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.
Talia’s Gift training, in Arrows of the Queen, was mostly informal and improvisational. Talia’s Gift emerged early, apparently in response to the trauma of her near-drowning. She received rudimentary instruction in how to shield herself shortly afterwards, and sometimes needed help maintaining and strengthening her shields during crises. Talia’s Gift was misidentified at the beginning of her formal training, which resulted in a lot of time wasted on attempts to teach her to control a gift she didn’t have. Her later efforts to train herself increased her strength, but did not improve her skills. Consequently, as she takes on the test that is supposed to prove her abilities as a Herald, she finds out that she’s a failure. Her crisis reflects real fears and insecurities and the solution—learning the skills she needs—feels practical without being obnoxiously pedantic.
Fortunately, Kris has some experience training FarSeers. The nature of Talia’s Gift puts him in grave danger, but he’s able to think on his feet, enlist the assistance of their Companions (finally!) and adapt his teaching skills to the unexpected emergency. This section also hints at some hidden aspects of Kris’s character. Lackey’s descriptions of his Gift, in combination with revelations later in the series, imply that Kris is a Mage. Vanyel’s Curse made Valdemar inhospitable to non-Herald Mages, but didn’t eliminate Mages entirely. Unidentified, un-trained Mages exist among the Heralds, mostly among those with Kris’s Gift of FarSeeing. Kris is the most powerful FarSeer the Heralds have had for some time. Because this sequence is set in the Forest of Sorrows, Kris and Talia are protected by Vanyel’s Curse. A handful of scenes imply the direct interference of Vanyel’s ghost. Knowing that Kris is a Mage raises the possibility that Vanyel’s scrutiny and protection is not only directed at Talia. With sufficient provocation, the powers Kris doesn’t realize he has could be just as dangerous as Talia’s loss of control. There is no way a reader could draw this conclusion from Heralds of Valdemar alone. It’s one of the rewards of re-reading.
Those are my complicated plot thoughts. I hope you enjoyed them, because I am done with that for this week. Now we need to talk about the epic moment when Talia stops Not Having Sex.
As Lackey has reminded us several times, though Heralds rarely settle in to long-term partnerships, they are known for being a licentious bunch. They have easy access to contraceptives. Casual sex is one of their most popular hobbies. I note, as a point of interest, that in more recently published Valdemar novels, Heralds also go to restaurants and watch sports. I eagerly await the Valdemar novel where Heralds lie in bed and watch TV. But at this point in Book 2 of the series, Heralds are all about sex. Except for Talia. The sex life Talia has not previously had was important enough to require detailed descriptions of three encounters with Skif that, despite the clear intentions of everyone involved, did not end in sex.
Skif is kind, creative, resourceful, and really good at climbing walls. He combines a heart of gold with the all-important Lure of the Bad Boy. I wouldn’t kick Skif out of bed for eating crackers. Skif is not on the scene here, so in defiance of my personal preferences, Talia has sex with Kris. Twice. Talia seems to be burning off some adrenaline from her emotional breakdown. Kris seems to have noticed that being snowed in to a windowless cabin in the woods is bad for the plot, and is trying to keep the story moving by poking it with his dick.
Despite the sex, Kris and Talia are clearly not meant to be. To prove it, they spend the next few days talking about Dirk. Dirk is a great dancer. Dirk is kind to babies and kittens. Dirk will happily stab people in the back for Queen and Country. Kris loves Dirk. Talia loves Dirk. Kris is worried that Talia might be infatuated with him, because that would hurt Dirk’s feelings. Talia is worried that Kris might be infatuated with her, because her feelings about Dirk might hurt Kris’s feelings. Dirk is getting all the emotional action here.
After two days of this, Vanyel drops a tree on the Waystation’s storage shed. (He made Kris and Talia move their supplies first. For future reference, though short on firewood, this Waystation is curiously well-supplied.) Talia assumes that Vanyel saved their lives by turning the tree so it didn’t hit the Waystation itself. I assume that Vanyel destroyed the shed as a way of sharing his feelings about the pointlessness of this sexual relationship. For the rest of this section, Kris and Talia shovel snow, do laundry, and enjoy the musical stylings of their chirras. Dirk always said chirras could harmonize.
Tune in next week, when Kris and Talia finish digging out and we finish Arrow’s Flight!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.