Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon
Darian’s Tale: Book 2
Right, so, upfront, this is… not a good book.
But I freakin’ loved (almost) every moment of it.
I don’t know why. I guess this is why I consider Mercedes Lackey a guilty pleasure. Actually, no, scratch that, I know exactly why I like this. It’s a low tension, detail-focussed day-to-day of life in the rebuilt Errold’s Grove and in the k’Vala, and later k’Valdemar, Vale. Our new character, Keisha, (I knew I remembered a girl!) struggles to be the responsible Healer Errold’s Grove needs. She has to deal with her mundane, yet human, reactions and feelings: her mother is overbearing, her beloved sister is newly Chosen and gone to the capital, she doesn’t have enough training to shield herself from other people’s emotions. Meanwhile, Darian explored the k’Vala vale, learns from new teachers, has a casual fling with a pretty girl, and otherwise just sort of putters around being Darian.
But I get ahead of myself.
Owlsight picks up the story four years after the events of Owlflight. We start with Keisha, a practical down-to-earth Healer with limited training and some family issues. Eventually we learn more about Darian, and near the middle of the book the the two finally meet up and things start happening very quickly when nothing had happened previously.
Yes, like Owlflight, Owlsight is a short story padded with plot-irrelevant detail. It almost succeeds as a character-driven drama. It fails as the novel its climax wants us to believe it is: something more epic. The usual Lackey pitfalls of too much narrative summary in place of scenes, clunky structure, poor pacing, and overly-psychoanalyzed characters prevent the nuance and focus needed for a character-driven drama. The detail padding and poor structure absolutely bar this book from ‘epicness.’
But let’s talk about how it almost succeeds. Our primary conflicts are all interpersonal. Keisha struggles with her feelings towards the Choosing of her sister Shandi, with her overprotective mother who cannot understand that her children have grown up, with her relationship to the Errold’s Grove as a village. Nowhere is anyone vilified; it’s simply a struggle because that’s the way people are. Keisha is easily the best written character in the book, because she’s human, she has troubles, but they’re so easy to relate to. She’s not angsty or depressed, like many of Misty’s protagonists. She gets shit done. She’s assertive and coming into her own, but it’s still a struggle. This is great, fertile stuff for a book. It’s a shame this wasn’t the focus.
Owlsight does what I really wish more fantasy books did: focus on the day-to-day interpersonal dramas of people living in a fantasy land. Errold’s Grove is nothing like a medieval village, really. The people rely on a magical Healer. A Herald, absolutely good at heart, comes through to adjudicate every so often. A magical telepathic white horse can come and Choose someone. There are wild beasts that are created by the Changecircles caused by the mage storms. The village is hurting because they need a village wizard. This is cool! The worldbuilding provides both a different aesthetic and different problems for the protagonists to face. In a stronger author, it would add layers of metaphor as well.
I find this kind of story very refreshing. The truth is, I don’t like fantasy because of epic quests and battles, because of its black and white morality. These are things I tire of in fantasy. I like fantasy because I love the aesthetic, because I love the potential. Technically, anything can happen in a fantasy novel. In practice, authors usually copy The Lord of the Rings. The Epic Grand scale is far too often the focus—even Misty can be guilty of this, though one of the reasons I like her books despite their flaws is that she does write about practical things. However, it’s rare that Misty focusses on the mundane quite like this, since she usually has more plot, and her characters are usually fantasy stock: warriors (Tarma, Kero, Skandranon) or mages (Vanyel, Kethry). Talia was an excellent exception; Keisha is in a similar mode.
My main (silly?) beef with the story is that we really don’t see much of Kuari. At the end of Owlflight, I expected the next story to be full of Darian bonding with Kuari and it would be super cute. This book does not have enough cute Bondbird moments. I feel cheated of a forming relationship just as I did with Karal and Florian in Storm Warning.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
To be honest, I don’t have much more to say. The plot kicks up at the end, as a different clan of northern barbarians come with a terrifying illness that Keisha must heal. It’s resolved very quickly.
Firesong is back, too, as Darian’s mysterious teacher. Firesong has clearly matured since Need exploded over him, and it’s a nice change. Also, plot twist! Starfall is Firesong’s father! I find that pretty adorable.
Like I said, this is not really a good book. It’s mind candy. It almost succeeds, and I rather wish it had, because then I could recommend it unconditionally. I really like the worldbuilding and the conflicts presented, but I long for more nuance and subtlety, and while we’re wishing, a stronger prose style. Ultimately I’d rate this as enjoyable fluff. If you want a light read, go for it.