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.
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?
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.