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Mercedes Lackey

REVIEW:  The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

REVIEW: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey...

House-of-the-Four-Winds

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Dear Authors,

When I read the blurb for this book at Netgalley, I had high hopes for it. A princess who is an expert swordswoman, pirates, treasure, true love and what I hoped, based on the cover, would be a story filled with swashbuckling adventure. The elements were there but the execution wasn’t what I’d hoped for. The story is slow, the magic is lacking and the romance is almost non-existent. By the end, I just wanted it over.

The first chapter is slow, leisurely and packed with backstory. We discover how poor little Swansgaard has 12 princesses and one crown prince and can’t hope to pay out that many dowries without breaking the bank so the princesses will have to make their own way in life. I was slightly miffed that 12 girls will get booted out so that sonny boy won’t be poor. It’s a set up that left a bitter taste in my mouth but I kept going in the hope that the eldest would be off to a life of grand adventure.

Months later, Clarice decides to head to the new world, which except for some barely changed names sounds much like North and South America. Long and tedious detail describes how she chooses a ship and begins to learn about life on board. If a reader doesn’t know much about sailing ships, this information can be handy but for someone who does, it’s slow going. Frankly the first chapter is a little boring.

But then in chapter two, finally things start to come together and the pace picks up a bit. Things happen, there’s a little swordplay and my interest revived only for the action to slow again. This is more the thinking person’s adventure as at the half way point and slightly beyond, I frankly couldn’t say there’s much “rousing adventure.”

Instead, Dominick and Clarice have to think their way through their problems – why did the captain act the way he did? Where was he going to take the ship and why? And now that they’re there, what lies ahead and how do they anticipate danger and deal with it? At this point, Clarice truly comes in handy with her lifelong training in politics, statesmanship and reading a situation to gain the advantage. But since they’re up against magic, ultimately all this means little.

Ah, the magic. It gets explained more than once but I still never truly “got it.” The most magic that appeared was wielded by the villain and it became more eeevil villainy that just is because it’s there rather than anything that makes much sense. Even the villain’s evil quest is never satisfactorily explained. It just all goes to pieces in the end and something, I’m still not sure what, happens and it’s over. Huh, okay then.

Despite the fact that this is mainly a fantasy novel, there’s still the romance, right? Only Clarice’s is the only point of view in the story and she loves Dominick but he’s utterly clueless about her true gender and identity for most of the story so all that we get is her unrequited feelings up until suddenly he’s in love with her to break a spell. Well, I felt cheated.

The pirates don’t save the story either as they are little but props for the evil villain. The pirate haven is a beautiful but dismal spot, as we learn but it hardly seems to matter as that is left behind too.

The story limps along to an end and it’s then that I realize that there are lots of loose ends left. Since this is, I believe, supposed to be the start of a series, I have to believe that this might be to leave issues to be resolved later. I, however, am not willing to read the next eleven books to find out. D

~Jayne

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Dear Author

REVIEW: Foundation by Mercedes Lackey

Dear Ms. Lackey,

book review When I was a young teenager, I devoured your Valdemar novels.   They were my favorite books and I was a very loyal reader.   I eventually outgrew them, as it sometimes happens, but I still look back on them fondly.   You write a special brand of animal companion fantasy about ostracized, misunderstood teens and the magical white horses that love and accept them that just speaks strongly to a certain audience.   As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained a healthy amount of respect for that power.   There was a time when I couldn’t read a Valdemar book; when I outgrew them, I really outgrew them to the point of feeling elitist disdain.   (I think we all have those stupid moments of reading snobbery.)   But I like to think I’ve since moved past that, so I was cautiously optimistic when Jane mentioned she received a copy of your latest Valdemar novel for review.

I was pleasantly surprised.   This book was a return to early Valdemar books.   Part of the reason why I outgrew the Valdemar books was that later books took on a more epic, worldchanging tone, and if I’m honest, that wasn’t what I read them for.   If I wanted epic, worldchanging fantasy, there was Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, not to mention the fact that this was around the time a little book called A Game of Thrones by a certain author named George R.R. Martin was first published.   The strength of the Valdemar novels has always been the journey of a misunderstood, often neglected and abused, teen and how they grew up to be someone great and important, whether that be the greatest herald-mage in history or the monarch’s own herald.   So I was very, very glad Foundation went back to its roots.   I think the few years away from the Valdemar world did you get because it brings a certain liveliness that wasn’t there in the later books.   I don’t think it’s unfair to say you may have gotten tired of the setting and simply wanted some time away.   Maybe that’s not true, but that was my impression as a reader.

Foundation follows the story of Mags, an orphaned child of bandits who grew up working as glorified slave labor for a jewel mine.   It’s a hard life but in the tradition of the Valdemar series, he’s Chosen by the Companion, Dallen, and taken to the Valdemar capital, Haven, to become a herald.   It turns out Mags has an incredibly strong mindspeaking (telepathic) gift.   (Heralds aren’t actually heralds as we know them.   In this world, heralds are sort of like the servants of justice for Valdemar and have any number of psychic gifts, ranging from telepathy to telekinesis.)

But times are changing in Haven.   The traditional way of training heralds was one of master and apprentice.   Unfortunately, many heralds died in the wars and many, many more trainees are being Chosen in alarming numbers that the demand for teachers far outstrips the supply.   It’s also just not practical.   While a one-on-one master-apprentice may have worked in the past, a one-on-six ratio does not, especially when there’s a lot of unrest.   Valdemar’s borders have been expanding because new lords are swearing fealty to Valdemar’s king in order to gain protection from neighboring, more hostile countries.   As a result, there’s some unrest in Haven and among the heralds, between those who want to adhere to the old ways and those who want to try the new: build a collegium and train heralds in the classroom before sending them out into the field for on-hands experience under the guidance of a mentor.

While there are bigger plot threads being set up in the background — the foreign merchant’s unknown machinations, the aforementioned conflict between those who want the collegium and those who do not — the strength of this novel rests in Mags’s personal story as he goes to school, learning to be a herald.   I liked the fact that while there is no question that he was abused, Mags was very matter of fact about it and doesn’t wallow in his brooding angst.   This may seem like a coldhearted thing to say but I think anyone who’s read other Valdemar novels, especially from The Mage Winds trilogy on, knows that there sometimes is a tendency to overindulge in internal monologues that can be trying for a reader.   I know I used to get annoyed with those chapters.

I thought Mags’s friendship with Lena and Bear were great contrasts.   No one expects anything of Mags because he’s a half-illiterate, ignorant, country bumpkin.   On the other hand, Lena is the daughter of one of the most famous bards in history and Bear comes from a family of gifted healers.   The expectations upon them are huge.   I also like the way Mags is being trained to be a spy by the King’s Own Herald.   Not the flashy sort we sometimes encounter in fiction but the real sort: unremarkable, unmemorable, lurking in the background, just listening and filing information away for later.

I won’t lie and say Foundation is groundbreakingly original.   It’s not.   To be honest, I don’t think this book even has a plot as I usually define it in the context of fantasy novels.   If anything, it’s set-up for things to come.   Some readers will be annoyed that Mags is yet another abused protagonist but I’ve read enough of your work to realize that’s part of your formula when it comes to animal companion fantasy.     That will be a dealbreaker for many readers, both old and new, but I also think this is probably one of the least angsty presentations of abusive backgrounds I’ve ever seen in your books.

While there are small references to things that have happened in other Valdemar books, there’s nothing that requires readers to have prior knowledge.   Those references are more like winks to those who have read other books set in this world.   The book also lacks those things that started to irritate me in later books.   There are no all-consuming lifebonds.   There are no unbelievable diplomatic agreements between grassland nomads and religious fanatics.   There are no grand-sweeping conspiracies from a lurking, evil Eastern Empire, although there are hints of something larger to come in future books.     At its heart, this is a very simple coming of age story about a boy who has his eyes opened to the world and learns that he has all the potential to change it.   B

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.