Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Arrows of the Queen is the first book in the Heralds of Valdemar Trilogy.

Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a runaway, 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!

Where to Buy

I have read this series, along with most of the other series that make up Lackey's Valdemar universe, several times over the last twenty-odd years, and they never really get old for me. Having decided it was time to do another read-through of the whole saga, I debated about whether or not to cover them here on my blog since they are rather different from the majority of the things I review here. The fact that they still stand among my favorite books of all time, and that they have played a significant role in my life in various ways convinced me that they deserved my attention here as well. My reviews of them may not always be as extensive as some of my reviews for more recent works are, but I'll do my best to offer up at least a handful of comments about each one as I read them again (though please don't ask me how many times I've read some of them because I stopped keeping count long ago.)

Arrows of the Queen is the book that started the whole of the Valdemar saga and was, I believe, Lackey's first published book. As a freshman novel, it is incredibly good, though many modern readers might find it to be a bit simplistic. Certainly it falls well into the Young Adult category by modern standards, though there is plenty for adults to appreciate here as well. Unlike many other books from it's time, this one has also aged quite well, though that is likely as much a function of the genre as anything. Fantasy tends to not become as dated as, say, romance novels do over time as readers' tastes and opinions change.

Talia is eminently likeable and a very easy character for anyone who has felt like an outcast for whatever reason to relate to. While her struggles, both internal and external, are shown in a very sympathetic light it is never a pitying one. Even when she is in the darkest periods of her time as a student at the Collegium her inner strength is quite evident. True, she makes various critical mistakes in judgement, particularly as regards trusting those around her, but what adolescent doesn't? Talia my be wise well beyond her years in many regards, but she is still just a scared and lonely teenage girl beneath the capable and dependable demeanor. The heart often breaks for her and the things she must endure, but it's impossible to feel too much pity for a young girl who faces every obstacle and crisis with as much courage and determination as Talia does.

It's difficult for me to comment too much on the story in general at this point, for my perception of it is too heavily colored by my knowledge of all that comes after it in the saga. I suppose one of my main comments for those who haven't read the whole extended series is to pay attention here, for though it seems a simple enough tale on the surface, the groundwork for several complicated plots is being laid here, many of which won't come to light until much later. There is also a lot of worldbuilding here of course, and many characters that we will come to know and love over the course of the saga are introduced here, but Talia's story always takes center stage.

I've given this one 4 stars, which is a somewhat arbitrary rating perhaps, though not undeserved. I certainly enjoy it that much, even now after however many times I've read it, but I've never considered it to be one of my favorites. Looking at it a bit more critically this time through (since I can't seem to help noticing various problems in books these days) I noted several times where POV wavered a bit, shifting focus between characters without proper breaks, often between paragraphs in a single scene. Some may find this distracting, though I don't let such things bother me overmuch unless they get really bad, and it doesn't in this instance. Despite such flaws, this is still a book (and series) that I'd definitely recommend to anyone interested in Fantasy, particularly "old school" epic or sword & sorcery type Fantasy.

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