Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Owlflight

Accuratish cover

Owlflight
Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon
Darian’s Tale: Book 1

I… remember nearly zilch about these books. Under the spoiler cut I’ll say what I do remember, but by and large, this book seemed very fresh and new (insofar as a Mercedes Lackey book can be new, considering how many of her books I’ve read, which is nearly all of them). For once I’m almost as unprepared as Mark of Mark Reads.

Owlflight is about Darian, an 13 year old orphan who his village insists must be grateful to them, because they have—against his wishes—apprenticed him to the elderly wizard Justyn. His village is Errold’s Grove, on the far northwest border of Valdemar, on the edge of the Pelagiris Forest. Darian’s trapper parents were viewed with suspicion by the villagers, so as a result they speak ill of them often, which makes it hard for young Darian to grieve properly, as you might imagine. However, his troubles soon escalate when a marauding band of barbarians, the Bear Clan, come attacking Errold’s Grove.

Many issues the Storms books had are not present in Owlflight. We’re tightly focussed on Darian, and later, his Hawkbrother mentor Snowfire. That’s all, apart from a brief section in Justyn’s head. Tight characters, and they actually do things. There’s actually action!

That being said, this novel felt much more like a very padded short story to me. Much of the action’s tension was drained away not so much by endless exposition, as in the Storms books, but by telling the action in two point of views in separate sections. This overlapping largely occurs near the beginning. Still, this book doesn’t really plod. It’s not long enough to plod.

Pretty!

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

This is what I do remember:

* Darian is the main character’s name (I thought he was older, but nope, he’s 13)
* There are Hawkbrothers
* This takes place in the north of Valdemar
* There’s a wizard who has a tragic past (I forgot he died)
* Darian bonds with a bondbird owl
* There are barbarians from the ‘Bear Clan’
* There’s a smart prostitute named Lilly
* At some point there might be a girlfriend of Darian’s? And something about a cave?

Most of these details I know only because I’ve listened to the filk songs from the Owlflight album recently.

Turns out I remembered nothing about the plot. I was surprised at how fast the plot actually went. Darian and Justyn argue, Darian sulks, we get these characters’ backstory in exposition when it would have better served the story to be at least partially shown through interaction and dialogue. Also, soon before Justyn dies, he somehow gets a realization that he and the village have done Darian a wrong, to constantly harp on Darian to be more ‘grateful.’ It would have been so much more poignant to have that come out in an interaction, to have Darian unbend just a little, only to have everything swept out from under him when the Bear Clan attacks.

Then Darian is pursued by Bear Clan riders, which is how he meets the Hawkbrother Snowfire. Snowfire is likeable enough. I don’t feel I have a really good handle on his personality; he seems just generally to be a bland, nice dude, who gets along with everyone except when he gets annoyed and the dyheli  (sentient magic deer) leader and the trondi’irn (gryphon… assistant?) Nightwind for conspiring behind his back. (Snowfire is against them mucking with Darian’s head: they give Darian the Hawkbrother language and magically insulate his grief because there isn’t time to deal with the natural grieving process—Snowfire thinks it is immoral, since they didn’t consult Darian. I enjoyed that debate, because I think both points are valid and it’s not black and white.)

(Sidenote: The gryphon’s nickname, Kel, really throws me for a loop. Especially since Kel from the Protector of the Small series actually tends a baby griffin at one point.)

Darian is in awe of the temporary Vale-like camp, but he doesn’t have much time to enjoy this new, paradisaical life, where for some reason everybody is a psychologist except when they’re not, and seem to know exactly how to treat him.

It does kind of irritate me how good guys in Misty’s books seem to have the same kind of minds and needs and psychological understandings. It’s as much fantasy as any of the magic. Somehow, in lieu of trained psychologists, if a person is goodhearted enough, they can act as a stand-in. There’s certain bits in Owlflight that are more complex, yes, (the Adept Starfall was adorably crushed when his questioning caused Darian to flee the scene in tears) but, by and large, without much in the way of communication, the Hawkbrothers suss out exactly why Darian is so resentful of his village. Darian himself is almost too self-reflective.

Anyway, after some scouting forays, Snowfire, and accidentally Darian, finds out the Bear Clan has taken over Errold’s Grove and enslaved the people. They formulate a plan to separate the forces and liberate the slaves. Instrumental to this plan is Darian’s knowledge of traps and familiarity of the village.

Suffice to say, in the climax something goes wrong and Darian, hiding in the stable loft, attacks the enemy mage in desperation. And somehow—mostly through desperation, the element of surprise, and the help of Snowfire’s bondbird’s mate, the eagle-owl Hurr—he kills the mage.

Note than bondbirds are supposed to be larger than their regular counterparts. BIG OWL.

Note than bondbirds are supposed to be larger than their regular counterparts. BIG OWL.

The story wraps up with Darian and the prostitute Lilly (who was sleeping with the barbarians to protect the younger girls) calling out the villagers for being useless. It’s rather satisfying. Lilly plans to leave the village with gold she took from the Clan and start and inn. (Much gold is left to the village to pay for food and repairs.) Darian chooses to be a liaison between the Hawkbrothers and Valdemar.

And, adorably, one of Hurr’s chicks, Kuari, chooses to bond to Darian. SO ADORABLE. (And silly. Eagle-owl chicks are really dorky looking!) Apparently I’m a giant sucker for cute animals. Well, who isn’t?

It’s really a very short, simple book. Rather refreshing after the Storms trilogy. I enjoyed it. I don’t think there’s much substance here, if you’re looking for that kind of thing. It’s an enjoyable story for those (increasingly not me) with the patience to weather introspective exposition that doesn’t go much of anywhere fast. Or teenagers who like angst. But, you know, I’m quite looking forward to the next one.

Have an adorable owl chick song:

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