Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Arrows of the Queen

Arrows of the Queen
Mercedes Lackey
The Heralds of Valdemar: Book 1

Arrows of the Queen is the wish-fulfillment fantasy that started it all. The prose has an odd, dream-like quality absent from most or all of Lackey’s novels. It’s not poetic, but it reminds me, faintly, of Robin McKinley, which no other Lackey book does, including Queen’s sequels Arrow’s Flight and Arrow’s Fall.

I believe this in part due to the way tenses change fluidly from paragraph to paragraph and the very odd way the book is structured. We seem to zoom in and out of Talia’s story, spending lavish amounts of time on her journey to Haven, and them skimming over drama that occurs at the Collegium. The story itself starts with a fanfic-esque daydream involving Herald-Mage Vanyel, which seems to throw the whole story off foundation—we only get a sense of where we are when finally Talia reaches the Collegium.

So, this is the patented Lackey formula: abused youngster is rescued and whisked away to a better life. The better life often involves pain and anguish, but then, life is life. In the Velgarth ‘verse, this is built into the living mythology: Companions Choose worthy, noble people to be Heralds. After Talia, most protagonists don’t want to be Chosen (Vanyel hates the notion, Alberich thinks Companions are demons, Lavan wanted to be in the Guard, etc etc.)

But Talia, our 13-year old protagonists, longs to be Chosen and to be a heroic Herald. Unfortunately, her puritanical polygamous family wants to marry her off. Afraid, not fitting in, Talia runs away. She is Chosen by the grove-born Companion Rolan and taken away to Haven to be the most important Herald, the Queen’s Own.

Arrows of the Queen chronicles Talia’s life as a Heraldic Trainee. It has no particular overarching plot, apart from Talia learning self-respect, but every scene does contribute in some way to either the understated climax or the other, more dramatic sequels.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

If you like wish-fulfillment fantasies about female protagonists, you can do worse than Lackey. Talia borders on Mary-Sue territory, but then, there’s actually a good reason people instinctively like her: she’s not only a Heraldic Trainee, but she’s an Empath, with a lot of compassion. And she is flawed: she doesn’t trust easily, she bottles things up inside, she’s very fearful, she wallows in self-despair (a trait she shares with Vanyel, but I think Vanyel does it more.) She’s not even particularly good in combat: the gruff weaponsmaster (that’s our friend Alberich) goes easy on her, and she never likes it. Plenty of characters are better at combat than she is. Her aptitudes are riding, compassion and music—seems legit.

This book is kind of shuddery and unstable. I don’t mind the omniscient narrative, which Misty does away with in Arrow’s Flight and, I think, all her subsequent novels: POV switches in later books occur between scene breaks with white space, or between chapters. But there’s something odd about what details and events Misty chooses to dwell on.

The most major example of this is the period in Talia’s life when the noble students, the Blues, are bullying her. We’re given all of this in narrative summary. We don’t know the names, we don’t really see the events happen. A couple pages describes these important events… and then she nearly dies but that’s alright and then the Blues are gone. Wait, what?

To sum up, the pacing is really bloody weird.

But for me, personally, I found the story engaging and the characters interesting and quite likeable. I wish there was more character interaction and banter. And even though I’m not a fan of children, I really enjoyed the scenes when Talia disciplines the bratty princess Elspeth. Elspeth is a great character all-around.

This book is also the very first book to introduce me to same-sex couples, ever: the lesbian couple Keren and Ylsa. They confused poor old twelve-year old me, but I shrugged because I was absorbed in the story. They seemed like alright people, and anyway, what did I know? I was twelve and I read so much so that I could learn what I couldn’t from my parents and teachers and social milieu. I owe so much mind-broadening to Mercedes Lackey, oddly enough.

In some ways, I don’t understand how to approach this book without rose-tinted nostalgia-goggles (granted, that’s me on the whole series…). It’s got ‘first book awkwardness’ around it, but it’s interesting, and I appreciate its meandering. There’s a gentleness in the story, despite the very-present cruelty in Valdemar. The characterizations are sometimes awkward, too, and open a lot of questions, such as: the Heralds know Talia’s Holderkin repudiated her, so why doesn’t anyone spend time with her during the Midwinter break? After all, her predecessor was murdered—why the lack of protections? Seems… plot convenient.

Flawed, but I think its strengths make it a fun, even worthwhile, read. Especially since it is full of female characters who are depicted as people, with worth based on their actions and not on their sexual characteristics.

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2 responses to “Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Arrows of the Queen

  1. Found you via Mark Reads.

    Re: Keren and Ylsa, my memory of 12-year-old me (I haven’t read the books recently) was that I couldn’t keep the speakers straight – there were usually three women (+Talia) talking at any given time, and I couldn’t figure out who was the speaker when. I remember being really frustrated because it was a gay couple in YA literature! – but I was so annoyed by the writing that I couldn’t celebrate it.

    • Yay, new reader! Hi and welcome! Hmm, I never had that particular problem, but I don’t doubt it. Lackey’s writing style is… more miss than hit unfortunately.

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