Friday, May 3, 2013

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Review by Holly White

Note:  This review follows a series set in Mercedes Lackey's world of Valdemar.  For those unfamiliar with Valdemar, Holly's overview of the series is here.

At the age of thirteen, Talia had to decide to either get married to a person of her parents’ choosing, or to become a celibate servant of the Goddess. For the Holderkin, the barbaric folk who lived on the extreme borders of Valdemar, those were the only two choices available to a young woman. Talia wanted neither. She didn’t want to marry a man who ruled his family like a tyrant, and she certainly didn’t want to give herself to the boredom of lifelong religious servitude. Although Talia’s father was strict, he had allowed Talia to learn to read (an oddity for Holderkin females), and due to the indulgence of a beloved older brother who had died too soon, Talia had also been allowed to own three precious books of her own. And in those books, Talia had read tales of the Heralds.

When confronted by her father’s wives about her choice to get married or to choose religious servitude, Talia blurted out without thinking that she wanted to be a Herald, only after pronouncing the words, realizing it was indeed true. The wives were shocked, of course. To speak of Heralds was considered unseemly, and so no one did. No one dealt with Heralds at all except for the Elders.

Talia escaped the scrutiny of the wives and ran away crying, to her private place in the woods. As she cried alone there, she dreamed of finding acceptance and love. There she met Companion, a horse-like creature ridden by Heralds.  This Companion, Rolan, is without his Herald-- an unusual circumstance.  Indecisive, Talia considered the options. She could never go back to the Hold anyway; after her unseemly and rebellious outburst, they would never allow her to do anything but be a kitchen drudge. Rolan obviously needed to be returned to his owner. So she decided to begin looking for his Herald, and if she couldn’t find him, to return Rolan all the way to the Herald Collegium so that he could be reunited with his Herald.

On her journey, not only did Rolan himself help her, but she met more than one person willing and even eager to help her along her way, with food, changes of clothing, even a bath. But no one would tell her how a Companion could have gotten separated from his Herald, and everyone just told her to go to the Collegium, that she would find out there. At last, after a weary journey, she arrived at the city of Haven, where the Collegium was.

Rolan was joyfully recognized, and Talia was accorded special respect because she rode him. She was taken to see the Herald, a woman named Selenay, who explained that Rolan had Chosen her, and that she was now a Herald Trainee, if she wanted the position. However, Rolan was the Queen’s Own Companion, meaning that Talia had been Chosen to be the Queen’s Own Herald. If she accepted, she would become the queen’s confidante, the one person with whom the Queen could "let her hair down," so to speak. In return, she would be the Queen’s adviser and speak the truth that others might fail to speak for self-serving reasons. She would also have to deal with the Queen's daughter, a spoiled child called the Brat who should be the Heir to the throne,had not been Chosen because of her attitude. It would be up to Talia to turn the Brat into the kind of person that could eventually be Chosen and rule over the kingdom with wisdom and goodness.

If all this wasn’t responsibility and burden enough, Talia was then informed that the previous Queen’s Own Herald had died under suspicious circumstances and that as the new Queen’s Own, her own life might be in danger.

Would Talia accept that position, and all the responsibilities and danger that came with it? And if she did, how would she handle all the new challenges that were to come her way? Although she knows that Companions don’t make mistakes, she still cannot fathom that Rolan Chose … her … a simple Holdgirl. She has no special talents. How could she presume to advise the Queen herself? How would she make friends after learning the hard way at the Hold not to trust anyone? How would she learn to not be afraid of men, after her Holderkin experiences with tyrant men? How would she unmake the Brat? How would she deal with the dangers, both subtle and unsubtle, that came with being Queen’s Own? How would she learn to use and control her newfound powers to the aid of the Queen? And with all of that, how could she NOT choose to be a Herald, and the Queen’s Own Herald at that?

These questions and more are answered as you read the  Heralds of Valdemar trilogy.    The books are well-written and thought-provoking with a bit of everything- adventure, humor, danger, romance, daring, and drama. I was not able to put Arrows of the Queen down until the end, and then I had to immediately read the next book. I have in my home a "Favorites" shelf, a shelf separate from the rest of my bookshelves, and only the very best of my book collection get to sit there. This book rests with the others of its trilogy on my "Favorites" shelf, the same shelf where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien sit beside Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers. If authors like these make it to your favorites as well, please read this one for yourself to find out why it made it to mine. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Note:  the next book in the series will be reviewed the first Friday in June!

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