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.

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.