Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Owlknight

Owlknight

Owlknight
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

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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.

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Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Storm Rising

Karal is cute

Storm Rising
Mercedes Lackey
The Mage Storms: Book 2

Reading Storm Rising is like reading How Not To Write A Novel 101. You can actually learn a lot from this book. This one should have been named Storm Warning, as in, Warning, This Is Not A Good Book.

Not to say there aren’t good ideas in the book. I care enough to go over this book in detail because stronger editing and several more revisions this could have been a good book! All the pieces of a novel are here, they’re just arranged badly. Also, it could have done with a lot of cutting. I won’t say this book could be shorter—au contraire, there could have been more expansion, more point-of-views and explored conflicts. But a good half of this book is unnecessary exposition. The rest of the book is… plot-motivated exposition. This book is about 95% exposition and as a result it’s a snoozefest.The Mage Storms trilogy is supposed to be epic fantasy, or at least as epic as Mercedes Lackey—with her character-focussed narratives and down-to-earth sensibilities—can be. Just keep that in mind. There’s a solid plotline underneath the exposition.

Essentially the plotline is as follows: while the horror of the Mage Storms was effectively stalled in Storm Warning, the ‘solution’ is only temporary. Mages, priests and artificers from Valdemar, Karse, the Shin’a’in/Tayledras/Kaled’a’in (the Alliance) must learn to work with each other and also make a truce with Grand Duke Tremane’s Imperial forces to find the solution to the problem of the Mage Storms.

This is an excellent set-up for lots of character interaction. Unfortunately, as I’ve already mentioned, the exposition robs the text of the tension and momentum needed to make it interesting.
Part of the problem lies in the prose. It’s clunky. Mercedes Lackey’s prose is workaday but not poetic or slick. In many of her books the prose weighs down the action with unnecessary repetitions, awkward phrasing and passive language. For example, all italics mine:  “With the ease of what had become habit, he…” could easily become “With the ease of habit, he…”

“In the anxious concentration on what magic might do to save Valdemar and her allies from the same fate known of in Hardorn, the other projects the artificers and their students had been working on suffered the neglect of the masters” is simply not a good sentence. However it could be condensed into, “In the anxious concentration on how magic could save Valdemar and her allies from Hardorn’s fate, the other projects the artificer students had been working on suffered the neglect of the masters.”

Clunky, ungainly, slowed down prose drains tension and excitement from the narrative. This problem at the micro level of sentences also shows up in the macro structuring of scenes.

Frequently scenes begin with several pages of introspection. Only after slogging through often-unnecessary minutiae and excruciatingly detailed and explained thought processes do we finally get some conversation. Telling, not showing, is the cardinal sin committed here. We are told everything. We need puzzle nothing out for ourselves, because every character is incredibly self-reflective and … very similar in their thought processes. In fact all of the characters seem to think the same way, and nearly all the tension in the interaction comes from characters not talking to one another. When they finally do, there is little-to-no miscommunication, because everyone thinks in the same logical progression. Tremane I guess

Now, as an self-reflective person, I rarely have issues with introspection in fiction. It’s usually necessary at some stage. But it’s a weak way to write if nearly all the conflict in the story comes from blown-up thoughts and minimized interaction. Interaction should be the heart of the conflict. Especially in a story where people—lots and lots of people—need to come together and engineer a solution, there should be a multitude of interpersonal conflicts played out onscreen.

Worse, most of the introspection details either forced angst or interpersonal struggles that we never get to see happening.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
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Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Storm Warning

Really love this art

Storm Warning
Mercedes Lackey
The Mage Storms: Book 1

This book opens with a description of the Iron Throne, made of the weapons of the fallen countries the Eastern Empire has consumed. Sounds familiar? Storm Warning (1994) was published two years before A Game of Thrones (1996), so I wonder what it was about the mid-90’s that iron chairs were so fashionable.

When I first read these books at 13, I thought they were the worst, most boring Valdemar books yet. Reading them again, I’ve refined my opinion, but I still think they’re not exactly edge-of-your-seat excitement. The pacing is horrible, to start with. There’s a lot of interesting elements, but they’re often brushed aside.

Actually quite pretty.
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Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Take a Thief

Take a Thief
Mercedes Lackey
Stand-alone

Oh, Take a Thief. I think this is the book that clued me into the fact that the newer Valdemar books just weren’t that good. This book has as much padding as a pine has needles. In fact, the first chapters are padding. And then the plot is padding. And then—screw it. This entire book is padding, padding out the Valdemar chronology to pad Lackey’s pocket. (Fairly; I’m glad she makes money writing. I just wished her editor would, y’know, edit.)

If you like Skif… you still might not like this book. I’ve always liked Skif, but I don’t like his backstory. It’s dull. The plot is rather uninspired, I don’t really believe the whole vengeance plot, we don’t spend much time with Skif burglarizing much. Which is sad, because that sounds like fun. This plot… kid thieves, vengeance, child snatching: this is Lackey-does-Oliver-Twist. Which is dull, sorry. Dickens could get away with detail overkill because Victorian England. But this book was published in 2001. Also, Valdemar isn’t 19th century London. That kind of complexity doesn’t come through. She writes all kinds of gritty details about how awful Skif’s life is, and really? That would be great… if it wasn’t heaps and heaps of filler with no real plot relevance. The tension does not come from the details. Skif is kinda meh about his life, and while he makes the choice to be a child thief, well… we don’t feel it. It feels mechanical, somehow.

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Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Exile’s Valor

Exile’s Valor
Mercedes Lackey
Stand-alone/Duology

This was much more boring and irritating than Exile’s Honor. This book covers the tumultuous first year or so of Selenay’s rule, and it makes Selenay into… just… stupid. Argh. What the heck is with the weak characterizations in this book?

Ok, deep breath. Why did I dislike this so much? Because…

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