Saturday, August 29, 2009

Valdemar 16: Arrow's Fall (Lackey, M)

Rating: 4
Year: 1988
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Final Talia book, and 10 left.

Talia is nearly 20; we join her and Kris shortly before they make it to Haven, her 18-month Internship completed.

She's quickly embroiled in the latest issue before Queen Selenay and the Council: King Alessandar of Hardorn has petitioned for Princess Elspeth's hand in marriage to his son, Ancar.

She also has to deal with Herald Dirk. He's the guy she has her eye on, and it's clear that he wants her, but he thinks she wants to be with Kris. There's a big argument--and the three close friends won't have anything to do with each other.

Then Talia gets into another argument with Elspeth after catching her with a dirtbag.

Queen Selenay sees a chance to work a reconciliation: she sends Talia and Kris to Hardorn as envoys to find out what Ancar is like.

Things steadily get worse from there.

In all, the least satisfying of the three. The sitcom-esque misunderstanding between Talia, Kris and Dirk is just ham-handed. The dialogue from the bad guys is horrendous and oh so prissy.

This is the story in which all those conveniences come home to roost (spoilers!):
--Talia's got a tight bond with her Companion that can't be blocked, even by powerful shields.
--Dirk remembers that he can "Fetch" a living person (Fetching is telekenesis, moving things with your mind) just in time for the third act.
--Dirk and Talia are "Lifebonded," which gives him the link to bring her back.

There are some others, but it's not like these are deal-breakers. They're only as clumsy-seeming to me as they are because I've been reading this trilogy since 1995. My reading tastes and attitudes have changed--probably because of George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" books, which make Lackey's Heralds look like happiness-and-sunshine flower children and her bad guys look like bumbling pikers.

Valdemar 15: Arrow's Flight (Lackey, M)

Rating: 4
Year: 1987
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Second in the Talia trilogy, and 11 left.

It's been 5 years since Talia left the Holding. We catch up with her on the day she "graduates" from training--she's earned the right to wear the white uniform of a Herald. But she still faces a period of Internship, wherein she learns to use her training. Only then will she be a Herald and Queen's Own.

An emergency near Valdemar's northern border leads to Talia and her instructor leaving on a moment's notice. But she soon learns that rumors about her are spreading: she abuses her powers, influencing people's moods to get her way. This leads her to obsess over the matter--is she really projecting her feelings on others? Is she influencing her instructor, the angelically-handsome Herald Kris?

Then the worst happens: a killer snowstorm traps them together with no hope of a quick rescue--and her steadily-weakening control over her powers fails!

Like the first book, a good read, aside from those conveniences that get dropped in somewhat clumsily by Lackey for later use in the third book. More satisfying than the first book.

Valdemar 14: Arrows of the Queen (Lackey, M)

Rating: 4
Year: 1987
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

First in the Herald Talia trilogy, and 14th in the long, long, long long saga of Valdemar that spans 2,000 years and seems to take as long to read. Twelve more to go...but 7 of these are the thickest of the set. Fortunately, these are the better books. They begin shortly after 1376, the year King Sendar died in battle and his daughter Selenay took the throne--a few years after the events in "Take a Thief," since Skif is still a Trainee.

"Arrows" introduces us to Talia, a 13-year old girl who doesn't quite fit into the culture of the Holding, a farming community where the men own everything. Women have only two choices: marry or pray. Talia doesn't want either choice; she wants to be a Herald. She runs away--and is shortly met by one of those spirit-horse Companions.

She doesn't even realize that she's been Chosen, because the Holderkin don't hold with the ways of Heralds. And no one she meets along the way can tell her what's going on. Convenient, in that it keeps her frightened and confused for the entire chapters-long ride to Haven (the capital of Valdemar).

Once she arrives, she learns that she's to become the new Queen's Own Herald--a sort of "BFF" for the Monarch, advisor, tie-breaker in votes, bodyguard, confidante, and representative. The idea of a Monarch's Own Herald is that there needs to be one person upon whom the person wearing the Crown may depend in all ways, someone who will always be honest and solid.

Her first job--in addition to training to be a Herald--will be to tame the Brat, Queen Selenay's daughter Elspeth.

Her next job is to survive; the people who engineered the murder of the previous Queen's Own quickly get to work on killing her, as well.

As with the first "Oathbound" book, Lackey puts on an affected "fantasy" voice that puts me in mind of the bloody 'orrible Olde Englishe crap they use at a Renfaire, mixed with some fairy-tale. Fortunately she loses it pretty quickly as the story develops. I can see where a new reader might take this "voice" as meaning that this is a kid's book. But by the end of this trilogy, as with the end of the Vanyel trilogy, our main character gets tortured and raped. Not kid stuff.

An issue that I've got with this trilogy is that Lackey seems to take every opportunity to insert a convenience that will conveniently pop up again later; the first two books are riddled with set-ups for rescuing Talia from her captors in the third.

Aside from this (and Lackey's fussy style), a good read.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Valdemar 13: Take a Thief (Lackey, M)

Rating: 4
Year: 2001
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

The 13th Valdemar book is lucky! Only 13 to go, unless I've mis-counted again. This stand-alone book tells the story of Herald Skif.

Skif is a little kid who lives in his uncle's lowest-of-the-low-end tavern in Haven. In this book and the two Alberich books that come before it, we get to see that Valdemar isn't really Utopia. There is a dark underbelly in Haven--the capital city--where lives of quiet desperation are the norm and life is cheap. At 10 years old, Skif is an accompished sneak-thief, disguising himself as a page to get food from the rich. Then he gets a chance to turn "pro" as part of a modest ring of three older boys and and old man, first stealing silk and other expensive fabrics, then picking pockets and cutting purses, and then walking the roofs at night.

His friends are murdered by an arsonist. Skif puts his skills to work to learn who the killer is and who hired him.

Then he finds a white horse and sets out to steal it....

Three in a row for Lackey. Like the two Alberich books, she's not writing in her "C-3PO" voice, with the attendant fussiness that goes with it. There's a disconnect, though, in the narrative "voice" that's telling the story as Skif sees it and his own internal voice--the narrative voice is Lackey's, and even though we're seeing things as Skif sees them, we're getting her descriptives and vocabulary, words that the minimally-educated child wouldn't use. Maybe it's just a nitpick.

There are also times when the kid speaks with a much less hick-like, more educated manner, but his thinking is still in broken Valdemaran. It's not clear whether Lackey's trying to show that he's smarter than he lets on--and if that's her intent, it seems like she could have tried it the other way around: better diction when he's thinking to himself, and deliberately-dumbed-down when he's speaking to others. One point off for the nitpicky stuff.

Another bonus: this book didn't drag. We get to the Big Crisis around page 150, but Skif isn't Chosen for more than 100 pages after. Why, oh freakin' WHY, couldn't Lackey have written this well in "Brightly Burning," just a year before?

Valdemar 12: Exile's Valor (Lackey, M)

Rating: 5
Year: 2003
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

This is the second of two in the story of Herald Alberich, number 12 with 14 left.

Amazing! Lackey's followup to "Exile's Honor" is good, too!

Less than a year has passed since the death in battle of King Sendar, and the beginning of his daughter's reign. The Council is pushing for Queen Selenay to marry and start breeding heirs, but mostly for her to marry: the Council wants a King, not a Queen who seems just a child to that bunch of creaky old men. But they all seem to forget: No man may be King in Valdemar unless he is also a Herald, and no one becomes a Herald unless they are Chosen by one of those spirit-horses.

Selenay's dear friend, Lord Orthallen, arranges for a Prince from the neighboring country of Rethwellan, to bring his nation's less-formal condolences on the death of King Sendar. Selenay is instantly smitten with this charming, good-looking man.

But Alberich soon finds threads of intrigue in Valdemar, a plot to kill Selenay and take the Throne!

Very good story, and much the better for lacking much of Lackey's "protocol droid" fussiness. Surprisingly, there's only one nickname in the two books together, and it's only seen in this one. The Prince from Rethwellan is named Karathanelan, but everyone just calls him Karath. It's a running joke in the Valdemar books that Rethwellan names are a mouthful, and in this case, the nickname "feels" right, unlike many of the diminutives Lackey hands out for some of the other books.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Valdemar 11: Exile's Honor (Lackey, M)

Rating: 5
Year: 2002
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

She's baaaaack.

The 11th novel, 15 to go, first of two telling the story of Herald Alberich.

We're introduced to Alberich in his home country of Karse, on the southern border of Valdemar. The two nations have been in a state of undeclared war for at least 6 centuries. It's about 1,355 years since the Founding of Valdemar; Herald Vanyel's time was around 750 A.F.; Lavan "Brightly sucking" Firestorm burned around 1077 A.F.--and both of those Heralds fought the Karsites.

Karse is controlled by a theocracy built on the worship of Vkandis, the Sun God. Alberich is a newly-promoted captain in their army. We quickly find that he's uneasy in his rank, for that rank will bring closer scrutiny, and he's got a secret that would get him killed should it become known: he can see the future.

Actually, he's got a second secret: it's obvious to readers who've been following the series that the lovely white horse Alberich got with his promotion is one of Valdemar's spirit-horse Companions.

He gets a sudden flash of that ForeSight, a nearly crippling vision of a village about to be captured by the same bandits Alberich and his men have been after for months. He finds himself in the saddle, leading a charge to take the bandits by surprise.

They wipe them out.

The village priest has Alberich arrested--it's plain that he had fore-knowledge of the bandit raid, and such abilities are evil! He's beaten and thrown into a shed, which is set afire. Not much for judicial formalities, those Karsite priests. He thinks you're guilty, you're guilty.

The Companion-in-disguise batters down one wall, gets Alberich on its back, and high-tails it into the north, to Valdemar.

Why couldn't she get "Brightly Burning" to be as good as this? Where that book was boring, "Honor" plays on the fish-out-of-water scenario in a much more interesting manner. Alberich is taught the rudiments of the Valdemaran language, is made Assistant Weaponsmaster (having a Companion makes you trustworthy), then goes to work at night spying on the criminal element. When war finally comes to Valdemar, he joins the King at the front line.

When King Sendar dies, Alberich is there to protect Selenay, the king's daughter, now Queen of Valdemar. This part of the book is powerfully written.

She's not as fussy. This was an entertaining book!

What the hell happened between "Burning" in 2000 and this one in 2002? Was she THAT upset by the impending End of the World on December 31, 1999?