Read again? Yes
Book 18 of Valdemar, with 8 left. *whew*
This is the first in the trilogy about Herald Elspeth (the Brat from the Talia books). She's in her late 20's, now. There are two primary characters in this one.
Elspeth comes to realize that Valdemar needs mages if the country is to fight off Ancar of Hardorn (since the third book of Talia, more than a decade has passed--they've been fighting a holding action ever since). After weeks of trying to get her mother--Queen Selenay--to allow her to go mage-hunting, Elspeth finally wins (with some manipulative help from the Companions). Before she leaves, Kerowyn brings her the magic sword Need, which has chosen Elspeth as its new bearer. Elspeth and Skif go south into Rethwellan. They continue south and finally wind up at Kata'shin'a'in, the trade-city of the Shin'a'in nomads--
At this point, Need awakens and tells her story--she was a mage-smith thousands of years ago who forged her spirit into the sword. She's been "asleep" for quite some time, but something about Kerowyn and Elspeth woke her up, and now she's a regular character.
--only to be sent across a stretch of the Plains to a place where the mysterious, mythic Hawk-brothers--the Tayledras--might help them...
We also follow (in parallel) Darkwind, an emo-ish Tayledras scout who was once a powerful mage. He blames himself for the destruction of his Clan's Heartstone, the thing that gives the Tayledras their power. He foreswore all magic and lives outside the Clan's Vale. The Clan's territory is threatened from outside by a crafty evil mage, and it takes all Darkwind and his Scouts can muster to keep him or her at bay (See "Shin'a'in & Tayledras" Quickie for some background).
Then a cat-girl, Elspeth, Skif, the talking sword, and their spirit-horses fall in his lap--and things get complicated.
I took off a half-point almost as soon as I started to read, after running headlong into some glaring continuity problems:
- Skif's background: she claims Skif learned thieving from his uncle. But in "Take a Thief," his uncle is a tavern owner, not a professional thief; Skif learns his craft from an elderly man who runs a small ring with boys Skif's age.
- Elspeth's training--she doesn't know how to repair armor? This is something she'd have picked up as a Trainee, and before that, when Talia was a Trainee and Elspeth hung out with her ("Arrows of the Queen").
- Elspeth's mother's attitudes toward her learning street-fighting like Skif. Elspeth learned to fight before she was Chosen--she trained in the same styles Talia did--and both of them learned Skif's style because Alberich wanted them to ("Arrows of the Queen"). She even has Elspeth being forbidden to learn such things. Heh.
The book opens with Elspeth being taught to use whatever is handy as a weapon--and she's played as unusually dense, not understanding that self-defense would include using anything at one's disposal--as if Alberich wouldn't have included such lessons in the dirty fighting she supposedly didn't receive. Herald Kerowyn is concerned that Elspeth--the Heir to the throne--could face assassination attempts. Apparently this was never a concern before, if no one taught Elspeth this kind of stuff before--or maybe it's just a set-up?
Damned if someone doesn't happen to try an assassination attempt within just a few pages, and I'm killing another point for such a clumsy, obvious set-up. It would have been better for Lackey to remember Elspeth's training back in the first Talia book and just refer to it as Elspeth is facing down the would-be killer. As it is, this "training" is never used again in the rest of the series, any more than the "archery training that every Herald learns" is seen again outside of the Talia books.
Overall, the book feels like it's longer than its 460 pages. It doesn't drag, but there's a lot going on--and there are two more just as heavy after this one.
And THREE more after those that are just as heavy and busy.