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Mercedes-Lackey

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.

REVIEW:  One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey

REVIEW: One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey

Dear Ms Lackey,

One Good Knight: A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms (Book 2)The Fairy Godmother was the first book of yours that I tried and I loved the spin on the traditional fairy tales. One Good Knight is good but not quite as good as that one.

When a dragon storms the castle, what should a (virgin) princess do?

Why, turn to her studies, of course! But nothing practical-minded Princess Andromeda of Acadia finds gives a definitive solution. The only Traditional answer, though, is soothing the marauding dragon by a virgin sacrifice. Things are going fairly smoothly with the lottery–except for the women chosen, of course–until Princess Andromeda herself is picked!

But facing down the dragon doesn’t go quite as planned, and now, with the help of her Champion, Sir George, Andromeda searches for the dragon’s lair. But even–especially–in the Five Hundred Kingdoms, bucking Tradition isn’t easy. It takes the strongest of wills, knowledge, quick wits and a refusal to give up, no matter what happens along the way– .

First off let me say I loved Andie. Give me a practical, intelligent heroine any day and Andie certainly is one. Plus she loves to read and she’s not the stereotypical “beautiful” princess. She seems like a realistic portrayal of a strong woman emerging from being sheltered and ignored as a child. I liked how she used her strengths and intelligence to survive “sacrifice” and get started on the road but was willing to admit that she couldn’t have survived road trip on her own. I loved the twist on George, her champion, and how they worked together to thwart the “Tradition.” Her ultimate prince is a love. I’m usually not a fan of women warriors but use of Tradition explains it.

There was a little too much explaining in beginning. Too much background information which causes action to stagnate. Ditto at end (when Gina was training the other girls, when Andie was learning how to wash dishes, clean clothes, etc). We didn’t need to know all this and see it explained in such minute detail. The fox was cute but maybe he was used as deus ex machina? There was lots of info dumping from him. And shouldn’t Gina have had a different appearance after change? I mean for Adamate, it’ll be like marrying his brother.

As for Elena and Alexander – there’s enough to tell us what they’re doing and that they’re happy without overdoing their place in this story. I do wonder how Elena solved the problem of Hansel and Gretel gone bad. The dragons are great and I loved “bookwyrm” joke. But why have bit about Peri being able to “image write?” I wish that Others had played more of a role in the story.

The villains are not cartoonish and some effort was made to explain their actions, plot out their plans, which made sense (to change storms to bring more revenue to Acadia, using the dragon and sacrifices to eliminate political enemies and consolidate power, and get rid of council that had to vet Cassiopea’s laws). Both ended up as neither foaming at the mouth nor just misunderstood. But I do agree with several Amazon reviewers who said the wrap up was too fast.

Overall, One Good Knight is a nice addition to the 500 Kingdoms stories but not the equal of the first book. B-

~Jayne