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Jan 26 2015 2:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: When Orthallen Plans Your Vacation

Arrows Fall Mercedes LackeyLast week, Orthallen arranged for Talia and Kris to visit Valdemar’s neighboring state of Hardorn to continue discussing the marriage King Alessander has proposed between Elspeth and his son, Ancar.

Before we go any further with this week’s reread, we need to discuss the elephant in the room—which, in this case, is the cover art. The usual visual code for dire peril on the cover of a normal Valdemar novel is dramatic depiction of torn sleeves. This cover works to a different standard—Arrow’s Fall has the most ominous cover art in the 31-volume Valdemar series. Rolan is panicking, Talia has taken an arrow to the shoulder. The purples and blacks of the background suggest a dark and dangerous time. This cover promises tragedy, and chapters 6 and 7 deliver.

Valdemarans don’t leave the kingdom much—the prologue to Arrow’s Fall explains that Valdemar is on the edge of civilization and what lies beyond is unpredictable, dangerous, and frighteningly likely to follow you home and destroy your village. This section of Arrow’s Fall marks the first time Lackey sent her characters outside the country. They are going east, which is the more civilized direction.

[Unfortunately, civilized is not the same as safe. ]

Jan 19 2015 11:00am

Follow Your Arrow: Orthallen

Arrow's Fall Mercedes LackeyIn last week’s blog post, Talia returned to Haven to take up the reins of her responsibilities of Queens’s Own Herald. She’s also picking up the threads of relationships that were interrupted by her internship—she has been reunited with Elspeth and Selenay, and, although I wouldn’t say they have a relationship at this point, Talia is back within shouting distance of Dirk. But in chapters 3-5 of Arrow’s Fall, the most significant presence in Talia’s life is Orthallen.

Orthallen lurked in the background of the last two books. In Arrows of the Queen, he threatened to remove Skif from the Collegium for two years of military duty. In Arrow’s Flight, he spread the rumors that undermined Talia’s tenuous control of her Gift. Now that Talia has taken her seat on the Council, the conflict between Talia and Orthallen is on center stage. In the opening chapters of Arrow’s Fall, Talia demonstrated her willingness to use the unique powers of her position to frustrate Orthallen’s plans. In the process, she inadvertently but very clearly demonstrated why Orthallen would like the Queen’s Own to drop dead.

[He hates her guts]

Jan 12 2015 3:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Arrow’s Fall

Arrow's Fall Mercedes LackeyIn Arrows of the Queen, Talia Holderkin ran away from home and was Chosen by the Companion Rolan to be Queen’s Own. She survived an assassination attempt, helped unravel two plots against Valdemar, and found a new family among the Heralds. In Arrow’s Flight, Talia rode into the haunted Forest of Sorrows with Kris, on an internship that turned into a fight for survival against the forces of deepest winter and her own uncontrolled powers.

Arrow’s Fall opens with Kris deep in thought as he and Talia ride towards Haven. They’re filthy. They’ve been riding for a long time. They could have eaten, slept, and even made love while riding!


[Why yes, gentle readers, they did.]

Jan 5 2015 3:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Out of the Woods

This week on the Heralds of Valdemar reread we finish Arrow’s Flight!

Talia and Kris walked into their little Waystation in the haunted forest at the beginning of chapter seven. And now, after 80 pages in which the closest they came to interacting with a third person was having Vanyel’s ghost drop a tree on their storage shed, they are walking out. They’re rescued by semi-retired Herald Tedric and a road-clearing crew from Berrybay, and taken directly to the resupply station.

[It has a hot-water heater. I know you were wondering. ]

Dec 22 2014 4:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Look At Your Life, Look At Your Choices

In this week’s blog post, we’re dealing with chapters 7-9 of Arrow’s Flight. For the past five chapters, Talia has been working towards emotional collapse, triggered by Kris’s thoughtless remarks. Kris has grown increasingly attached to Talia, while questioning the validity of his own feelings.

After a grueling few weeks caring for an entire village struck down by illness, a long ride through the snow, and a last-minute scramble to gather firewood in a blizzard, Talia completely loses it in the Waystation where they take shelter from the storm (Kris fumigated this time, for those of you keeping track). Her uncontrolled MindGift nearly kills her, Kris, their Companions, and two defenseless chirras.

[A lot happens here. Let me begin with the parts I like.]

Dec 15 2014 3:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Valdemaran Public Health and Epidemiology

One of the conventions of YA literature is a journey in which the hero’s mettle is tested. Harry Potter went to the Forest of Dean. Katniss Everdeen went to the Quarter Quell. And Talia goes to Sorrows Two.

She spent Arrows of the Queen being trained and educated as Queen’s Own, and in chapters five and six of Arrow’s Flight, Kris and Talia reach their sector and her skills are put to the test. The major plot development here is that Talia’s shields continue to deteriorate, taking her emotional state with them.

In order to build that problem to a meaningful crisis, Lackey needs to show us what Heralds really do, and why it’s important for them to be emotionally stable.

[An arrow in flight must be sent with control]

Dec 8 2014 1:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: The North Trade Road

Arrow's FlightWelcome back to the Valdemar re-read! This week, we’re taking on chapters three and four of Arrow’s Flight.

Herald Destria has been injured! She broke both of her legs while saving some children from a flood, which is the kind of thing that happens when your country is mostly flat and a river runs through it. Heralds Kris and Talia are being rushed into the field to take over the circuit in her sector (which is Sorrows Two, for those of us who like knowing about Valdemar’s internal administration).

Last week, we did some Valdemaran history and geography. This week, we get to do a word problem!

[Read More]

Dec 1 2014 11:00am

Follow Your Arrow: Welcome to Arrow’s Flight!

Arrow's Flight Mercedes LackeyWe’re starting Arrow’s Flight this week! I’m super, super excited! It starts with a map and a prologue. We get a description of Valdemar’s founding! I haven’t decided on the format for my Valdemar Day celebrations yet, but now I know what events we will be re-creating! And by we, I mean me and all three Valdemar fans I actually know in person. I feel (perhaps unjustly) that Valdemar fans tend to be isolated from one another. You don’t see us flooding the Valdemar panels at cons. You don’t see Valdemar panels at cons. Valdemar fans buy enough books to justify ongoing production of lots and lots of hardcovers, but not enough to justify public space to talk about MAGIC PSYCHIC PONIES WHO RUN THE STATE and the books about them that we have been reading for over 25 years. As I begin re-reading the second book in this series, I feel strongly that it’s time for a Valdemar fan manifesto. Star Trek fans dress up in costumes and speak Klingon. Lord of the Rings Fans dress up in costume and speak Elvish. They seem to be having a pretty good time. I don’t speak Shin a’ in, nor do I ever wear costumes, and I don’t own a blue-eyed grey horse. No one has to take big steps that they’re not ready for, but let’s pull ourselves together and be open about our affections, OK? FOR VALDEMAR! Although of course, I shouldn’t say that because the state could be wrong. There is no one true way.

[There is also no rational explanation for these international borders.]

Nov 24 2014 3:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Hail and Farewell

Arrows of the Queen Valdemar RereadThis blog post covers chapters 10-12 of Arrows of the Queen, the end of the book. This is the first book in a trilogy, so Lackey will be tying up some of the plot threads while strategically leaving others hanging. We’ll be starting Arrow’s Flight next week.

This section begins with Sherrill knocking on Talia’s dorm room door. Sherrill has been promoted from Trainee to Herald and has chosen this occasion to tell Talia about birth control. This is a handy reminder that Sherrill is an adult, and also an occasion for Lackey to remind us that Heralds are sworn to service, not to celibacy. These things are useful to keep in mind in this section of the book, which is about growing up and saying good-bye.

[Read More]

Nov 17 2014 1:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Human Resources

Arrows of the Queen Valdemar RereadChapter seven was included in last week’s reread, but I’m looping back to it this week because it’s the point where Talia begins to take a more active role in events around her. And because it’s interesting. Between chapters 7 and 10, the backstory about the Queen’s inability to fire her nanny comes into the foreground.

As you may recall, Talia has been thrown in a river and nearly drowned, and she’s been fished out of the river and gotten to see the inside of the boys’ bathroom as treatment for hypothermia, and her friends have been acting as her bodyguards. Talia feels much less insecure because isn’t alone, so now she can start work on the major project she needs to take care of, which is firing Hulda, Elspeth’s nanny.

[Hulda is pretty well entrenched, apparently.]

Nov 10 2014 3:00pm

Follow Your Arrow: Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

Arrows of the Queen rereadIn this section, Talia reaches Haven, and Everything is Revealed. Indeed, the revelations are so detailed and extensive that Talia requires the services of a team of exposition fairies working in shifts. Every single person who is going to play a major role in the next two books appears in these chapters. Plus, we get a detailed description of the Collegium’s plumbing. I don’t know who invented that, but I make certain assumptions so THANKS, VANYEL!

The Summary: Talia finishes her long, puzzling ride from her hometown of Sensholding to Valdemar’s capital city of Haven. She gets food and warm thoughts from Road Guards who refuse to resolve any of her confusion about what’s going on, but do let her know that the Companion she’s riding is named Rolan. His hooves continue to chime musically on the roads.

[Further on Down the Road…]

Nov 3 2014 9:00am

Follow Your Arrow: Let’s Talk about Vanyel

Arrows of the Queen Valdemar RereadWelcome to the Valdemar re-read! This week, we’re taking on chapters one and two of Arrows of the Queen, the first book in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy. We’ll be meeting some major characters and taking an educational trip through Valdemar’s southern half. And although he’s been dead for a couple hundred years, we learn a surprising amount about Vanyel.

The Summary: Our first look at Valdemar is a long, hard stare at Talia Holderkin, carding wool and reading a book under a tree. Look! It’s me! Carding wool and actively reading are not activities that mesh well, in my limited experience with wool. You can’t turn pages while carding, and if you put the wool down it gets dirty. Talia seems to have read this book so many times she has it memorized. She has good taste—she’s reading about Vanyel, the historical hero whose saved Valdemar from certain destruction.

[I have a few things to say about Vanyel.]

Oct 27 2014 10:00am

Follow Your Arrow: The Valdemar Reread!

The Heralds of Valdemar Mercedes Lackey reread

Mercedes Lackey’s first trilogy, The Heralds of Valdemar was published in 1987 and ’88. It was followed shortly thereafter by her second and third trilogies, and a series of other series set in Valdemar and elsewhere.

I got my first copy of Arrows of the Queen as a twelfth birthday present, back when I was a socially awkward horse-crazy kid, which means that I was basically the bullseye of the target audience for that work and for a number of the books that followed. And there have been a lot of books about Valdemar—an average of just over one a year since 1987, despite a five-year hiatus from 2003-2008. I think it’s fair to admit that I have stopped being the target audience. My relationship with Valdemar and its Heralds was definitely at its most exciting when I was twelve, but I’m still excited to see them.

[Who doesn’t get excited about magic horses that talk in your head?]

Oct 7 2014 9:00am

Peril vs. Ponies: Mercedes Lackey’s Closer to Home

Mercedes Lackey Closer to Home reviewMercedes Lackey published her first novel in 1987. Since then, she has been incredibly prolific, producing over a hundred books. Her new novel, Closer to Home, is the thirty-first in her Valdemar series.

Given her speed of production, it’ s not surprising that her work tends to be kind of pulp-y. There is a fine and long-standing tradition of trading craft for volumes in Science Fiction and Fantasy (as in other genres), and a number of writers who have made this particular deal with the devil are much-beloved. Lackey’s work has sometimes been ground breaking and it’s a mistake to not take her seriously, but it’s also a mistake to take her too seriously. Her work is head-trippingly fun.

[Read More]

Jul 28 2014 9:00am

Boy Meets Girl Trek: Peter David’s Imzadis

Star Trek The Next Generation Imzadi Peter DavidIn my life, there are two Star Treks.

The Star Trek I grew up with was mostly novels, mostly written by women. I think of these as “Girl Trek.” Girl Trek has a long, proud history. Girl Trek invented genre media fandom. It produced the first fanzines, which were lovingly mimeographed by hand and shared for the price of postage. It gave the world Sulu’s first name, an explanation for Janice Rand’s hair, and two novels with Uhura as the protagonist. Just for starters.

And there’s the Star Trek I have discovered since encountering television on a more continuous basis (feel free to assume I was raised by wolves)—mostly the movies and the television serials, mostly written by men. I think of these as “Boy Trek.” Objectively speaking, Boy Trek and Girl Trek are equal. Boy Trek created Corbomite, Fizzbin, and Harry Mudd. It offers an infallible method for outwitting computers, and valuable advice about how to behave when super-powered aliens force you to fight other people so they can judge humanity.

[Just for starters.]

Jul 17 2014 3:00pm

Where Every Man Has Gone Before: Vonda McIntyre’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek The Voyage Home Vonda McIntyreFor those of you who may have been busy (or not yet born) in 1986, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the story where Kirk et al DON’T go where no man has gone before. Instead of doing their fantasy jobs, which they are amazing at, and living their fantasy lives, they do what everyone in 1986 did every day. They take on the challenges of navigating San Francisco during what turned out to be the twilight of the Cold War.

At its heart, The Voyage Home is a screwball comedy. It works by highlighting the strangeness in ordinary things. This is exactly the kind of story that Vonda McIntyre does well. Her depth of characterization enhances both the peril and the humor of a complicated plot that has to carry a series of hefty metaphors. The problems of a time when humanity threatened to destroy itself are a parallel to the 24th century threat of a probe threatening to destroy humanity.

[Again. The Federation should consider significant research into humanity-destroying probes.]

May 13 2014 2:00pm

Five Burning Questions: Vonda McIntyre’s The Search for Spock

Spock is Dead. That was the end of the last book, and not only is it sad, but now the universe is out of joint, because, as you know if you have read more than two of these blog posts, everything in the universe is a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon so that Kirk can command the Enterprise with Spock at his side. Even the doomed social worker from the 1930s noticed.

Spock is dead and the Enterprise is being decommissioned. It was all shiny and new at the beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but movie novelization later it was being used for a training cruise. That went badly, and now Starfleet has totaled it.

[Read More ]

Apr 29 2014 2:00pm

If it’s Not an Eel in Your Brain, it’s a Hole in Your Heart: The Wrath of Khan by Vonda McIntyre

Star Trek Wrath of Khan novelization Vonda McIntyreVonda McIntyre’s novelization of The Wrath of Khan was originally published in 1982. I picked up a used copy last month, at Pandemonium in Central Square in Cambridge.

I’ve read it before—Khan and I are past the point in our relationship where we can surprise each other. But it didn’t matter. Reading on the T, I rode two stops past South Station, had to get off at Andrew station to go back, and missed my train home.

[It was totally wicked.]

Mar 12 2014 8:00am

Spock Walks Away from Omelas: The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes

Star Trek The Pandora Principle Carolyn ClowesRemember Saavik? Saavik was a really cool character. I can’t remember when I saw Saavik’s official first appearance in the Star Trek canon, which was in The Wrath of Khan. But I do remember reading about her in Carolyn Clowes’ 1990 novel, The Pandora Principle, which is a ripping Girls’ Own Adventure yarn, in the style of Heinlein’s juvenilia. This came out when I was 14, and I probably bought it in the same year, which was definitely well before I saw The Search for Spock. I picked it up again because the plot involves Vulcan trafficking.

The other examples of Vulcan trafficking in my recent reading have focused on Romulan efforts to exploit Vulcans’ telepathic powers. The Romulans are alert to every possible advantage that could forward their political and diplomatic ambitions, and the Vulcans are surprisingly lackadaisical about looking for missing exploratory and trade vessels and keeping track of areas where such vessels tend to disappear.

[Saavik finds this as infuriating as I do.]

Mar 5 2014 2:00pm

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Romulan Warbird: Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally

Star Trek My Enemy My Ally Diane DuaneDiane Duane writes the most alien aliens in the Star Trek universe. She’s written the Horta, a race of glass spiders, and a second species of talking rock. She questions the relationships between these species and humanity, the Federation, and the fabric of space and time. She writes about them in incredible detail. By the time she’s done, you know how they think of themselves, what they think of you, and what they regard as tasty snacks.

In her 1984 novel, My Enemy, My Ally, Duane took on the Romulans. And although it’s really not unlike a lot of Duane’s other work on other alien races, it’s a stunning demonstration of what she can do.

[Do you want your Star Trek complicated? I think you do.]