This was much more boring and irritating than Exile’s Honor. This book covers the tumultuous first year or so of Selenay’s rule, and it makes Selenay into… just… stupid. Argh. What the heck is with the weak characterizations in this book?
Ok, deep breath. Why did I dislike this so much? Because…
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
… Mercedes Lackey can’t write nuance. Or rather, she can if there are Ashkevrons about. But if there aren’t, well, we end up with this.
Technically, this book is about Alberich, not Selenay. But Selenay is a viewpoint character, and she’s more dynamic and has harder choices to make. Alberich is just randomly stalking actors and getting irritated because some boys broke a mirror and then, horrors, some other boys invented a hockey-polo style game called ‘Hurlee.’ There seems to be a direct correlation between Valdemar books that involve sport-invention and Valdemar books that aren’t good. (Valor, ‘The Collegium Chronicles’.) So, following Alberich is much less entertaining than seeing what Selenay will do…
…except that Selenay is characterized as irresponsible and boring and vapid as any high school teenager depicted on TV.
In Honor and in the original ‘Heralds of Valdemar’ trilogy, Selenay is a very grave, sober person who has a bit of a sense of humour but is mostly practical and serious. She was born and bred to duty. All that goes out the window when Karathanelan shows up. Suddenly she’s all romance and frippery and let’s have a masquerade! without any believable transition.
It’s chalked up to be because she’s grieving and taking her work too seriously and the stress finally gets to her. But I don’t see that. I see someone acting amazingly irresponsible and immature, and that person does not read as Selenay. Selenay should be much more cautious. She’s a war veteran who is struggling to maintain her power as a female monarch against a male council. Why does she act like some stereotype? Where are the things that make Selenay Selenay? Like deep concern for the people around her? Why is her Companion so… ditzy? Caryo is explained as an ‘old virgin aunt’ but honestly, that’s just lampshading the fact that everyone is shoehorned into the plot without it arising naturally from the characters.
You know, this is insulting to feminism, and to Lackey’s readership. Lackey has hitherto always made her women strong and powerful when in character—and some of her female characters have been weaker people, just like some of her male characters. Just like real people. To reduce a complex, nuanced character like Selenay into a high school stereotype because the plot needs it is gross disservice to character, book and reader.
Also, Karathanelan. Good gods. I understand that Mercedes Lackey is a very black-and-white writer (with political agendas, but that’s for another rant), but he was so blatantly stupid and evil that I couldn’t buy his character. I did not believe that he could seduce a Herald using tips from an actor. This is exactly where nuance needed to come in.
He should have seduced her himself. His plot to assassinate her should have taken several years to form. (I believe his seduction and treachery was said to have taken course over years in the Arrows books.) Maybe he could love her at first? And then become more powerhungry? Maybe he could have good characteristics as well as bad. This guy? Not compelling. We know he’s a dirty slimy power-hungry misogynistic bastard. Why the hell couldn’t someone point it out to Selenay? In Arrow’s Flight, Talia managed alright stopping Elspeth from making that mistake, without her opposition driving Elspeth to continue seeing the man just to rebel. Talia used logic to stop Elspeth. Elspeth listened because she was a Herald, which means rational and focussed on duty, and her Companion helped her. But no, in Valor everyone expects Selenay to act like an irrational, rebellious child even though they have no rational reason to believe it. Selenay is a Queen, she’s been judging court cases in Haven. Furthermore, nobody even considers in using Caryo to help, because Caryo is ‘an old maid.’ Because it’s plot convenient, Selenay is reduced to a misogynistic cultural stereotype that says women are irrational, emotional, easily misled by their desires. No. I call bullshit.
Oh yeah, then there’s Alberich. All the Alberich sections were dull. I don’t care about sports. They are irrelevant to everything in the book. The ice festival? Attending Winterlude as a kid added as much to Valor‘s plot as the description in the book. And it was more fun. Glass-blowing? I would rather read Shatterglass by Tamora Pierce—at least the glass-blowing is essential to Shatterglass’s plot. Weaponsmaster as secret agent? I don’t care. I just don’t care. The text will not aid me in caring. The text itself does not care.
Also, Misty just failed utterly to get her own details straight. She wrote a song about how Selenay couldn’t stand that Elspeth (her daughter) has her father’s eyes. But Karathanelan (‘Thanel’ in By the Sword, published much earlier, but ‘Karath’ here) is described as having blue eyes. Elspeth has brown eyes. And more glaringly, there is a giant chronological issue: in By the Sword, the King of Rethwellan, Karathanelan’s father, dies after Karathanelan dies in his attempt to assassinate Selenay—in fact, that news triggers the King’s heart failure. In Valor, Karath’s father dies midway and he uses his father’s death to pull sympathy from Selenay. Karath/Thanel I can excuse as Karath’s attempt to start a new life with a new nickname, but the other two are big mistakes that can’t be explained away.
Oh, and Myste also does stuff. Lots of stuff. Plot important stuff. And sleeps with Alberich. And… it’s not interesting. What started as a Mary-Sue in-joke seems to have become Mary-Sue in truth. Ugh.
Also? How does no-one notice that the evil mastermind is Lord Orthallen? I mean, it’s just so blatantly obvious. It just makes all the characters look stupid for plot convenience. Guys? I am not ok with that.
There are actually so many other things that don’t make sense in this book that I invite my readers to read the low-star Amazon reviews if they are inclined. The exasperation is amusing.
If you’re a die-hard Valdemar fan, go for it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. Otherwise, go read anything but this.