaint with the action was that it seemed to end too abruptly–the defeat of the villain was rushed and a lot of questions left unanswered.
Virtual Desire is the sequel to Virtual Heaven. I haven’t yet read the first book. During the early part of this story that takes place in Gwen’s shop, the author filled in the backstory and introducing the situation and characters. However, once in Tolemac, I was sometimes at a loss about how that society functioned and why people behaved as they did. There were also a few instances when Gwen seemed to know things she shouldn’t have (unless she had read Virtual Heaven). I would recommend that people read the books in the proper sequence. The third in the series is Virtual Warrior.