Storm Warning, by Mercedes Lackey

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Publication date – September 1, 1995

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Worried about the growing magical power of the Eastern Empire, which for years has been shrouded in mystery, Queen Selenay of Valdemar struggles to bring about an alliance with enemy Karse in order to defeat the evil schemes of Ancar of Hardorn

Thoughts: Another rather dull synopsis from GoodReads, and something of a misleading one. Selenay isn’t so much struggling to bring about an alliance with Karse as she already has one, as evidenced by the envoy, Ulrich, and his secretary, Karal, staying at the palace. Better to say that the story actually revolves around the Karsite envoy’s secretary for the most part, while everybody tries to figure out what to do about Hardorn now that Ancar is dead and the Eastern Empire seems to be making a move toward them all.

Oh yes, and let’s not forget that there are now catastrophic waves of magic circling the world, distorting the land and warping animals into rabid carnivorous monsters. Can’t forget that.

This book was actually released about half a year after The Black Gryphon, which ties in well with this book, since while The Black Gryphon deals with the events leading up to the destruction of Ma’ar (we all remember him, don’t we?) and the magical cataclysm that reshaped the world, Storm Warning deals with the temporal echoes of that cataclysm, the waves of magic coming back and doing ever-increasing damage.

The key to discovering all this, and a way to help keep some of the damage to a minimum, is hidden in An’desha’s memories of Falconsbane and his previous incarnations, and understandably, delving into those memories is no easy task for someone who’s terrified that merely having the memories at all is a sign that Falconsbane is still lurking in his mind. While An’desha does spend a good chunk of the book being rather whiny about the whole thing, I think some of that whininess and fear can be forgiven, even if it did make for annoying reading at times.

Through Karal, we get an insider’s perspective on Karsites and Karsite religion, previous villified in just about all of the Valdemar novels. Mostly we get to see all this through comparisons, as now Solaris is the religious leader of the country and she’s made some sweeping reforms. Or it might be more accurate to say “returns”, since a lot of what Solaris did was take the religion back to its less terrifying and political roots, making the religion into what it apparently was supposed to have been for generations. It’s through the now/then comparisons that we see what happens when power-hungry politicians control religion (and vice versa), an oppressive past regime versus a more lenient current regime.

Happily (at least from a reader’s standpoint on realism), this didn’t mean that everyone now views Karsites and inherently good. Generations of prejudice die hard on both sides of the border. The Valdemar novels are known somewhat for their idealism, but it’s good to thrown in some nice sobering reality now and then. Keeps things believable, keeps people acting like people instead of actors in a moral play.

We also get to see another cultural perspective from Tremane’s point of view as part of the Eastern Empire. The Empire is expansive and hard, but in its way, not really cruel or unjust. It takes over turbulent lands and brings order to them, brings employment and safety and security to the populace. Whether they want it or not. Hardorn’s citizens, no matter how much they were beaten down by Ancar’s regime, seem bound and determined to fight against the Eastern invasion of their land, to the point where it seems to make no sense to Duke Tremane. Isn’t he offering them a chance to rebuild their homes and improve them? Isn’t he bringing with them a better justice system that has proved well for other lands? It’s a real treat to get to see so many variying cultural standpoints here, which of course thrills the amateur anthropologist in me.

Also interesting in this book is the attempt to apply the rules of physics to magic. I have a friend who disdains most fantasy because she says that magic is all too often used as a McGuffin. It can do anything, it has no rules attached to it, and it’s entire unbelievable. (I always reply that she must be reading some truly crappy fantasy, because not all fantasy contains magic, and most of the stuff that does has clearly defined rules attached to it…) In Storm Warning, we get to see two opposing viewpoints, one stating that magic is entirely intuitive and its use is limited only by what the caster can imagine, and the other stating that magic must conform to the rules that the entire rest of the world has to go by, like physics. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that magic’s real function is a mix of the two sides of the debate, but it was certainly nice to see Lackey lay down some really solid rules about how magic can and cannot work in relation to the more mundane aspects of the world.

This book loses a few marks for being very repetitive, however. Fascinating story, and Lackey does have something of a talent for being able to make characters essentially have the same discussion numerous times without it getting too boring, but there were times where it felt like all the recap discussions were little more than padding. Sometimes they brought something new and interesting to the mix, but other times it was entirely for the sake of characters catching up on what had happened, and could have been avoided and shortened by just stating that so-and-so gave a run-down of the situation to another character.

Still, a good beginning to what promises to be a very interesting trilogy. Magic and politics all rolled into one fascinating and multi-layered story, pieces of the familiar combined with the strange and new. It’s classic Lackey work that explores her world in greater detail than ever before, fleshing out not only characters but an entire planet of people and cultures, that will leave you hungry for the next book. Highly recommended to Valdemar fans, though I recommend if you haven’t already read the Mage Winds trilogy, do so before tackling this. Not doing so might leave you pretty confused as to who everyone is and what they’re doing there in the first place.

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