The city of Merina is rich and undefended, and falls prey to the conquering Emperor Balthasar, his dark mage Apolon, and his heir Leopold. The dowager queen Adele, her daughter queen Lydana, and the heir Shelyra surrender the city to save it from destruction, but go underground to fight back against the conquerors.
Ho hum. I said the Eight Dreadful Words on page 179, and stopped reading, when I got too bored just waiting for something to happen. By this stage we've had lots of background introductory material, on the three Merinan women, the three enemy men, and various other 'colourful' characters. But that's all we've had (apart from a little heavy-handed foreshadowing about evil gems), it's nearly half-way into the book, and I'm bored.
Maybe the problem is that each of the three writers has provided one book's worth of build-up, all lumped together? Or maybe the problem is that I don't like the kind of plot structure where things get worse, and worse, and worse, and ... until, finally, the characters do something. Maybe the writers are trying to draw a picture of a situation so bad that even the 'ordinary' folk will revolt; I'm just sitting there saying "what are you waiting for: fight back, dammit!"
Ilya Ivanovitch is one of eight hulking sons of a minor Russian Tsar. The father is a greedy, brutish man who is afraid his sons will band together to overthrow him, so encourages them to fight against each other instead. Ilya seems to be the only one of the eight who has any brains, and he longs to be out of his miserable situation. But when he catches sight of the mythical Firebird visiting his father's orchard, his luck just gets worse. Eventually he is forced to leave home, and goes in search of adventure. Naturally, he comes across an evil sorceror who is holding captive a beautiful enchanted princess. Ilya resolves to rescue her, but needs the Firebird to help him in his quest.
The Russian mythology and history seem to be captured well here, although in some places the decriptive detail reads more like a shopping list or catalogue than a story. And that story is very slow to get going. It is more than halfway through the book before Ilya even leaves home, and yet the denoument is crammed into the last few pages.
Ilya himself is well drawn, but doesn't evoke my sympathy, despite, I suspect, the best efforts of the author. He is certainly very put upon, bullied by his brothers, despised by the servants. But it is made quite clear that he in no timid weakling, and has more brains than the rest put together, so one might feel he could have managed rather better than he does. And all the other characters, even the all-important Firebird, are disappointingly peripheral and two dimensional. However, it is good to see a hero using his wits, and in a rather unconventional manner, rather than just brute stength, to win the day.
A variable collection of Lackey's non-Valdemar short fiction, some stand-alone, some set in 'sharecropped' universes and themed anthologies. (My favorite is "Last Rights".) It includes two stories about the mage Mertis and her bodyguard Lyran, that could have some potential if expanded into a novel.
Another collection of Lackey's short fiction (one set in her Valdemar universe), some stand-alone, some set in 'sharecropped' universes and themed anthologies.
The four stories about SKitty have a slightly old-fashioned air -- one could imagine them fixed up into a pleasing 1950s-esque space opera novel. (They also don't read too well one after the other, because of the scene-setting recapitulations in the later ones.) My favorite story is "Operation Desert Fox", set in the Bolo universe. This despite the fact there is a Valdemar story here -- of Alberich's being Chosen. Lackey says this is the only Valdemar short story she has done, because she hates "to waste a good idea on something as small as a short story" -- and I think she's right; the novel (or maybe even trilogy) is her best length (but only when she makes that length up from incidents concerning the main protagonist, not when padding with too many subordinate stories).
Has Mercedes Lackey forgotten how to plot? Too much turgid, tedious build-up, to a decidedly unsatisfactory 'climax' that disappointingly fizzled out in a few pages.
Tal Rufen, a constable, High Bishop Ardis, a Justiciar Mage, and Vysir, a Haspur birdman, are hunting a gruesome serial killer. Yawn. We get four viewpoints -- a few chapters of each character, but never building to any real climax, and then swapping to another viewpoint, which starts building background all over again. The structure put me in mind of a joke...
-- A. E. S. Green, American
Journal of Physics
as quoted in More Random Walks in Science
...but this wasn't as funny. And those little italicised internal monologues that show a character's state of mind, which were used sparingly and worked rather well in earlier books, are now becoming ubiquitous, preachy, and irritating.
Tales of life under the 'bloody sun' of Darkover, a lost human colony, reverted to feudalism, where some humans have interbred with the natives to produce the Comyn, a psi-caste of rulers. The series ranges right from the original Landfall, through the Ages of Chaos where the new psi powers lead to devastating wars, through to the crisis of recontact with mainstream, relatively alien, Terrans.
The early books in the series are okay romps (and are probably half a point lower than the overall series rating), but in 1975 with Heritage of Hastur something changed, and they improved, and deepened, dramatically (and most of these are probably half a point higher than the overall series rating). The focus of plots varies widely throughout the series, but they are known for dealing sensitively with the intense intimacy between husband and wife brought by psi-contact, with homosexual relations, both male and female, with the place of women in a feudal society, with the use and abuse of power, with culture shock.
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in 1905 California, where 'Beast', Jason Cameron, is a fire magician who is stuck half-transformed into a wolf, and 'Beauty', Rosalind (Rose) Hawkins, is a medieval scholar he employs to help him with the research he needs to transform himself back.
I enjoyed reading it, and found it a good page turner, but felt it was strangely unsatisfying once I had finished it. What's there is done well, but there are some guns carefully placed on the wall that either fail to go off at all, or go off with only a small pop. (The Chinese magician carefully warns Rose that the drugs might give her vivid bad dreams, but we hear no more about this; du Mond's massive betrayal seems to have no importance except as a minor plot device to get Rose into the wrong place at the wrong time; and the earthquake is rather underused.)
reimagining "Snow White"
reimagining "Sleeping Beauty"
reimagining "The Snow Queen"
reimagining "Puss in Boots"
In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, the Tradition is always hard at work, trying to make everyone's life fit a fairy tale. But there are only so many Sleeping Princesses, or Noble Princes, to go around. So Elena Klovis, ground down by her wicked stepmother and two cruel sisters, awaits her prince. But he's only 11, and so completely unsuitable. But eventually, her Fairy Godmother turns up to help, in a rather unexpected way.
This is a fun play on the traditions of fairy tales, but a bit disjointed, with rather a lot of incidents packed in. But it manages to subvert a few cliches as Elena battles with the Tradition in novel ways, and moves steadily on to its own Happy Ever After.
The bookish Princess Andromeda of Acadia is the only one who knows what needs to be done when a dragon appears and starts terrorising the countryside: it needs to be appeased by a weekly virgin sacrifice. But when she reports to her mother the rumours that the lottery is rigged, she is horrified to discover that she is to be the next sacrifice. Determined not to go quietly, she plots her escape, only to see the dragon frightened off by the Champion Sir George. Both are aware that at this point the Tradition decrees Andromeda should fall in love with her rescuer: both are determined that won't happen. But the Tradition still demands that the dragon be defeated, so off they go on a Quest.
This is another fun romp through the land of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, where Tradition rules your fate, and where the clever can subvert the Tradition to their own ends. But remember, the Tradition is just as happy with a tragedy as it is with a Happy Ever After...
In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, you can do quite well if you understand what the Tradition wants. Sasha, seventh son of the king of Led Belarus, is the Fortunate Fool, and his family knows it. So he spends his time making his Luck work for the land. Katya, seventh daughter of the Sea King, is his eyes and ears on secret missions. When they meet, Tradition goes into overdrive. Katya, while investigating a transplanted Jinn, is taken captive. While she schemes to escape from the inside, Sasha must scheme her rescue from the outside.
This is another fun frolic through the traditions of fairy tale, this time of Russia and Japan. In places, it seems a bit like a whirlwind tour of Russian folktales without doing that much to advance the plot: Rusalka, check; Baba Yaga, check. And all the captives seem to have the same name (five letters, ends in "a", sounds like...) and not enough personality to help me distinguish them easily. But there's enough action, and some loose ends later tied together, to make for some amusing mind candy.
Godmother and Snow Queen, Aleksia's main job is to support the Tradition by abducting young men about to turn bad, and putting them through a trial to show them the error of their ways. She sometimes worries that she is becoming as cold as her own Ice Palace. But then come the rumours of a wicked Snow Witch, freezing whole villages to death, and claiming to be the Snow Queen. Aleksia has to set off on her own adventure to sort things out.
This time we have a romp through Finnish fairy tales. The route to the climactic final trial is entertaining enough, even if feeling a bit like a fairyland travelogue in places, but some guns on walls are left unfired (all that unused buildup about Kaari and the forest spirits -- or is that for a future book?), and the final showdown is too easy and way too obvious, and is over much too soon.
Godmother Lily is having a hard time protecting the small but rich kingdom of Eltaria. The Tradition is trying to force Princess Rosamund down a path -- but is it that of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White? Everything seems to be being subverted, from the seven evil dwarfs who capture Rosamund, to the Wicked Stepmother who rescues her. And to top it all, Prince Siegfried needs to rescue a maiden who isn't his aunt from a ring of fire in order to avoid his own Doom. The only solution to all this: issue a set of challenges to all the local Princes, the prize being the kingdom and fair Rosamund's hand.
Another amusing romp through mangled fairy tales. Here we get Sleeping Princesses aplenty. Lackey recommends listening to Anna Russell summarising the story in her own inimitable fashion, in "The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis)", to help understand some of the plot points here. (I have heard it. I thoroughly recommend it. Be very careful if you are listening to it while driving, however.) Some of the plot points are a bit heavy handed (Siegfried's befriending of the animals, for example), but there are some amusing twists and turns along the way.
Isabella Beauchamps lives at home with her wealthy father, her stepmother, and two step-sisters. One winter's day she dons her father's red hooded riding-cloak, to visit wisewoman Granny in the woods. On her way there she is accosted by a nasty huntsman; on her return she is attacked and bitten by a werewolf, who is in fact a cursed local nobleman. The King commands she be held in the noble beast's castle until it is clear she will not become a werewolf herself. There is just so much material here for the Tradition to work on, but Bella is determined not to let it win.
This is an amusing romp through fairy-tale space, with just enough red herrings (due to the conflation of so many possible stories) to make the ending not totally obvious. In fact, there's one point where I was gritting my teeth, going, "no, not that resolution, please", when Bella recognises what is happening, Tradition-wise, and neatly circumvents it.
Like the others in the series, I felt the ending was a little rushed. And like the others, there's a gun hanging on the wall that doesn't go off (twice it is noted that the werewolf didn't kill Bella when he attacked her; but nothing very explicit is ever done with this).
Another fun piece of mind-candy in the series.
Fantasy elements: empathy, telepathy, mages, gods and goddesses, magic spirit horses
The earlier books tend to be focussed on one, or maybe two, major viewpoints, whereas the later ones try to tell a more complicated story with several viewpoints. I find this approach too jarring, as I get jolted from scene to scene, and lose my immersion in the story. The latest books still have multiple viewpoints, but seem to manage the transitions a bit more smoothly. But I still hanker for the earlier, simpler structures.
The saga seems to be regaining some previous form with Storm Warning and The Black Gryphon (Lackey and Dixon) after the disappointing Mage Winds trilogy. Some plot elements keep cropping up (no problem if you are a fan of those plot elements), as summarised in the hilarious filk song "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Valdemar"
Tells the tale of the pre-(Valdemar)-historic war between the mages Urtho and Ma'ar, which finally ended in a Cataclysm
The survivors of the Cataclysm have found a sanctuary, but must now make peace with the local rulers. A series of murders makes this difficult, since Skandranon is the main suspect.
Tadrith, son of the gryphons Skandranon and Zhaneel, and Silverblade, daughter of the humans Amberdrake and Winterhart, are feeling smothered living in their famous parents' shadows in the cliff city of White Gryphon. So when their first posting as Silvers, to a far-away outpost, comes through, they are delighted: freedom at last! But they never make it that far: something drains away their magic, and they crash, injured, lost, and unable to call for help, in a deep forest, stalked by an unknown enemy. Are their parents' worst fears for their safety about to become reality?
The Silver Gryphon is essentially a rites-of-passage story; unlike many such, the protagonists start out fully trained and competent, but they do still have some conflicts to be resolved, with themselves, with each other, but mainly with their parents. And, naturally, the peril in which they find themselves helps them to do this.
The multiple viewpoints, a feature I have complained about in the past, are handled much better here. There aren't too many changes, given the restricted cast, and when there are, the linking is smooth enough that the change didn't jar me out of the story. I found the ending a little rushed, and just a little too easy, but on the whole this was an enjoyable read.
Lavan Firestorm's tale
Various Tarma and Kethry short stories have appeared in print, scattered mainly through Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Here they are collected together for the first time, along with two new stories. Some of the stories are quite slight, others are amusing, and one at least is essential reading for Tarma and Kethry fans: "Sword-sworn" tells how it all began.
Herald Alberich's tale
The story of how Karsite Captain Alberich was Chosen, became the Herald's Weaponsmaster, and fought in the Tedrel wars that saw Selenay become Queen.
Another book filling in the backstory of Valdemar. Alberich is Chosen right at the start, so we get straight into Heralds and trianing. It's mainly from Alberich's viewpoint, so is nicely focussed, and has some interesting twists on things that we know will happen from the Talia stories. A good account of an honorable man struggling to retain his honour in compliated circumstances (although slightly marred by the fact that he figures out how to do so without compromise).
The second part of Herald Alberich's tale is set during the early part of Seleny's reign, where she struggles to cope with the loss of her father, and then her disasterous marriage to Karath.
Told mostly from Alberich's viewpoint, and partly from Seleny's, this again offers some interesting details on the backstory known from the Talia tales. It has more of Alberich's counter-espionage activities, and a suprising love interest. Knowing who the villain really is, and knowing that he won't be uncovered (at least yet!) diffuses some of the tension, but also allows for some knowing little winks at the way people are being decieved.
This fills in the backstory of how ex-thief Herald Skif was Chosen. About the first two-thirds show him training to be a thief, and the series of tragedies that befall him. Then, once chosen, he and Alberich team up to expose a slaving ring.
This is mostly of interest if you've already read the Talia trilogy. Otherwise some of the sly little references to a major villan will lose their significance, and some of the backstory details will be missed. And it's pleasantly free of some of the problems of late 1990s Lackey books: too many viewpoints, and too many preachy internal monologues.
This links Tarma and Kethry's story with the Heralds of Valdemar: Kerowyn is Kethry's granddaughter, and this is her story of how she ends up in Valdemar.
Although only a single book (if fat), it reads like it was planned as a trilogy. I think it would have been better as one; it's a bit rushed in places. However, it does mean all the action is packed in well, and the single viewpoint makes it flow well.
A series of inexplicable Mage Storms are sweeping Valdemar. Karal, a young Karsite priest, and various other characters, form an uneasy Alliance in Valdemar, to try and solve the problem of the Storms before they destroy their world.
The Mage Storms are getting worse. The story is told from four main viewpoints: Karal trying to be taken seriously as Karse Ambassador, An'desha coming to terms with his memories and his magic, Firestorm having problems with An'desha's remoteness, and Tremane trying to consolidate his position in Hardorn.
The desperate measures taken at the end of Storm Rising have abated the Cataclysm echo storms for a while, giving everyone a breathing space to consolidate, and prepare for the final trial.
The story structure has three parallel strands: Karal in Urtho's Tower, Elspeth in Hardorn, and Heir Melles in the Empire. Yet again, I found this plot style very off-putting. Multiple strand plots can work: in some of David Weber's Honor Harrington novels, for example, at times the viewpoint can flicker back and forth at the paragraph level. The trick there is to have the various sub-plots illuminate and give depth to the main one. But here, the strands truly are parallel; they never really meet, and there is no main focus. Maybe in an attempt to tell a more complex tale, too many characters get their own time on stage for their own little stories, and nothing gels. This doesn't have to be the case: the 'Queen's Own' trilogy has many very memorable characters, but their stories support Talia's, rather than detracting from it. For example, Elspeth as a character is to me much more real from that trilogy than from the Mage Winds or this Mage Storms ones, even though she has a much greater role in the latter.
And again, the resolution is just too easy.
Short stories tend to be 'one idea' tales, simply because of lack of space. There is no time to develop characters or backgrounds beyond the needs of the story. Writers in a well-known existing world have an advantage: much of the background is already known to the readers, and can just be assumed. Some of the authors in this Valdemar anthology take advantage of that fact, and give us vignettes of a Herald's or Hawkbrother's life (such as The Demon's Den, or Ironrose), or fill in bits of history mentioned only in passing in the novels (such as Sword of Ice or Vkandis' Own). Others, disappointingly however, seem to have a story they want to tell, and set it in Valdemar merely to fit into the anthology (such as A Song For No One's Mourning).
Helps to while away the time until the next Valdemar novel.
A rather slight set of tales set against the background of the Valdemar world. Some tell stories that build up the history (such as The Cat Who Came to Dinner and Sun in Glory), but most are just a random vignette of a day in the life of a Herald, or another way to be Chosen. Tanya Huff's Brock is an interesting variant on this theme, but mostly this is mind candy.
Another bunch of tales set in the Valdemar universe, mostly so-so, but a few with an interesting new take.
Yet more tales from the Valdemar universe. Many of these are "sequels" to tales in earlier volumes, helping to add a little depth. And many are the usual tales of alientated Herald/Bard/Healer/whatever nevertheless making good.
Further short stories set in the Valdemar world. Some could be set in any generic fantasy world, but most are extending the history of the Heralds, as a group, and as individuals.
More short stories set in the world of Valdemar and surrounding lands. Many of these involve characters from earlier collections, slowly building up a richer story about them.