Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon
Darian’s Tale: Book 3
And so it ends. Remember how, despite its many, many flaws, I enjoyed Owlsight? Not so with Owlknight. Not even a little. Nothing about this book really stands out to me. It had more plot than Owlsight, but it wasn’t terribly interesting, given that the characterizations of … everyone really … was so poor.
Basically, everyone lost their personality and gained forced problems in place of personality. Never a good way to keep a reader’s attention. A good way to break a reader’s trust. Darian never really had much in the way of personality, but Keisha felt downright unlikeable in this book, as did Shandi, and their sibling relationship had no dynamics, no nuance, no subtlety. This happens time and again in later Lackey books, but a character will psychoanalyze another and chide them for behaviour—for example, this happens when Shandi berates Keisha for fearing Darian might leave her for another, and when Keisha berates Shandi for repressing her fear and taking it out on everyone later in the story—and then the chided character will suddenly straighten their spine, set back their shoulders and agree.
Uh, no? Have you ever observed human behaviour? That’s not how people work. You can’t just point out their problems and expect them to salute and go, “I’ll straighten those out-of-line emotions. Right away!” Changing emotions have to be learned and earned, and this process is preferably shown to the viewer. I think we all know by now that showing is not Lackey’s strong suit.
So this happens… often.
Which manages to wrench all the interest out of what little interpersonal drama there is.
After a very slow beginning where Darian is given a bunch of titles and put through a bunch of ceremonies that also don’t feel earned (except, perhaps, his trial to gain Mastery of magic), the plot finally revs up. Darian wants to know what becomes of his parents, so he enlists his friend Wintersky, Snowfire’s brother),to help him track them down.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
What they find are the bones of Darian’s father’s foot in a Changecircle. Darian brings back the remains to Firesong, who performs a spell. Turns out, Darian’s father is alive—and somewhere up in the north.
So our main characters team up to go find Darian’s parents, with the addition of Shandi, who has newly gained her Whites. They travel into what is essentially northwest Canada. After a bunch of not terribly memorable adventures (well, I suppose the cold drake was slightly memorable), they arrive at
Haida Gwaii the Raven clan, where Darian’s parents and his young, newfound siblings live. Joyful reunion, yadda yadda, then the Wolverine clan, with some Blood Bear hangers-on that the narrative fairly explicitly said were destroyed, shows up trying to ‘farm’ the Raven clan. (Aka disable the men, rape the women, steal the boy children, and come back later to take the children born of rape.)
Ok, there’s a lot of potentially interesting things that are actually going on. Unfortunately, this book is not competently-written to deal with them. Rather like in the Storms books, several things get in the way.
First, the poor quality of the prose and writing style.
Two, there are too many things going on: there’s Darian’s quest, romantic subplots, a whole inter-clan warfare plot with rape and mutilation and a lot of seriously heavy topics that just get dealt with in the narrative and then rather glossed over and… well… if you’re not going to write a novel about it, don’t include all that shit and then do it a disservice.
Three, uh. Racism. I’m not an expert, white privilege and all, but I’m pretty sure there’s some of that, intentional or not. There’s always this underlying current that the northern people—who are more Native American than Norse as I initially thought—are barbarians, even when they’re said not to be (having intricate art, actually liking being clean.) There is no colonialism, but at the same time, no prejudices are ever dealt with. And the—I don’t know if I can accurate describe this—flavour of the prose always sounds distinctly atheist, pragmatic, nonspiritual. I noticed this in the Storm books, with Karal, but I didn’t really call the books out for it at the time because the characters and the Gods, even, needed to deal with the repercussions of the mage storms in a pragmatic, scientific way.
Here, the flavour is out of place. The Hawkbrothers are supposed to have a mystical way of viewing things. The clans all have their own guardian spirits. But the prose and characters never feel spiritual, at all, ever. Or if they do, there’s usually a feeling of naiveté about them. I think this goes back to the problem that all Mercedes Lackey’s books have: a lack of nuance and subtlety, and a real understanding of the varied ways of being human. In Velgarth, everything is either black or white. You can’t be pragmatic AND spiritual for the most part. You are good OR evil. Tedious and unnecessary and limiting to fiction, in my opinion.
To get back to the northern clans, there’s always that feeling of naiveté and ignorance about them. There’s always something stilted and awkward about their speech, even when they’re speaking their own language. Problematic, irritating, and a hindrance to the enjoyment of the story. On the one hand, it’s nice to see something inspired by Native American culture. But if it’s going to botch it up disrespectfully, then that’s not cool at all. It would have been better not to touch it.
To get back to the narrative, the end battle is over far too easily in my opinion. It doesn’t feel earned. This whole book doesn’t feel earned. To be honest, much as I for some reason enjoyed Owlsight, the entire trilogy feels unearned. It’s mildly more enjoyable than the Storms books, but not worth the time.
PS: the relationship between Darian and Kuari is still undeveloped and untouched, Kuari barely does anything, and I’m still disappointed about this.