I want to love this book and its sequel, Exile’s Valor … but I don’t. Parts of it are riveting and fun and indicative of solid, thought-provoking characterization and world-building. But a lot of it is just… dull. And then there’s the author insert, which both amuses me and disturbs me. Herald-Chronicler Myste? That is not subtle.
This duology is about Herald Alberich, who is the biggest badass in the whole series. (Except for maybe Tarma or Kerowyn or Sa(y)vil. He’s the biggest male badass anyway.) The youngest captain in the Karsite army, he is sentenced to be burned for the crime of being a witch (possessing the Gift of Foresight). He is rescued by his disguised Companion, Kantor. (Who is the biggest Companion badass.) Kantor whisks him away to Valdemar, where Alberich is a complete fish-out-of-water and not too happy with the whole being a Demon-Rider-enemy-of-Karse thing.
Exile’s Honor covers the history of the Tedrel Wars. It’s divided into three parts. The first is concerned with Alberich adjusting to his new status as Herald and trying to balance a new duty to Valdemar with his immovable duty to Karse. This becomes more complicated in parts two and three, when the Karsites hire a nation of mercenaries, the Tedrel Companies, (you read that right) to conquer Valdemar for them.
Ultimately I found the first part to be the most consistently interesting. Alberich’s struggle to understand his new life when he feels like everything is backwards, including the order of verbs, is very compelling. He’s sympathetic. He’s relateable. The details are great. The Heralds are confused about him; even a whole bunch of Companions don’t trust him and try to kill him. He makes enemies, he doesn’t even want to be a Herald. At the end, he chooses to be a Herald (SPOILERS LOL), and… well…. then Selenay becomes more interesting.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
And Selenay, while all her scenes are enjoyable, doesn’t get that much page-time. Most of section two is concerned with Alberich cracking heads in slummy parts of Haven and trying to teach the ‘frumpy’ Herald Myste self-defense. Alberich bar-brawling in the name of intrigue should be interesting, but really… it just felt boring. Maybe because we don’t really see scenes too much. Mercedes Lackey spends a lot of time telling readers important stuff and not showing it. This works if the conflict is internal… but often it seems to go on too long even then. So while the internal infodump-monologue worked, more or less, when Alberich was struggling to come to grips with split loyalties, it’s just irritating when we could be seeing scenes of Alberich realizing stuff while he fights and skulks. Also, long descriptions of, say, the Companion’s Bell and its secret room and utility could be shown in action while Alberich uses it, instead of telling us first, then skimming over the action, then giving us more infodumps re: the tavern he hangs out in. Lazy, lazy storytelling…. characteristic of the later Lackey books.
Honestly? I don’t think churning out three or four books a year is an excuse for such slow writing. Shouldn’t it be more fun to write this in scene first anyway? Or is it easier for her to generate money by writing extended synopses disguised as books?
Yeah, I wasn’t too happy with the Exile books, nor Take a Thief.
Irritation aside, some of the scenes in Exile’s Honor were pretty good. The Companions ganging up on Alberich was a great scene, because it differentiates Companions and makes them fallible. Alberich fishing with Selenay was a good tension reliever and also pretty funny (even if it was a little too long and slow.) Selenay packing for war and getting irritated because her maidservant keeps packing dresses was hilarious and pretty much my favourite moment in the book. I’ve always liked Selenay (she’s so flawed!) and I enjoyed the war and speeches and Selenay making the rounds of the soldiers and trying to lift their morale by talking to them. Selenay, as Heir, is great. Solemn, duty-bound, but headstrong and frustrated.
Overall though, this book is slow and not terribly gripping. Alberich doesn’t drive the plot once he makes up his mind to be a Herald. He just… is Alberich, and stuff happens around him.
And then there’s Herald-Chronicler Myste. Seriously, I don’t even know how to think about her. She’s such an obvious author-insert so I am uncomfortable with her as a character because I don’t know how much about her is Mercedes Lackey herself. On the other hand, she’s a pretty funny inverse of the Mary-Sue character, a knowing wink; even a good joke. She writes, she’s middle-aged and not particularly attractive, she has a bland past, she’s only special insofar as all humans are unique and beautiful snowflakes. She’s a Herald, but then, Misty Lackey invented Heralds and their moral code, so it’s perfectly reasonable that in-universe, she would be a Herald. I just… feel uncomfortable about this blatant self-insertion even though I appreciate the joke. That she’s Alberich’s love interest amuses me… that doesn’t bother me. Alberich is not on my Top Hottest Valdemar Guys list. (I don’t have one, but still.)
Also, the Tedrel orphans were interesting and should have been expanded on and foreshadowed—or cut. Because seriously, wtf. They’re pretty important by the end, but I don’t think they needed so much attention given to them.
Anyway, that’s Exile’s Honor. (Also, the constant misspelling of ‘honour’ makes me uncomfortable. When will the USA start spelling words correctly?) It’s ok. Nothing special. I wouldn’t go out of your way to read it.