Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Apprenticed to a venerable wizard when his hunter and trapper parents disappear into the forest never to be seen again, Darian is strong-willed and difficult–much to the dismay of his kindly master. But a sudden twist of fate will change his life forever, when the ransacking of his village forces him to flee into the great mystical forest. It is here in the dark forest that he meets his destiny, as the terrifying and mysterious Hawkbrothers lead him on the path to maturity. Now they must lead the assault on his besieged home in a desperate attempt to save his people from certain death!
Thoughts: This trilogy has always been one of my favourite in the Valdemar timeline, and so I was excited when I finally reached this point of the Great Valdemar Reread. It certainly was as good as I remembered it being.
The story revolves around Darian, whose parents disappeared on a hunting trip, and who was left to a village to raise and care for. Unfortunately for Darian, the idea that he has bad blood and will come to a lousy end poisons the villagers’ opinions against him, and he lives a mostly unhappy life as the apprentice of the rather inept village wizard. Until the village is attacked, Darian has a run-in with Hawkbrothers, and the action really starts to get going, that is.
Interestingly, this is a book filled with moral grey area, which is surprising for Lackey. Not that she always writes in terms of black-and-white morality, but it’s usually pretty obvious whose opinions and actions the reader is supposed to agree with as a story progresses. But as much as I can sympathize with Darian’s plight in the village, I also found myself having some sympathy for the villagers who were making his life hell. They weren’t exactly in the right, and they had a terribly heavy-handed method of discipline, but I couldn’t deny that for all their clumsy attempts and neglect of Darian’s wants and feelings, their hearts were mostly in the right place. What they saw was a wayward young teenager who looked ungrateful for everything he was given. There were two sides to the coin, and it seemed to me that both were equally wrong.
In its place in the Valdemar timeline, this book — and this trilogy — is a rather essential one, even though it doesn’t take place in Haven and centre around Heralds. The system of magic has been shattered and is slowly recovering, the war with Ancar is still having ripple effects on the populace, and the ever-popular Hawkbrothers are shoved into the spotlight here and light is shed on their culture and lives in a greater way than it was in the earlier Winds trilogy. Definitely great as supplementary material that helps you better appreciate the world that Lackey has created, and as a look into the lives of those who are affected by all the great events we’ve previously read about but who weren’t directly involved in them.
This book’s biggest flaw doesn’t really come to light until the book’s done and you’ve closed the pages. Errold’s Grove is attacked by barbarians led by mages and mage-changed creatures, and Darian and the Tayledras do their part to fight them back. But when all is said and done, as much as an explanation was given for the attack, it seemed like a rather flimsy one. In context, it seemed like little but a plot device to get Darian closer to the Hawkbrothers. Which is fine enough, but when you base a whole book around that one plot device and don’t really follow up too much on it, it starts to seem weaker.
Of course, from what I remember of the other books in this trilogy, they all read more like a series of standalones rather than one continuous story, so perhaps it works better than I’m giving it credit for. But still, it me it seemed a somewhat clumsy and overblown way of accomplishing something.
But in spite of the flaw, Lackey’s storytelling is superb as always, and the expansion on the cultures and world of Velgarth is greatly enjoyable to read. Though you can skip this trilogy and not lose much understanding of important events in Valdemar’s history, I highly recommend taking the time to read your way through this one. You gain so much by doing so, and the series as a whole becomes all the richer for it.