Sunday, August 31, 2014

Valdemar 23: Mage Storms 3--Storm Breaking (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1996
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes.

Three to go.

Team Karal headed a 'way down south to the Dhorisha Plains, all that remains of the great mage Urtho's domain after the Great Cataclysm centuries ago.

They were successful in finding a temporary "fix" for the ever-worsening mage storms that mark the rebound of the Cataclysm. Now, they hope to find something to help counter the Really Really Big Bang The Will Kill Everone And Everything Period coming at the end of this book. This means they're stuck in the middle of the Plains, in the wrecked remains of Urtho's Tower, in the worst winter storms any of them have ever seen.

Karal spends some time in recovery. The Big Fix at the end of the last book nearly fried him. If not for him, the rest of the team wouldn't have been able to direct the enormous force of one of Urtho's mage-weapons against the incoming storm wave. Now they've got some time (several hundred pages) to find the next one.

We're given a nice little walk-on cameo for Tarma of the "Vows and Honor" trilogy (books 8-10). She's a ghost now, but she still comes in, drops some Shin'a'in proverbs (a running joke in the Valdemar books) on Karal, and winks out.


Over in the Eastern Empire, the most useless people (the 1%!) in the realm are gathered for "Season"--the winter occupation of the wealthy and powerful (and, hence, most useless) wherein they bring their unmarried brats and try to curry favor with those of higher status. Every Mitt Romney, every George Bush, all the other toadies and suck-ups too stupid to go home when the storms started are now stranded in the capital city. Never mind that the Empire is crippled: the storms disrupted everything that depends on magic. The fabulous rich are reduced to using common fire their own food! They have to travel by horse or carriage. WHEELS! Those are for commoners!

Emperor Charliss is spending his energies just shielding against the effects of the storms. The spells that have preserved him over his 150 year reign are failing. Before the storms, Charliss had maybe 20 years before his spells could no longer sustain him. Now, though, he has much less time.

Outlying provinces of the Empire have revolted. With no ability to build magical Portals, there is no way to get troops into position to subdue the rebels. There's also no way go get food quickly into the cities. People are rioting and Charliss' center cannot hold.

Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, dude.

Charliss declares Grand Duke Tremane nameless for  turning against the Empire; in his place, he names Baron Melles the new Heir.

Melles, in true Imperial style, immediately begins maneuvering and politicking and intriguing, seeking out enemies and allies and garnering power.


Back west in Hardorn, Princess Elspeth is leading a small troop of guards and her boyfriend to meet with Grand Duke Tremane. The former Heir to the Valdemaran throne is to be the Envoy to Hardorn. Her boyfriend will speak for some of the other Allies. The guards will, of course, be guards.

On the road to Shonar, now the de-facto capital of Hardorn, she finds surprising, growing support for Tremane. The Hardornens have heard of Tremane's fairness and his real concern for his adopted People. They're not calling him "King" yet, but there are mutters in that direction.


Team Karal's numbers continue to swell over the course of the book. They started out with:

--Altra, a Firecat, a re-born Son of the Sun and representative of Karal's God.
--Florian, a horse-like Companion. Reincarnated Herald.
--Firesong, a Tayledras Healing Adept.
--An'desha, formerly possessed by the evil spirit of a near-immortal mage.
--Silverfox, the "healer" of the team.

They were joined shortly by:
--Lo'isha, a Shin'a'in scholar and shaman.
--Tarm, a Kyree (basically a calf-sized, intelligent wolf) scholar/historian.
--Lyam, Tarm's secretary, a Hertasi (your basic child-sized intelligent lizard).
--Sejanes, Grand Duke Tremane's  chief mage.
--Master Levy, a math/science/engineering teacher from Valdemar.

Lyam and Tarm have brought Need, the spirit of a priestess-warrior ensorcelled into a sword (and with us from Book 8 onward).

Near the end of the book, another five people join the team:

--the ghost of Vanyel, the Last Herald-Mage from books 4-6;
--the ghost of Yfandes, his Companion;
--the ghost of Tylendel/Stefan, his dead boyfriend/reborn boyfriend.


--Trevalen, the ghost of a Shin'a'in shaman who was killed several books ago, but now acts as the Avatar of his Goddess
--Dawnfire, the ghost of a Tayledras scout who was also killed several books ago, and who is also an Avatar of her Goddess.

With all these folks--and the little cameo from Tarma--we have cast members spanning the entire series' history and get to say goodbye to some of them.

No complaints, but the book ended just in time. I'm ready for something non-Valdemar after a months' worth of it in three thick books.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Valdemar 22: Mage Storms 2--Storm Rising (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 5
Year: 1995
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? yes.

Book the 22nd with 4 to go before I'm done with the Valdemar books I've compared to the Valdemar books Lackey has added in the last two days.

We pick up shortly after the end of the previous book. Grand Duke Tremane has been forced to consolidate his forces even further in the wake of ever-worsening mage storms which have rendered magic unreliable and near-useless.

Tremane has pulled the troops off the front lines and brought them to the small town of Shonor. He's got them fortifying both the Imperial encampment and the town to protect everyone from vicious creatures spawned by the storms.

There has been no word from the Emperor or the Empire. No orders to pull back, no support, no rescue. Tremane still half-wonders if the storms and his isolation are a test from the Emperor to see how he handles adversity. Or is it because the Empire has been rendered helpless itself as the storms tear all magic asunder?

He has no way of knowing, but keeping his men and the town safe and preparing them for the coming winter is more important. There's no going back to the Empire unless he marches his men through hostile territory, first east across  Hardorn, then through several Imperial client states.

As the story progresses, he realizes that he's not preparing just for a single winter; he's setting up for a long stay.


Karal has been in Valdemar for a year. With his teacher and boss Ulrich murdered by Tremane's assassin, Karal now represents his home country of Karse in Valdemar. It's painfully clear to him, however, that no one really takes him seriously as an Envoy. He's too young, barely into his twenties. He has no experience in diplomacy. Unlike Ulrich, Karal isn't even a mage, so in his own opinion he's unable to help the Allies to solve the mage storms problem other than to take notes like the secretary he used to be.

He was instrumental in bringing Nerd Power to the mages in the first book--engineers, builders, mathematicians, scientists--scholars and their students who all would otherwise have been left out of the loop by the mages, who never would have thought to ask for a diagram of how the storm waves are interacting, let alone a timeline for when the Big Bang was coming. They've given the Allies an advantage that Tremane and the Empire lack: the ability to measure how the storms interact with the physical world. It soon becomes clear that for the next round of protection that will get us to the end of this book, the magical "breakwater" they set up at the end of the previous book will have to be expanded to include Hardorn.

Karal and An'desha team up to magically search for a contact in Hardorn, someone who can help the Allies in getting the expanded protections together. Their scrying leads them to...Grand Duke Tremane!

All Karal has to do is convince the Queen of Valdemar, his own boss the High Priestess of Karse, and the other allies to make an alliance with the man who ordered the murders of two Envoys and the attempt on two others. But first he must convince himself. Time is ticking: they only have till the end of the novel, just past Midwinter.


As in the first book, we're about 3/4 of the way in before Lackey is done setting up and maneuvering everyone to their places. The story is well-paced and doesn't drag, but by the time I'm done with the trio I won't be wanting more for awhile.


--In this second book, An'desha suddenly has cat eyes, a leftover from his possession by the spirit of an evil, near-immortal mage. When that spirit was destroyed two books ago, An'desha's Goddess gave him his body back, reversing Falconsbane's transformation into a man-cat. In the previous book, however, there's no mention of lasting changes other than white hair and silver eyes, which would be normal anyway for a powerful Adept mage.

--Early in this book, Tremane has his men building a high wall around his camp and the town of Shonor. Yet a few chapters later, he's thinking of how the town has no walls of its own, and how the residents will regret this fact.

--In the first book (and ONLY there), Tremane and the other Imperials refer to the Forty Little Gods; in the second and third, they invoke the Hundred or the Thousand Little Gods. I suppose this could be a proportion thing, with the Forty for less-extreme matters and additional Little Gods tacked on as needed to handle the larger work load. Tremane's gonna need the Thousand.

--In the first book, Tremane is pleased to have functional latrines that convert waste to fertilizer without using magic...but in this book he needs latrines!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Valdemar 21: Mage Storms 1--Storm Warning (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 5
Year: 1994
Genre: fantasy
Read again? yes.

After nearly three years of not reading any Valdemar books, I finally dove in. This is the 21st in the set, with 5 to go, not that I'm really bothering to make fun with the countdown anymore. But she is STILL writing them.

I will never be finished. This is the "Hotel California" of reading. And all those new books are going to screw up my book count. This one could be number 43 by the time I'm done writing this sentence--or number 90 by the time you're done reading the review. STOP HER!

This one and its two companions (Companions, get it? Valdemar joke! hahaha) weren't as hard a slog as I'd been expecting. They went by pretty quickly over the last 4 weeks. Reading them and the fat fifth "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel over the last 8 weeks marks the first time since 2010 that I've even felt like reading again since all the medical crap started.

We begin far to the east of Valdemar, with Emperor Charliss of the vast Eastern Empire. I don't know who had it first--Lackey or George R. R. Martin--but Charliss sits upon an Iron Throne made up of the weapons of vanquished kings and emperors, same as in "A Song of Ice and Fire"/"Game of Thrones." I'd forgotten this detail, but remember it seeming confusingly familiar when I was reading "Thrones" a decade ago.

Anyhow, Emperor, Iron Throne, bad guy. He's been ruling since he was 30. One hundred and fifty years, his life sustained by magic. But his clock is winding down, the center cannot hold, and he's got maybe 20 years left in him. Time to pick an Heir and get ready to retire.

He has selected Grand Duke Tremane, a boring man of about 30, only a Master mage to Charliss' Adept-class. To prove his worth, all Tremane must do is take what is left of the nation of Hardorn, subdue it, and bring it into the Empire.

Hardorn has had a rough several years. All the way back in Book #16, "Arrow's Fall," Prince Ancar staged a coup in which he murdered the king and most of his Court. He used evil blood magic to enslave any man who could hold a weapon, then used them as arrow-fodder to take control of Hardorn. Then he made war on Hardorn's peaceful neighbor, Valdemar. His campaign drained his country of able-bodied men and mage energy. By the time the Valdemarans and their allies finally got people in place at the end of the 20th book (Winds of Fury) and destroyed Ancar, poor Hardorn had been ravaged past any ability to resist when Charliss had his men invade from the Empire.

They took half of Hardorn without any real first. There were enough Hardornen loyalists to stop them from taking any more than that. Now all Duke Tremane must do is take command of the Imperial forces, subdue the resistance, and take the rest of the country.

There's a snag, though.

The same group of Valdemarans who killed Ancar also left a knife in the Imperial "envoy" to Hardorn (a spy, actually). Charliss takes this as a message from them. A warning? A threat? He doesn't know, but once he has Hardorn, he will be able to put troops on the Valdemar border to find out.

Valdemar itself is overrun with refugees. Though their own military strength has been reduced by long years of war with Hardorn, they could still offer Hardorn material aid, making Imperial assimilation that much more difficult.


Meanwhile, on the Valdemaran border with Karse, we meet our next point-of-view character, Karal. He's a novice, a priest-in-training in the Karsite religion/government. He has been sent north with his master Priest Ulrich, who is to be the Envoy to Valdemar, the first such in centuries.

Until only recently, the two nations had been fighting a war that stretched back several centuries and several novels, all the way back to #5, "Magic's Promise." Everyone on both sides of the border will have to get used to being friends now. To the Karsites, the Heralds of Valdemar and their horsey Companions were White Demons, the baby-eating epitome of evil. To the Valdemarans, the Karsites were murderous land-grabbing demon-summoning child-burners, which is actually what they were thanks to a string of evil religious zealots who turned the Karsite religion into centuries of Inquisition where being a mage got you taken for the Priesthood and having mind-magic got you toasted. The difference between those should be a separate post, I think.

The Karsites suddenly stopped fighting Valdemar when a woman, Solaris, took over as High Priest, Son of the Sun, and the Karsite god Vkandis legitimized it. Vkandis declared the burnings and demon-summoning and all the other evil stuff anathema and He smote and toasted several power-hungry Priests to make His point clear: only Solaris spoke for Him, Stop This Shit Right Now.

Shit stopped and Karse joined Valdemar in their war against Ancar and Hardorn.

Karal and Ulrich are sent north to work out the details of peace and friendship.

Our next point-of-view character is An'desha, whose body was the secondary bad guy in the previous three novels--Winds of Fate, Change, and Fury. His spirit was pushed aside as that of an evil mage moved in and took over to become Mornelithe Falconsbane. This seemingly-immortal spirit dates back to the very first book, some 2,000 years (both in the series timeline and how long it's taken to read them), as the original Big Bad, Ma'ar.

The same little group of Heroic Cast Members who took out Ancar also took out Falconsbane. An'desha was given his body back, but now he's terrified that the evil Falconsbane still lurks within him. He's also troubled by sudden spells in which all sensation vanishes--no light, no sound, all existence put on hold for an eternity that lasts only moments. Thanks to his possession by the Evil One, An'desha has memories that stretch back to the first novel (wish I could remember that far back) and he knows that the spells are nothing of his doing. Something bad is coming and it will take three novels to deal with it.

It takes two-thirds of the novel to get all the main players and relationships ready to go and make things happen.

Tremane arrives in Hardorn to find the occupation going even more badly than expected. He is forced to pull his men back to the town of Shonor. Almost as soon as he gives the orders to do so, Tremane is hit with the same "spell" as those An'desha has been experiencing--no light, no sound, all existence on hold for an eternity. He soon learns that the "spell" has affected all the mages and all the magic. The Empire uses magic for everything: transportation, cooking, heating, lighting, building. It has all failed, disrupted by this "mage-storm."

Tremane's advisors tell him that the wave swept out of the northeast, headed southwest and leaving strange circles of disrupted land in its wake.

Imperials are suspicious by nature; it's a given that the man standing next to you is a spy for at least one of your enemies. Your own wife could be on the Emperor's payroll, telling him all your secrets. It's also a given that there are daggers everywhere, always ready should the unwary turn his back. Did the Emperor send this "storm"? Or was it one of Tremane's rivals? Was this a test, an assassination attempt?

Or maybe it was sent by the Valdemarans to further hamper Tremane's mission in Hardorn. He's already convinced that they've been giving aid to the Opposition.

Beset by unseen enemies, Tremane sets some retaliatory plans in motion.


Meanwhile, back in Valdemar, the same wave of disruptive mage energy has rolled past, flattening all the mages, disrupting their spells, and leaving strange circles of disrupted land in its wake. Since Valdemarans don't use the same class of magic as the Imperials do, though, they're back on their feet pretty quickly. Search parties are sent out to inspect those circles. Each one looks like someone dug out of plug of earth several feet across and replaced the plug with something different--a circle of black sand; one of tough, wiry grass in red clay; one of fused black glass that looks blasted by enormous power. There are also transformed or dead animals, but no far. These circles stretch for miles in all directions.

An'desha offers an answer based on those ancient memories of his: this wave was just a small one, a tiny ripple that will build into a repeat of the great Cataclysm that ended the war between Urtho and Ma'ar some two thousand books years ago.

Typically for a Lackey novel (when it's not one of the suck ones), the story moves well. She makes an effort to make people "feel" real, but maybe spends too much time on that. The "mage storm" subplot builds slowly; two-thirds of several hundred pages is a long time for the action to kick in. Not that it drags, but there is an awful lot of getting to know Karal and getting him around to meet everyone who will be instrumental in the next two books.

This first one is mostly about him.


I didn't like the "just so" jumping to conclusions that led Tremane to unleash the assassin/agent in Valdemar. I really didn't like the bad-guy-who-looks-like-a-weasel character who plays the assassin. Beady eyes, obsequious, nervous, and all intended to scream in 90-foot-high neon that HEY!!! THIS IS THE BAD GUY YOU GUYS!! SEE HOW HE LOOKS LIKE ONE?!?!

There's some hammy overacting and Heroic Speeching that are played straight, as if the character is rallying her troops, but it feels clumsy and out-of-character.

This wouldn't be a Mercedes Lackey book without the Big Emotional Hit in the assassination that leaves Ulrich and a supporting character dead and several others injured. Karal becomes the new envoy from Karse. It's telegraphed several pages in advance, with Ulrich telling the young man how proud he is, and how like a son Karal has been to him. At least it wasn't held until later as a death bed declaration, complete with Karal closing his master's eyes and screaming at the sky as the camera looks down upon him. As it is, Ulrich is rendered unconscious in the attack and never wakes up. This keeps our focus on Karal as he first keeps his vigil and subsequently goes looking to get away from the Palace.

The confrontation with the assassin was another bit of just-so convenience, with the bad guy spilling the whole plot in an insane rant designed to let the Valdemarans know that Grand Duke Tremane of the Evil Eastern Empire Sends His Greetings. Crap.