Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Mags had been working at the Pieters mine, slaving in the dark, cold seams, looking for sparklies, for as long as he could remember. The children who worked the mine were orphans, kids who had been abandoned, who had lost their parents, or were generally unwanted. But Mags was different. Mags was “Bad Blood,” because his parents were bandits who had been killed in a raid by the Royal Guard. “Bad Blood” because he’d been found in a cradle in the bandits’ camp. Blood so bad that no one had wanted to take him in except Cole Pieters. When he was big enough to see over the sides of the sluices he had gone to work at the mine. Mags knew nothing of the world beyond the mine, and was unaware of how unusual his paltry existence was. Then some strangers on huge white horses forced their way past the Pieters family and carried him away to Haven to become a Herald Trainee. Suddenly the whole world opened up for him. He was warm and well fed for the first time in his life, and he had Dallen, his Companion, who seemed more miraculous than an angel. But the world of the Collegium was not all heavenly. There was political upheaval in Valdemar’s capital, for the court had been infiltrated by foreign “diplomats,” who seemed to be more interested in seeding discontent than in actual diplomacy… and Mags seemed to be the only one who’d noticed…
Thoughts: Mercedes Lackey’s break from Valdemar novels ended with the release of Foundation, the first book of the Collegium Chronicles series. We start off the story with Mags, a young slave in a gem mine, being rescued and Chosen by his new Companion, Dallen. Whisked off to Haven, Mags finds himself in the awkward position of being utterly ignorant of the vast amount of society works, at a time when the methods the Heralds use are changing and the Heraldic Collegium is being built under everyone’s feet.
This series takes place a few generations after the time of Herald-Mage Vanyel. Magic is gone from Valdemar. Old ways are fading out, the Kingdom is expanding, and new Heralds are being Chosen at an unprecedented pace. Hence the Collegium, which didn’t exist in Vanyel’s time in the way it exists in all other Valdemar novels. This sounds more interesting than it really is; it plays a notable part in a few scenes, but mostly is unimportant to Mags and so not dwelled upon very much. It’s most interesting to someone like me, who’s read the series practically from beginning to end at this point, and who has seen the old ways and the new and we can see a little more about the transitional period.
Like many of Lackey’s Valdemar novels, the book is more of a journey of self-discovery than an epic quest, this time with Mags coming to grips with his own sense of self-worth and understanding of the world around him. There is an overarching plot, but it comes more in hints and brief encounters than as a central component of the story. This isn’t a book to go into if you want something action-packed. It’s slow, with a heavy emphasis on character development and gradual discovery. This isn’t uncommon with a lot of the novels in this series, really, but it’s especially pronounced here.
However, for fans of the series of those who love in-depth character studies or who want to get a better handle on their Valdemaran history (ie, me, and possible Mieneke from A Fantastical Librarian), this is a good book for it. It’s an easy read, something to curl up with on a rainy afternoon and enjoy without being made to tax your brain much as you follow the story at a relaxed pace.
Not having currently read the rest of the books in the series, I can’t say for certain whether this is the start to an essential set of books on the Valdemar timeline, or whether it’s one that can be easily passed over without losing anything in doing so. There are definitely hints dropped that the story will lead to something much larger in the future, though what that is, I can’t say. I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve finished the series (5 books as of the time of this review), but for the moment, I’d say that it certainly feels more like a supplementary series than one that gives some essential understanding to the Valdemar books as a whole. Fun and fluffy, enjoyable without having much substance, despite the way it touches on dark subject matter in the beginning.