Bastion, by Mercedes Lackey

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Publication date – October 1, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReadsMags returns to the Collegium, but there are mixed feelings–his included–about him actually remaining there. No one doubts that he is and should be a Herald, but he is afraid that his mere presence is going to incite more danger right in the heart of Valdemar. The heads of the Collegia are afraid that coming back to his known haunt is going to give him less protection than if he went into hiding. Everyone decides that going elsewhere is the solution for now. So since he is going elsewhere–why not return to the place he was found in the first place and look for clues? And those who are closest to him, and might provide secondary targets, are going along. With Herald Jadrek, Herald Kylan (the Weaponsmaster’s chosen successor), and his friends Bear, Lena, and Amily, they head for the Bastion, the hidden spot in the hills that had once been the headquarters of a powerful band of raiders that had held him and his parents prisoner. But what they find is not what anyone expected.

Thoughts: Bastion, the final book of Mercedes Lackey’s Collegium Chronicles (or at least what I’m presuming to be the final book, since I can’t see where else the series could really go after this), was more action-oriented than previous novels in the series and a mostly satisfying conclusion, though it did leave some questions not so much unanswered as completely unaddressed.

Here, Mags is being sent on circuit with the Herald who first rescued him from the mine, Herald Jakyr. The Jakyr in this book, however, has very little in common with the Herald who appeared in few-and-far-between scenes in the previous novels in the series, however. Where before he was distant, reticent, eager to avoid forming any connections for fear of being stifled and constrained, here he seems more than willing to dispense advice and conversation, no longer the reserved and intimidating figure he once was. No real reason is given for this change of heart, and if anything, the situation that Jakyr is in ought to have made him withdraw more than normal. Call it character development for the sake of the plot and move on, I suppose.

Joining Mags and Jakyr are Bear and Lena, now married and travelling to help Mags and also for their own respective careers, Bard Lita (accompanying Lena, for the most part), and Amily, healed leg and all, because of her relationship with Mags. They spend their time hiding out in a series of caves, ostensibly as a central base for their circuit but also to search for information about Mags’s parentage, who were last reported in that area. They end up, naturally, discovering more than they bargained for with Mags’s lineage gets the spotlight shone brightly upon it and all is not well with what he discovers, and how.

Much like the previous novel, Redoubt, Lackey indulges in some wholesale copy-and-pasting of older passages to serve as flashbacks, text unchanged in any way. It’s still lazy writing, but at least it isn’t done as often as last time, which was something to be happy about.

The book definitely had its ups and downs. The plot and pacing good, character development decent (at least for just about everyone but Amily and Lena, who often just disappeared from mention entirely when swords started slinging and arrows started flying), and some interesting information about Mags’s past was revealed that made the world of Velgarth a little bit more complete, more detailed and expansive, and that was a real treat to read. However, there were a few moments of author preaching, but nowhere as obviously as when Jakyr’s family was being discussed and utter distaste was expressed for the Quiverfull movement. And I single this out because the term “quiverfull” was used in the text itself, so there was no disguising it for something else, not even an attempt made to gloss it over and pretend that anything was being talked about but the real-world movement. It’s one thing to incorporate one’s own beliefs and morality into the fiction one writes, but it’s another to be so very blatant about the crossover into real-world politics. (Also, I might be able to safely assume that the author doesn’t entirely understand the Quiverfull movement, given that it was mentioned in the context of, “families believe they have to have all the babies they can, but don’t understand why and never bother to question it.” Quiverfull families know why they’re doing it. That’s the whole point.)

Sadly, Mags’s connection to Vkandis never seems to be brought up again after his escape from Karse, something that disappointed me because it could have taken the story in interesting directions and had major implications for the history of both countries. Instead, Mags ends up saying he’ll serve a god if said god gets him out of a sticky situation, the god agrees, and that service never gets called in. The fact that this doesn’t get revisited weakens the whole event for me, and makes it feel like a cheap ploy to avoid being written into a corner rather than something planned and purposeful.

Still, with few exceptions, this was a more than adequate ending to the Collegium Chronicles, an interesting expansion to the world and lore surrounding Valdemar, and while I wouldn’t say it’s one of the essential series on the Valdemar timeline, it is, by and large, a fun series that should hold plenty of fascination to fans all over.

(At least there were no overly long Kirball scenes this time!)

Redoubt, by Mercedes Lackey

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Publication date – October 12, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Mags, a young Herald trainee in Haven, the capital city of the kingdom of Valdemar, has talents not commonly found in Herald trainees. Recognizing this, the King’s Own Herald decides to train Mags as a spy in order to uncover the secrets of a mysterious new enemy who has taken an interest in Mags himself. Why is the even deeper mystery. The answers can only be found in the most unexpected corners of Mags’ past…assuming he can live long enough to find them.

Thoughts: Following the events of Changes, this fourth book of Mercedes Lackey’s Collegium Chronicles series brings is back into Mags’s life after an unclear amount of time has passed. I say unclear because there are many hints that it takes place very shortly after Changes, only Mags has mysteriously lost the vast majority of his ‘uncultured’ accent, quicker than anything believable could account for. On one hand, it was nice to cease having to puzzle out everything that Mags was trying to say, since writing accents is a fine art that few can master. On the other hand, I can’t really think of a believable reason for it to have mostly vanished so quickly.

Anyway, moving on.

As a counter to the very slow plot development of the second and third books, Redoubt picks up the pace nicely. There’s still a lot of emphasis on Kirball, but at least there’s a greater emphasis now placed on Mags developing his skills as Nikolas’s second, agent and spy for the Crown of Valdemar. And the second half of the book ramps things up even further, by having Mags kidnapped by people working through Karse but for their own sinister purposes.

There are some very touching scenes later on about cross-cultural bonds and the importance of letting good will transcend borders on a map, which I admit, the softy in me enjoyed reading. Most interesting, though, were the dropped hints about Mags’s heritage (from a place that isn’t even on the maps, which wipes out most theories I initially had about his origins), and the way Mags has been made something of an emissary of Vkandis, patron deity of Karse. I wonder mostly how this is going to affect the Valdemaran timeline of events. I can’t see Mags being too successful in this endeavour, since Karse and Valdemar didn’t really open up to each other until the Storms trilogy (taking place hundreds of years after these books), but it will be interesting to see where that plot thread leads.

I do have a major nitpick with this book, though, that was probably meant as a simple refresher to readers but instead comes across as lazy writing and a desperate need to meet a wordcount quota. Mags experiencing a lot of flashbacks in this book, flashbacks to events that happened in previous Collegium Chronicles novels, and those flashbacks are wholesale liftings of entire passages from those books. Only minor editing when the memory is deliberate demonstrated to be a false one, but otherwise the text is utterly identical. Perhaps not so egregious if it’s been a while since one has read the rest of the series, but painful when one is reading them in quick succession. I was able to skip a dozen or more pages because they were the exact same text that I’d read a few days prior, with nothing new added, and it only served to tell me that Mags was remembering things.

Lackey rekindled my interest in the series with this book, which was a very pleasant surprise after the mess of the previous two books. It ends on enough of a cliffhanger to leave readers wondering and wanting to read the fifth book, Bastion, which I shall be doing soon so that I can see what resolutions are reached and what new information is revealed. Mags has been an interesting character to see grow and change as the story has gone on, he’s much more mature now than when he started, and I expect that the real action is soon to come.

Intrigues, and Changes, both by Mercedes Lackey

Today I’m doing a rare double review, 2 books at once. The reason for this isn’t because I don’t have much to say about either book. On the contrary. But I hope the reason for this choice will be pretty clear by the end.

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Publication date – October 5, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Mercedes Lackey continues her epic Valdemar series.

Magpie is a thirteen-year-old orphan chosen by one of the magical Companion horses of Valdemar and taken to the capital city, Haven, to be trained as a Herald. Like all Heralds, Magpie learns that he has a hidden Gift-the Gift of telepathy.

But life at the court is not without obstacles. When Mags is “recognized” by foreign secret operatives whose purpose is unknown, Mags himself comes under suspicion. Who are Magpie’s parents-who is he, really? Can Mags solve the riddle of his parentage and his connection with the mysterious spies-and prove his loyalty-before the king and court banish him as a traitor?

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Publication date – October 4, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Enter the thrilling third volume in the epic Collegium Chronicles.

In Mercedes Lackey’s classic coming-of-age story, the orphan Magpie pursues his quest for his parent’s identity with burning urgency-while also discovering another hidden talent and being trained by the King’s Own Herald as an undercover agent for Valdemar. Shy Bardic Trainee Lena has to face her famous but uncaring father, one of Valdemar’s most renowned Bards. And Healing Trainee Bear must struggle against his disapproving parents, who are pressuring Bear to quit the Healers’ Collegium because he lacks the magical Healing Gift.

Each of the three friends must face his or her demons and find their true strength as they seek to become the full Heralds, Bards, and Healers of Valdemar.

Thoughts: It took me a while to figure out how to review both of these books. They evoked such a strong reaction in me and I ranted about and debated the issue enough that in the end, I decided the best way to properly present my thoughts would be to review both of the books at once.

Intrigues and Changes are the second and third books of Mercedes Lackey’s Collegium Chronicles series, which started with Foundations. Here, we continue to follow Mags and his growth and development and training to be a Herald. We also see his friends, Bardic Trainee Lena, and Healer Trainee Bear. A new game called Kirball is being developed, partly as entertainment and partly as a war game for training Guards and Heralds, and Mags gets involved in the game and turns out to be a shining athlete. A heatwave has Haven in its grip. King’s Own Herald Nikolas is still training Mags as his protégé and eventual replacement as a spy and agent for the Crown. Meanwhile, foreign agents are trying to infiltrate Haven for reasons currently unclear, and they seem to have their sights set on Mags.

The reason I chose to review both of these books together is because on their own, they are largely lackluster, more filled with filler material than most Valdemar books tend to be, and are largely devoid of any real plot or point. The events could have (and in my opinion, should have) been condensed into one novel that would have been superb, but splitting it into 2 books just made it boring. At least 1/5 of both novels is taken up by descriptions of Mags playing Kirball, which is fun and fast-paced, but mostly takes up space, and I can’t even justify it by saying that it provides character development. It shows off how awesome Mags and Dallen are as a Trainee and Companion, but that could have been established in a much less verbose way, while actually advancing the plot.

So very little happens in these books. Book 2 involved Kirball, Mags trying to help Lena and Bear with their family issues, and a slight bit of development regarding the foreign infiltrators. Book 3 involves more Kirballs, Mags training with Nikolas, and some actual development regarding the foreign infiltrators as they make bold moves, some motives are revealed, and people try to get to the bottom of a mystery. Most of the important events of Book 2 could have been easily inserted into Book 3, and the only thing that would have really been lost would have been some long-winded arguments and some Kirball.

Aside from poor pacing issues, there is one section of Intrigues that bothers me on a very visceral level. In the midst of the heatwave, when tempers are running high and there’s a lot of emotional tension, Dallen and Mags end up in an accident and Dallen’s legs are broken. Mags is distraught. So Lena seeks him out and basically chews him out, calling him horrible and selfish and the kind of person who would kill the King (which is what Mags was suspected of due to the visions of Foreseers) if he would let something bad happen to Dallen. He snaps and shoots a couple of insults back at her. She runs off, and next Bear comes by, threatens to horsewhip Mags for upsetting Lena, again tells him that he must therefore be the kind of person who’d kill a King because he’s clearly so horrid. Mags takes this all to heart and runs away.

Now, the running away isn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was that when things cooled down and Mags returned and Dallen was recovering well, Mags apologizes for saying bad things to Lena… and Lena and Bear do not apologize to him. They basically handwave the whole thing by saying, “Yeah, well, tempers were frayed and you weren’t exactly wrong,” and then acting as though that was the extent of their obligations. No apologies for telling Mags he was a terrible person. No apologies for blaming Mags for Dallen’s accident. No apologies for saying, “I think everyone’s right and you’re plotting to murder our beloved monarch.” Not a thing. Which was tremendously out of character for both Lena and Bear, and at best came across like they were the kind of people who thought they didn’t need to apologize because Mags is a forgiving person anyway.

That part rankled, and seemed very poorly done.

As individual books, I could rate them 3 cups at best, since they contain so little of worth though they were admittedly somewhat entertaining. Put together, they complement each other nicely, if somewhat rambling. Had these books been trimmed and tightened and a lot of the extraneous scenes deleted, the finished product could easily have been one of my favourite Valdemar novels, and well worth the rating of 4 cups that I am generously giving right now. Lackey’s books often have a great deal of slow development that leads to one main action scene very near the end, but I can’t recall any other book of hers that spends so much time doing so very little, and I can only imagine how many people didn’t even continue on past the second book of the series for this reason. Honestly, most people could skip right past that one and move right to the third book without missing anything, and anything vital tends to get recapped in short order anyway.

Foundation, by Mercedes Lackey

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Publication date – October 7, 2008

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.

Exile’s Valor, by Mercedes Lackey

Exile's Valor, by Mercedes Lackey  Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website
Publication date – November 4, 2003

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) This stand-alone novel in the Valdemar series continues the story of prickly weapons-master Alberich. Once a heroic Captain in the army of Karse, a kingdom at war with Valdemar, Alberich becomes one of Valdemar’s Heralds. Despite prejudice against him, he becomes the personal protector of young Queen Selenay. But can he protect her from the dangers of her own heart?

Thoughts: Continuing the story started in Exile’s Honor, the Tedrel Wars are over, and we return to a somewhat subdued Valdemar. The King has been killed and the new Queen Selenay has yet to finish her year of mourning before people start to push potential husbands on her, in the belief that a woman cannot hold the throne alone. And Alberich is slowly working to uncover a plot that threatens Selenay, and perhaps all of Valdemar itself.

Whereas a good half of the previous novel featuring Alberich as a main character was action-oriented, taking place in the middle of a war, the sequel takes things back and lets intrigue and a puzzle carry the story along instead. And while many of Lackey’s Valdemar novels contain bits of romance, Exile’s Valor has it in spades! Between the courtship and marriage of Selenay and Karath, and the growing relationship between Alberich and Myste, it’s hard to get away from the romance and emphasis on relationships. If this sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea, you might find yourself disappointed.

On the other hand, I usually avoid romance-heavy books, and I still enjoyed this once a lot, so your mileage may vary. In spite of there being a lot of romance, it was woven into the story well enough that it didn’t feel cloying and like the story was just a flimsy excuse for romance, a tenuous scaffolding around which romance is supposed to provide the bulk of the whole piece. It was, happily, the other way around, and that was what made it bearable for me.

While this is a very good follow-up to Exile’s Honor, it works best when contained within its own duology. Put into context with what has been established about Valdemar in previous novels, a good deal of time timeline falls apart, and events don’t fall when they’re supposed to. The same could be said about the previous novel and its telling of when the Tedrel Wars took place, but it becomes very obvious here. In Take a Thief, Bazie tells Skif that the Tedrel Wars were about thirty years prior. In Arrow’s Flight, Skif is still a trainee, alongside Talia, and Selenay’s daughter Elspeth is around 8 years old at most. In Exile’s Valor, Selenay gives birth to Elspeth less than 2 years after the end of the Tedrel Wars. The only way to reconcile this discrepancy is to assume that Bazie has absolutely no concept of time, and when he says that the wars were 30 years ago, it was really more like 5. Only there’s no reason to make this assumption. This is sadly little more than the author losing control of her own timeline, starting the whole chain reaction off with an innocuous comment made by a minor character.

But if you ignore the whole and instead concentrate on its separate parts, in spite of the inconsistancies the book still remains an interesting story filled with interesting characters. Alberich’s character especially is developed quite well, shedding light on aspects of him that wouldn’t have been thought of had Lackey not decided to do this exploration, and even with the problems it has, I’m certainly glad she did. It’s a quick read with enough intrigue and good dialogue to carry a reader along for hours, and while I can’t guarantee that those who liked Exile’s Honor will also enjoy this one (the tones of both books are quite different), I definitely recommend at least giving it a try.

Exile’s Honor, by Mercedes Lackey

Exile's Honor, by Mercedes Lackey  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Author’s website
Publication date – October 1, 2002

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) This stand-alone novel in the best-selling Valdemar series tells the story of Alberich…

When Alberich took a stand for what he believed in-and defected-he was chosen by one of the magical Companion horses…to serve the queen of Valdemar.

Thoughts: Lackey continues her foray into character studies with one of the most interesting characters she ever wrote (at least in my opinion): Alberich. He’s seen in bits and pieces through other novels along the Valdemar timeline, the Collegium’s Weaponsmaster and resident talks-like-Yoda guy, but before this exploration, little was known about him beyond the fact that he’s a hard taskmaster and that he was originally from Karse, Valdemar’s ancient enemy.

The story starts with Alberich still in Karse, prior to being Chosen, where he’s in a good position in the army and struggling to hide Gifts which could get him killed if revealed. And naturally, he’s discovered, and put to death by purifying fire. He is rescued, of course, by his Companion Kantor, and whisked across the border to Valdemar, where he is met with a less-than-friendly reception.

The first part of this book is largely a coming-of-age type of story, in which Alberich is not only trying to recover from the burns and injuries sustained at the hands of the people he once fought for, but also coming to grips with the fact that Valdemar and Heralds are not evil as he had been taught all his life. Trying to reconcile that the world is not as he thought, as well as discovering just who and what that makes him, takes up a great deal of the first half of the book. Those who enjoy a good bit of introspection and character development will love this, as it goes into great detail about a man we have only seen glimpses of previously.

The second half of the book has far more action in it. Karse has hired the Tedrel mercenaries, enough soldiers-for-hire to populate a nation, and has sent them after Valdemar. And Alberich is stuck in Haven, unable to fight on the front lines due to accusations of divided loyalty between his new life as a Herald and his old life in Karse. But when push comes to shove, he’s sent into battle, along with every other available Herald (including the monarch and heir to the throne) to fight for their lives and freedom. Much of the instrospection is left behind in favour of the grim realities of war.

Though true to Lackey’s typical style, things don’t get too grim, and while there’s a well-deserved sense of tension and urgency, it’s still easy enough to step back and understand that what you’re reading is almost an idealized version of war. People die, and messily, but it’s still somewhat sanitized. The good guys will win because the good guys win. Definitely something to read if you want your spirits bolstered, but to be avoided if what you’re looking for is a realistic portrayal of a battlefield.

Like Brightly Burning and Take a Thief, this character study novel is a fascinating one, very fun and swift to read, whether or not you’re reading the action of fighting or the circular thoughts of a very confused man. And unlike both of those novels, this one plays a very central role in understanding vital pieces of Valdemaran history. What Brightly Burning did to reveal more details about passing mentions of events, Exile’s Honor did better, and it shows in the way that this book grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Of all the character study novels that Lackey has written in this world, I wholeheartedly recommend this (and it’s sequel, Exile’s Valor) to just about anyone. It stands on its own and also provides great detail into a fictional country I have come to know and love so much.

Brightly Burning, by Mercedes Lackey

Brightly Burning, by Mercedes Lackey  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Author’s website
Publication date – June 1, 2001

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Sixteen-year-old Laven Chitward’s world is turned upside down when his mother is selected as a textile guild representative in the small rural community where he was raised. Moving to the capital city of Haven rips him away from his friends and boyhood pleasures, and nothing in Haven seems to fill that void. Unable to fit into the nouveau riche society, and unwilling to follow his parents into the textile guild, he finds himself adrift and depressed. His father enrolls him in a special school that will allow him to choose a trade that interests him, rather than be apprenticed against his will. There he finds himself terrorized and tortured by the boys in the sixth form until, with an awful roar, the gift of fire awakens deep within him and extracts revenge for his sadistic treatment.
With the help of a unique herald, an empathetic healer and a special companion, Laven soon learns to keep his gift under control and eventually, to direct his awful firestorm as far as he can see. When the kingdom of Karse attacks, Laven is hurried to the border to assist his king and country by repelling the invasion. During the final battle Laven earns the name Firestorm and becomes one of the most famous heralds in the history of Valdemar.

Thoughts: This one’s a reread for me (as were most of the Valdemar books, to be honest), and I mention that so that I can give one of my very first impressions of the protagonist: This is Vanyel 2.  Both Lavan and Vanyel were very similar characters, not just in circumstance but also in execution. Both came from families where their parents pushed them in unsuitable directions and didn’t listen to them regarding multiple instances of bullying and abuse, both became Heralds after a traumatic event, and both sacrifice their lives to save Valdemar from invasion. They have quite similar personalities. They both have extremely powerful Gifts. It seemed to me, even when I first read this book over a decade ago, that Lackey wanted to revisit the same sort of feeling that she’d established with Vanyel in the Last Herald-Mage trilogy (particularly the first book), and that went into the creation of Lavan.

Lavan himself was mentioned briefly in other Valdemar novels, known as Lavan Firestorm, so much like what Lackey did with Skif in Take a Thief, this book was by and large a character study. However, unlike in Take a Thief, Lavan is a far more central figure to Valdemaran history, so there is a great deal more action and tension shown here. Once we get past Lavan’s initial trauma and Choosing, the plot quickly focuses on the growing war with Karse, and Lavan and his Gift become essential elements in the plans to end said war. So we have growing tension over a looming war, character death, violent battles, many of the things that create excitement and provide a real ability to make a book into a page-turner, they’re all here where they were largely absent in Lackey’s previous character study.

This book is also notable for containing one of my favourite passages on the subject of bullying:

“Here. He’s been unconscious since they were dragged out,” the Healer replied, mouth set in a hard line. “Look, Herald Pol, I’m not trying to cause trouble, but I don’t like some of the things we’ve uncovered, or the way those other boys are acting; it seems to me that they want desperately to hide something, and it has to do with that younger boy. It’s hard to tell, under the burns, but we think there’s a lot of bruising all over him that doesn’t look accidental, and it definitely looks as if he’s been caned.”
Pol hadn’t been around the Court as long as he had without gathering a fair understanding of how “ordinary” children sometimes acted. “You think he’s being bullied, knocked around—”
“I think he was being tortured,” the Healer interrupted, icily. “That’s what we’d call it in an adult, and I see no reason to call it by a lesser name in children.”

This passage always, always, makes my chest lurch, because I’ve experienced not only this kind of bullying, but also the way adults turn a blind eye and downplay the events and effects, and to see even a fictional character acknowledge that if it’s wrong in adults then it’s just as wrong in children is incredibly heartening. It was only a small section, but it was a powerful moment. Lan’s experiences of bullying were, to be blunt, torture. Abuses of power, physical beatings, neglect by those in charge and those he ought to be able to trust (his parents)… It resonated strongly with me, and reading this for the first time, when my own experiences were closer at hand, definitely brought tears to my eyes. I’m not ashamed to admit that.

An interesting element that Lackey also plays with in this novel is the ever-popular Lifebond, only this time applied to Lavan and his Companion. It was a controversial choice, having a person be soul-bonded to their intelligent horse, but I think it worked. Given that it’s been established that Companions are basically Heralds reborn, this sort of thing was bound to happen sooner or later, and it was interesting to see the dynamic. There was no sexual element involved at all, and it wasn’t even entirely portrayed as a positive thing. In times of crisis Lavan had someone he could utterly rely on, but it was established that “the two must never be out of each others’ heads;” the implication being that the weaker personality could easily be subsumed by the stronger one, and that it could be hard to tell where one ended and the other began. Like I said, a controversial bit of subject matter, but I think it was handled deftly.

Again comparing this book to Lackey’s previous character study novel, I think this was carried off far more successfully. People who found Take a Thief lacking in action and purpose will no doubt enjoy this one far more. Between the typical coming-of-age story and the war with Karse, there’s more here that can appeal to a wider audience. While again not required reading for the Valdemar series (it’s not essential to understanding the more central set of trilogies), it does add more detail to the world and the history of it, and even if it can be skipped without losing anything, I don’t recommend it. As a standalone Valdemar novel, Brightly Burning is definitely one of the best!

Owlknight, by Mercedes Lackey

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Author’s website
Publication date – November 1, 2000

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) From fantasy legends Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon comes the third and final volume in a powerful saga charged with war and magic, life and love…. Two years after his parents disappearance, Darian has sought refuge and training from the mysterious Hawkbrothers. Now he has opened his heart to a beautiful young healer. Finally Darian has found peace and acceptance in his life. That is, until he learns that his parents are still alive-and trapped behind enemy borders…

Thoughts: Concluding the Owls trilogy is Owlknight, the final book in Darian’s tale and one that mnages to tie up loose ends without being so perfect and saccharine that it seems wholly unbelievable. eisha and Darian are paired up somewhat happily, though Keisha is of the pessimistic attitude that Darian’s only staying with her until something better comes along. (Thankfully, she gets talked out of this notion quite soundly, because if there’s one thing I can’t stand in a novel, it’s large amounts of introspection on whether so-and-so really loves somebody else when there’s nothing to suggest it other than one person’s paranoia.) Darian has passed his Master trial and is advancing in his studies of magic. The northern barbarians aren’t nearly as barbaric as everyone first thought and are actually doing quite well for themselves as self-contained cultures living within Valdemar’s borders. Everything seems to be going smoothly.

Until a chance event convinces Darian that his parents, who disappeared years ago, might actually still be alive. Which sets him on the path to finding them, even if it takes him into territory that nobody in Valdemar has ever stepped foot in before.

This is a book that is somewhat world-spanning without being world-changing, which is always an interesting tactic to use. So many books that feature characters travelling all over the place do so because there’s some great world-shaking event going on. Or else they’re trying to prevent catastrophe. Or some other similar large thing. But here, it’s all to conclude a personal quest, to find closure for a young man’s trauma. Nothing so large and spectacular as in previous Valdemar novels. The world is not coming to an end, and there is no great evil to defeat.

The closest thing to an evil to defeat is the Wolverine tribe, who are a smarter version of the original tribe who attacked Darian’s village in Owlflight (review here) all those years ago. They’re bent on expanding their territory, subduing all other tribes they come across, and are ruthless in their actions. But they don’t even enter into the story until very close to the end, and despite what a couple of characters may have thought about them being a threat to Valdemar, I honestly couldn’t see that. It’s one thing for a nomadic tribal culture to take over and eliminate other tribes, but it’s another thing altogether to take on a huge nation. If Valdemar was going to worry about every group of people who might someday possibly attack them in any number, they may as well wipe out the entire world as a precautionary method. I never saw Wolverine as a legitimate threat to Valdemar, not the way they were trying to establish.

While Darian does get closure in regard to his parents, it was a bittersweet one, which was emotional without being overly sweet or too neat in its wrap-up. Darians parents have spent the years since their disappearance living with one of the northern Tribes, and they haven’t just sat there dreaming up ways to get home. They resigned themselves to being there, and integrated into the tribe, settling in and even having more children. Darian is understandably disappointed by this, having spent so long dreaming of rescuing his parents and bringing them home, only to find that they are home. Just not the home that he envisioned. It’s a difficult thing to come to grips with, that one’s parents have moved into a new life and that they can’t really be a part of yours anymore, but it’s very fitting with the trilogy’s messages regarding maturity and coming of age. Not an easy scene to read, but a fitting one, and all the more powerful for its realism.

Because of the fact that this trilogy focused more on people than politics (though it did dip into the political scene in many ways; some things are just unavoidable), more on individuals than on large-scale events like so many other Valdemar novels have done, it was a really refreshing set of stories to read. It’s not for everyone, I admit, but sometimes it’s nice to read fantasy novels that are very contained and small-scale, without having to involve the rest of the world. The stories here revolve around Darian, and his biggest concerns are family, friends, and trying to master his magic. No great wars, no amazing discoveries, at least none that step too far outside his personal sphere. Because of that, it was easier to connect to characters here than in some other novels. Everything was kept close to home, and it really showed.

On the whole, this is a trilogy that can easily be skipped if you’re reading the Valdemar novels. It adds many details to the world, but isn’t necessary for understanding the world as a whole. It’s not essential to the history, and you’re not going to be confused if you read any other novels if you haven’t read these ones. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth skipping. If you, like many ohers, have been hooked by the Tayledras, or if you’re looking for a smaller-scale tale that still stays interesting, then absolutely check this series out. However, there are bits of this series that will be lost on you if you haven’t read other Valdemar novels first. There are references to other big events peppered throughout its pages, and while this trilogy enriches the whole, it’s not something that can stand easily on it own, without context. Justyn’s memories, the Kaled’a’in, the very presence of Firesong are all made weaker here if you haven’t seen these things in the other Valdemar novels first.

But because of the way this trilogy enriches the series as a whole, it remains high on the list of my favourite Valdemar rereads. And I can’t see that ever changing.

Owlsight, by Mercedes Lackey

Time to return to the Great Valdemar Reread! I’ve left this project alone for a while now, but it’s time to take a step back into my favourite fantasy world and get back to reviewing those books.

  Buy from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or IndieBound

Author’s website
Publication date – October 1, 1999

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It has been four years since Darian saw his village sacked and burned by barbarians. Taking refuge with the Hawkbrothers, he soon finds his life’s calling–as a Healing Adept. But even as he learns the mystical ways of this ancient race, Darian cannot escape the dangers threatening his future. Another tribe of barbarians is approaching. The time has come… to stand up and fight.

Thoughts: While the previous book in this trilogy, Owlflight, centered almost completely around Darian and his adoption by the Tayledras, this book splits its time evenly between Darian (now a few years older and a good bit more mature than we last saw him) and Keisha, the resident Healer of Errold’s Grove. While both viewpoints are interesting and allow us to get a much more complete feel of the situation than before (maturity can do that to a person), it was Keisha’sections of the story that primarily interested me. Darian’s stuff was interesting, to be certain, but until Darian actually meets Keisha and the two stories start to twine together, his point of view mostly consisted of life in the Vale.

Keisha’s sections of the story, however, were told from the perspective of somebody who is increasingly self-reliant, talented, and trying to find her place in the world, all while being hampered by an overprotective family and only a sketchy idea of a big part of her own vocation. Being empathic, she’s removing herself little by little from society while still trying to be nearby to help tend the hurts and illnesses of an entire village. It’s easy to feel both empathy and sympathy for her. Let’s face it; how many outcasts feel like they’ve been in a very smilar situation? Keisha was clearly meant to be this book’s misfit. Previously it was Darian, but since he went off with the Hawkbrothers and grew up some, he could no longer fill that role.

Like many Lackey novels, this book takes a long time to get going, with a great deal of build-up, character development, repetition, and characters just generally living life. Until the halfway point comes, and the big threat is introduced, and then there’s more build-up until the final confrontation shortly before the end. I’m not saying this is good storytelling, as a general rule, but Lackey has this knack of making it work. You get so caught up in the characters that very often you don’t realize that nothing exiting is happening, because one person’s life is already interesting enough. I think this method works for her because she tends to write about extraordinary people. Doing a story this way when your main characters are farmhands would have people putting the book down very quickly. But when you’ve got stories about Heralds, Healers, Bards, mythical cultures coming out of the woods, then you can afford to get away with slow build-ups because even the every-day lives of these people are worth talking about.

As such, this isn’t a book that’s heavy on the action. Even less so than many of the Valdemar novels, really. The big threat at the end turns out not to be another invading army of barbarians but a disease. Certainly one that’s threatning, and very dangerous if it spreads from the northern trbes into Valdemar, but the final conflict is between Keisha and the disease raging inside a young boy’s body, with her sister (Chosen to be a Herald in the opening scenes of the novel, and quite amusingly so!) and Darian providing backup support. It was an interesting twist, because as much as he moment was tense and filled with energy and emotion, it was relatively action-free. No big physical battle, no death or blood or anything of the sort.

Also, I confess to a moment of fangirlish squee when Firesong is brought into the picture. I don’t know what it is about him and Vanyel, but whenever either of those two are on the pages, it’s like my ears perk up and I have to keep reading. They’re both wonderful characters, and they add a wonderful touch of humour and depth to any story they’re placed in, and so Firesong’s appearance was definitely welcome.

This story is a fantastic continuation to the initial coming-of-age story told in the previous book of the trilogy. Seeing Darian’s maturity and sense of self-worth and place in the world was a good follow-up to is earlier struggle, and Keisha’s similar-but-different struggle was an echo of what so many of us have gone through in our lives that it was hard not to relate to them in some way. Between that aspect and the increasing exploration of Tayledras culture, this book is one that I, at least, really enjoyed reading and will probably always have a place on my bookshelves.