Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Winds of Fate

Winds of Fate
Mercedes Lackey
The Mage Winds: Book 1

Ok, I’ve been putting this off long enough.

This trilogy is sheer high fantasy silliness. I can’t rip it to shreds because I can’t take it seriously enough:tThe main antagonist is an anthropomorphic cat. I can’t praise it much because… it’s just so silly. It’s a romp. It’s… not bad. I just feel silly for reviewing it.

Here we go, Winds of Fate:

In which Elspeth, ‘the Brat’, grows up into a very likeable young woman who doesn’t enjoy being the royal heir. In fact, she hates it so much that she convinces her mother Queen Selenay to let her ride out in search of mages to protect Valdemar from the evil Ancar whom we met in the Arrows trilogy. However, when all the Companions support her, she starts to suspect something’s up… and that she’s being manipulated from one destiny into another.

We get a new viewpoint character in Darkwind, a Tayledras scout from k’Sheyna Vale. K’Sheyna has problems though: it’s got a corrupted Heartstone. An accident with the Heartstone killed Darkwind’s mother—after which he changed his name from Songwind to Darkwind—and seems to have had a terrible effect on his father, Starblade, who has become cruel.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

Good things:

Elspeth is a fun character throughout. I love the way she calls her Companion Gwena out for being a manipulative liar. It’s interesting that Gwena is basically an archangel in horse form, but she’s capable of lying and manipulating to get her way… she has to learn the courtesy to treat Elspeth like an equal.

The scene where Elspeth stands on Gwena’s saddle and then falls back down into it, making Skif wince, always makes me laugh. Oh men and their fragile bits.

I appreciate that Elspeth wants to take charge of her destiny and does so.

I also enjoy the scene where the mage Quenten is in utter awe of the Companions but can’t explain that to Elspeth or Skif.

Skif is a moron and it’s cute, but also annoying. Like, Elspeth is simply not interested in you. Leave off.

Once again, women are just people. I’ve always liked that about Lackey’s work, how the women are just… women, doing things. They’re independent actors with their own loves and preferences and life choices. If they choose more traditional female roles, this is usually a matter of circumstance or social pressure. But they’re still people.

Nyara is pretty great. I feel like her character is far more interesting than anyone else’s, because, you know, she has conflict. She’s a fundamentally good person, but she’s got problems: people don’t trust her, she’s been abused, she’s conflicted because of her attachment to Falconsbane, she’s really sexy but it’s been inflicted on her magically and she has to grow to know herself as a subject, not an object. Other people need to learn to treat her not as a sex object. It’s a nice reversal: she is literally a sex kitten, but her choices impact the plot, and her abuse is treated as… well, abuse that she needs to heal from. In fact, she ends up with the tool to change her life: the sentient sword Need, who belonged to such badasses as Kethry, Kerowyn and, briefly, Elspeth herself. If there’s anything genuinely well done and not just fantasy fluff in this trilogy, it’s Nyara.

Things I am critical of:

I wish Darkwind’s father had actually been evil or had antagonistic opinions that weren’t being twisted by Mornelithe Falconsbane, because the good/evil split is appallingly obvious in this trilogy (Gwena notwithstanding). I think the dynamic between Darkwind and Starblade would have benefited from … I don’t know, actual tension? It’s kind of a let down at the end when it’s all SURPRISE Starblade IS on the side of light and fluffy bunnies! All the tension goes right out of their relationship.

Dawnfire is kind of a boring character.

Mornelithe Falconsbane is a cat. On the one hand, this is cool. On the other hand, it’s silly. He’s so over the top that I just can’t take him seriously.

Mercedes Lackey, your notions of good and evil have like, so few shades of grey here. It’s… a bit much sometimes.

Overall, this book is basically high fantasy fluff. I’d say it’s better quality fantasy fluff than most, because the non-human characters are treated like people, the worldbuilding is interesting, and the female characters are actually depicted as real people. But the plot is fairly mediocre, it’s never very engaging for me, the book seems a little distracted because it never seems to know what to focus on more—Elspeth, Darkwind, the Shin’a’in, the Tayledras, Mornelithe Falconsbane and his reincarnation issues, the gryphons, Dawnfire and shamanism… oh my gosh, pick a focus! If you already like Valdemar, or you need a fast read and just want something that involves colourful worldbuilding and realistic women, go ahead and read it. Otherwise, I’d give it a pass.

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