Whew! This year had a lot of Valdemar in it. I was a bit more hesitant to say negative things when I started this blog series, and then I became increasingly frustrated with certain things that cropped up in the Valdemar books over and over.
- Telling instead of showing was the huge one. Narrative summary and dull internal monologue comprised most of each book, which seemed like padding at best, and simply bad or cowardly writing at worst. Single brooding characters are much less interesting and do not carry the plot in the way two or more characters discussing and changing due to actions and discussions do.
- Her characters’ voices were all quite similar. There wasn’t much to distinguish one from the other, apart from superficial things. Many plots relied on misunderstandings, which are tedious. I’m looking at you, Arrows books.
- Good and evil are irritatingly simplified.
That being said, these books have strengths. I would recommend them to middle school kids or teenagers, for the most part—sex is glossed over but is treated in a sex-positive way, there are plenty of strong female characters, and I think it’s healthy and cathartic to read about angsty characters when you yourself are angsty, as many teens are. The fantasy elements are often silly, but then that’s part of the charm. Wish fulfillment is necessary in fiction to a certain extent. It gives hope.
As adult books, they fail simply due to their lack of complexity. That being said, adults can and do enjoy YA all the time (I still read Tamora Pierce, I liked Kristin Cashore’s Graceling books, I’m currently reading Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic and am enjoying it immensely so far). If I were in charge of marketing the Valdemar books I would market them as YA. Furthermore many people I know read the Heralds of Valdemar in early high school. This isn’t meant as a slight; I just think they do teenagers good, but a more refined and/or practiced taste will long for something … more. (Though, in my honest opinion, one Tamora Pierce book probably contains more nuance than the whole Valdemar oeuvre.)
A note on the Collegium Chronicles, since you’ll note I didn’t write about them. There’s a reason for that. I could barely read them. There are things I want to like about them… but for the most part they’re fluffy books full of filler and not much else.
The Kirball thing just seems like a Quidditch knock-off, for one. What’s-his-name, Mags, is not a particularly interesting character. His troubles seemed plot-convenient for the most part—he only seems to have PTSD over his horribly abusive childhood when the book wants him to angst (that part at the end of one of the books, don’t remember which, Intrigues maybe? Dallan’s leg is broken, so Mags runs away and scrubs dishes at some awful place and it’s due to misunderstanding… ugh!), he’s remarkably stable and put-together compared to his friends, I got the impression that his tics were a bit inconsistent.
On top of that, he seems to be good at nearly everything he does. And for some reason, the cloak-and-dagger work he does for Herald Nikolas is … boring. Cloak-and-dagger stuff shouldn’t be boring! It’s all because of how internal monologue-y the books are. They’re worse than all the previous Valdemar books. I had to skim over large sections just to get through them.
As with other Valdemar books, I really wanted to like them because I like the concepts: I wanted to explore the Collegia, I liked the interactions between Lena and Bear and Mags, and I was really interested in Lena’s conflict with her father. (Bear and his conflict was less interesting, especially because by Redoubt it became very cartoonish.) I liked Mags’ struggle in Karse in Redoubt, but the whole plot about his family history was still vague and… cartoonish, again. And many of the female characters seemed much weaker than Lackey’s previous offerings. Ultimately, disappointing fluff.
Considering how many books Mercedes Lackey puts out a year, it’s not surprising that quality drops off. Her name is enough to sell a book; it needn’t be more than a plot outline with filler and minimal editing. It puts food on her table, and she’s clearly very disciplined—I really respect that as someone who struggles to put her butt in the chair and write. But it’s disappointing all the same. I wish Mercedes Lackey had improved with practice; I wish I were her target audience still.
But overall the Heralds of Valdemar feels like a once-loved shirt that I’ve long grown out of. I miss it, but I’m simply too big to fit inside it anymore. There are new complexities in me, new desires, born out of intensive studying, reading and inquiring into literature.
(It’s a good thing not all my previous loves are so shabby in hindsight. Mark over at Mark Reads is currently reading Tamora Pierce’s works. Even though her books are short, they’re tighter, better edited, and chockfull of goodies.)
All this being said, I will probably read every subsequent Valdemar book that comes out. They’re… familiar, if frustrating. I enjoyed them so much as a young teen that they left impact. They’re like Christmas cookies, I suppose, not good for your health but comforting nonetheless. The same every year.
… And that’s a wrap! As of this posting, I only have a few readers, but I just want to say, you are lovely people and thank you for the comments! Here’s a bonus, some gorgeous Jun Suemi covers for The Black Gryphon: