Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Storm Breaking

Karal is cute

Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey
The Mage Storms: Book 3

Right. The torture ends. We come to Storm Breaking. I finally get to stop reading the Mage Storm books! This took a bit longer than I expected to read, because, well, the prose annoyed me. Frequent breaks were necessary. That being said, I found it marginally better than Storm Rising.

See, at the beginning, we actually have… conversations! And banter! And because this is the (not-so-)grand finale, there were more scenes and the speed picked up. From a crawl to a walk. Progress!

Plot is as follows: the Storms have returned again. From their analysis, our protagonists know that biggest Storm is yet to come, one which will bring a second Cataclysm and warp the face of the earth—unless they can stop it. Also we find out what the deal is with Iftel, the mysterious country with the impassable border.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

What is this cover?Turns out they can stop the Storms! Our story has a divided focus. We spend time in three locations: Karal, Firesong, An’desha, Silverfox, some Kaled’a’in and Shin’a’in at Urtho’s tower, Elspeth, Darkwind and Solaris(!) with Tremane in Hardorn; and Emperor Charliss and his heir Melles in the Eastern Empire’s capital, wherever it is (presumably in the east?).

At Urtho’s Tower not a lot happens. Mostly interpersonal stuff. They discover magic-Skype, and use it to communicate with Valdemar, and, by extension, Hardorn. Karal and Natoli use magic-Skype to continue their (admittedly adorable) relationship. Firesong gets along with everyone. No one’s too mopy. Sejanes takes Karal under his wing. They explore the tower. It’s actually… interesting. Because they’re usually interacting and talking to each other and since they’re not plotting or anything, we can spend time not being drowned in exposition. Why, in the first chapter, we have on-screen banter between Firesong and Silverfox. It’s so refreshing. There’s some worldbuilding in these scenes, too. I loved that the struggled over the translation, because the Kaled’a’in language had shifted significantly through the ages.

The scenes in Hardorn had oh, so much potential. It’s a cool plot, really. The citizens of Hardorn want Tremane to rule them, but they want to put a powerful check on his power: they want to bind him to the land, a ritual Ancar never performed. The advantage is that Tremane will feel the earth, so if he damages the country, it will damage him. Tremane needs to be tested for earth-sense first, so they fetch a priest. There’s a really cute scene where Elspeth and Darkwind dress the priest in makeshift regalia. As you might imagine, Tremane does have earth-sense. He eats some dirt and gets ill every time a storm passes. Sounds fun. I rather liked the descriptions of the shabby regalia and the smallness of what they have. Hardorn has been ripped to shreds by Ancar’s misuse, so there’s no wealth, they’re at a very primitive, survival stage.

Unfortunately, these scenes suffer from bucketloads of needless exposition and over-explaining.

Once Tremane is settled as rightful king of Hardorn, an ambassador from Iftel shows up—gryphons. Turns out they’ve been sent by their god, Vykaendys. Yes, Vkandis Sunlord has been protecting Iftel—and the Karsites never knew! Solaris is sent by Vkandis to join up with our Hardornen gang. This was another wasted opportunity. Solaris hates Tremane, and Tremane is frightened of her, and yet they have to work together to find out how to shield nodes and leylines. The tension is deflated because their arguments are offstage. Since we’ve been in Tremane’s head in other places, I see no reason why that should have been offstage. It would have been an interesting thing to see.

Pretty!And then there’s the Eastern Empire.

Hoo boy.

I hate every section set in the Eastern Empire. Every. Single. Paragraph.

They’re dull. They’re nearly all exposition. Charliss’s POV isn’t interesting. Melles… does nothing that directly influences our protagonists. Neither section amounts to anything because none of our protagonists know or care what they are doing. Furthermore, none of their plots affect the climax in any meaningful way. On top of that, we are given very few solid details about the Empire apart from everyone really loves clerks. Well, good on you. You’ll known what to send Keladry of Mindelan on her birthday.* How is their culture different from Valdemar’s or Hardorn’s or whomever? What’s their architecture like? Do they have any gods besides the Hundred Little Gods that are their emperors? Just ancestor worship? Are they white? Brown? Green and polka-dotted? (I suspect they’re white. Pfeh.)

And you know what? Even if Mercedes Lackey had put the slightest amount of effort into differentiating them, it would still be a waste of space, because they don’t matter to the narrative. They just distract from the characters we actually care about. They’re a waste of space and should have been ruthlessly edited.

I have to admit, one trope of fantasy genre writing I hate are these endless detours into the antagonist’s POV. Unless the antagonist is very nuanced and there’s a reason we should root for him even a little, there’s just no point. Actually, no. Let me amend this. Unless you’re a very good writer on par with Nabokov just don’t do it. It’s distracting, it deflates the tension, and in this book, it takes away from focussing on the conflicts between our protagonists.

Seriously? Everyone gets on so well in this book it’s a bit alarming. I feel like Lackey just threw these Eastern Empire segments in to distract us from the other characters, forced tension. Look, it’s unnecessary. She said herself she likes to drop mountains on her protagonists. She managed well enough with Vanyel, Talia, Tarma and Kethry, Kerowyn… why couldn’t we have seen more disagreements and tension with our protagonists on our various home turfs?

Oh wait, she tried that at one point. And it was pretty awful.
Firecat

See, at one point, our people at Urtho’s Tower use magic-Skype to contact the Valdemaran council, and we see a conflict: some councillors aren’t taking it as seriously as Karal and Firesong and the others wish, or they want more resources for their land… and this is totally demonized. They’re dismissed (literally, by Selenay’s wish), not heard out at all. We don’t know their names. We’re not told what prompts them. And that really rubs me the wrong way! It’s so black and white! Mercedes Lackey has been hammering us over the head with ethics: treat the people right, respect the people you rule. But here, no respect is given. There is no dialogue, only the assumption that Firesong et al. are in the right, and these councillors are just stupid.

Uhm, no? More nuance please?

The climax is satisfying in its way, though. Vanyel and Stefan and Yfandes come as ghosts to help: along with Florian and Need, they pass on to whatever the afterlife holds (for Florian, reincarnation). Karal is blinded by being a channel, but Altra helps to be his eyes. Which is awkward for Karal, because Altra is only waist-highish, which I thought was adorable. Firesong is horrifically scarred, but covers it with a fantastical mask, and Silverfox loves him anyway. I really liked that. Firesong’s so vain, but he’s resilient and flexible enough that he, despite his grief and pain, creates a face for himself. He doesn’t just surrender, he rolls with the punch. It seemed very human.

So, to sum up my thoughts on the Mage Storms: not good. I won’t say terrible. Just… mediocre at best. Too much exposition (can you tell I hate this?), no immediacy felt towards the Mage Storms (we’re never really in the moment when they pass), too many forced conflicts, too scattered a cast of characters. Surprisingly few female characters for a Lackey book. Not one of her best works, at all.

I can only hope the Owl books are better.

* This is a reference to Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce, wherein Lady Knight Keladry is commanding a refugee camp and is thrilled when she discovers clerks will do her paperwork for her.

 

Firesong with a mustache?

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