Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review: Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Arrows of the Queen
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: DAW Books
Series: Heralds of Valdemar Series, #1
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: March 1987
How Received: Own


Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a run-away, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen's own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.

But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason which could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen's heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen's own foes!

My thoughts:
I should start out by mentioning that I’ve been enamored by the Heralds of Valdemar Series since I was 10. I’ve loved these books so much that I re-read them every summer, without fail!

This time around was just as enjoyable as every other time I’ve read my very worn-out copy. The country of Valdemar is unique compared to other worlds I’ve been introduced to in fantasy. Each area has a set of customs and a general persona surrounding it; the Holderkin folk are more reserved, and frown upon unseemly behavior, while the fisherfolk in Lake Evendim are more rowdy.

The main character, Talia, originally hailed from the Holderkin folk. Due to this, she’s a very reclusive, shy, and fearful creature being thrust into a world of Heralds. Heralds are those who are chosen by Companions (can be likened to a horse) and form an intense bond with them. What I loved most about Talia is that she isn’t your average “Mary-Sue” character: she’s been described as not pretty and has her fair share of flaws to balance her strengths. There were a lot of times where she was average at best, and was humble enough to recede “winning” to her other classmates. Throughout the entire novel, you could visibly (well, okay, not visibly, but you get what I mean!) see her transform from this tiny, mouse-like thirteen-year-old into a reasonably sure, confident woman of sixteen years who knew where her place was.

I was always a bit put-off with where Talia started at: the Hold. The idea of a woman’s inferiority was like a slap in the face, since I’m very much for equality between genders. I know it probably didn’t reflect Lackey’s personal beliefs, but I had to shake my head in disgust every time I read the beginning of the book and see how broken Talia had become because of the males’ superiority complexes in the Hold. She lost so much spirit that we heard of her fear of men on a recurring basis. It lifted a bit towards the end, but I felt for Talia on such a profound level. Poor thing.

There were four major storylines in this novel: Talia’s encounter with the Heraldic world and being accustomed to the Collegium, her misfortunes with the Blues, reforming “The Brat” into “Elspeth”, and lastly, honing her abilities of her gift. There was a noticeable shift between them – you’d be reading about the Blues, then all of a sudden we’re thrust into Talia’s new roles with The Brat – yet it was discreet enough to not realize we were venturing into another “plot” in the book until later.

Interactions with characters were... pleasant, for lack of a better word. Being a Herald entitles the fact that you can’t be evil or else your Companion would repudiate you, so everyone was pretty friendly with each other. However, I felt that a lot of the characters personalities meshed together. I could never distinguish between Teren’s or Kyril’s “voices”, and almost everyone spoke similarly. I suppose I shouldn’t be nit-picky about that, because Heralds are inherently personality “readers”, but it put me off a little bit. The only characters that stood out, really, were Skif and Elspeth.

My favorite characters HAD to be Jadus and Skif. I loved the emotional stability they gave to Talia. It was hard not to like Skif: he was a trouble-maker that knew how to put a smile on my face. With Jadus, though, I mostly sympathized for him. If I were in Talia’s position, I know I would have quickly befriended him, as well. There’s something about elderly folk that just screams at my heart-strings, and Jadus certainly needed a friend in his lonely days.

I loved the plot, especially the bondings with Companions. It was slightly reminiscent of Impressing a dragon in The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I’ve always been fascinated in having a bond with another being that transcended all boundaries, and the Companions were no different! The pacing of the novel wasn’t too shabby, although I did get a little sidetracked after the Elspeth arc (but that was due to personal issues). Tragedies and fast-paced events littered the pages of Arrows of the Queen, but I liked it that way. In a world of fantasy, I expect to be thrown every which way without getting a full impact until after it’s over, so I like a “busy” plotline.

Cover Musings: I’m not too crazy about the cover. I never have been. I should be nice since it was released in 1987, and I suppose the cover would have been pretty cool back then. But present-day, I totally blanch when I look at it. I love the picture of Rolan, and the blue /purple color scheme, but I disliked the portrayal of Talia. It’s just a personal pet-peeve of mine: I dislike having an image distort what I perceive a character looks like. I think the only thing I thought was really awesome about this cover is the castle in the back (but only because I wasn’t sure how to picture it!).

Memorable Quotes:
Yes—at last—you. I Choose you. Out of all the world, out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of my heart! You are mine and I am yours—and never again will there be loneliness—
It was a feeling more than words; a shock and a delight. A breathless joy so deep it was almost pain; a joining. A losing and a finding; a loosing and a binding. Flight and freedom. And love and acceptance past all words to tell of the wonder of it—and she answered that love with all her soul.” (pg. 24

“Abstract thought takes a poor second place to berry pies when you’re only thirteen.” (pg. 128)

“‘If you think it’s worth wasting your time on me—’
He put a finger under her chin, tilting her head up so that she had nowhere to look but his earnest, kindly eyes. ‘Time spent with you, my dear, will never be wasted. Believe it.’” (pg. 157)

“‘I knew that she and Dantris were good, but I have never seen anyone move like they did—I never even knew you could slingshot into a dive from the back of a Companion in full gallop.’” (pg. 175)

“‘[...] The official story is that he was killed in a hunting accident along with his friends.’
‘I suppose that’s marginally true. They were hunting Selenay.’
Jadus grimaced. ‘Child, you have a macabre sense of humor.’” (pg. 203)

“They were all of them, more than friends; they were kin—the important kind, soul-kindred. Her family. Her real family. This was where she’d belonged all along; as she’d told Skif, it had just taken her this long to see it.” (pg. 320)

Overall & Final Comments: Even after this re-read, I still love the Heralds of Valdemar series as much as I did when I picked it up ten years ago. I love the storyline, the incorporation of Companions and the lore behind them, the characters, the pacing, the events (albeit some sad ones) that happened, just... everything! I could talk forever and ever about Arrows of the Queen and never be satisfied. I’ve always loved Mercedes Lackey’s writing, and probably always will. I’d recommend this series to people who aren’t even into fantasy, but that may be only because I’m a bit biased towards this novel.

Rating: 5/5

An excerpt of Chapter One can be found here: Chapter 1 Exerpt


Midnyte Reader said...

It wasn't until this year that I read a book by Mercedes Lackey (Gwenhyfar) and absolutely loved it. I'll try to check out this series too.

Kristina Barnes♥ said...

How have I not read that book?! I never even knew it existed! That shames me, as I claim to be a Lackey fan. :S I need to check it out asap. Did you happen to review it? I'd love to see it if you did. :)

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