Mercedes Lackey’s Winds of Change, book two in the Mage Winds trilogy, has a relatively simple plot. Darkwind and Elspeth work to train their powers and help fix K’Sheyna Vale’s fractured heartstone, while Falconsbane tries to stop them. K’Sheyna calls in Healer-Adept Firesong from K’Treva Vale to help. He chooses an unconventional approach, draining the heartstone of its power. K’Treva’s Mages are pushing that power towards a new heartstone when the power is grabbed and diverted to the Palace in Haven by a mysterious force located in the Forest of Sorrows.
But what I remember most about reading Winds of Change when I was a teenager is that it is the book where Darkwind makes over Elspeth’s wardrobe and the hertasi bring them tapas.
Although the Vale is in crisis, characters and relationships are at the heart of this book. Darkwind gave up Mage-craft for Scouting when the Heartstone fractured, and left behind a more sybaritic life and personality when he did. Now that he’s returning to Magery, he has also returned to an ekele in the climate-controlled Vale and some of his former interests, including really nice clothes. Herald uniforms are so unflattering that the hertasi find them offensive. Darkwind’s work emphasizes jewel tones, which bring out the dramatic highlights in Elspeth’s coloring. I’m bemused by the extent to which Tayledras fashions are functionally unisex. This either means the Elspeth is more-or-less broomstick-shaped, or that most Tayledras garments are constructed like elaborate bathrobes. Or both! We can live in the and, here.
The colors and fabrics are gorgeous, and they help reveal what Darkwind sees in Elspeth, a woman who he has, earlier in the series, described as fanatically devoted to the running of Princess Elspeth’s Foundling Home for Wayward and Abandoned Grudges. And also bitchy and arrogant. Elspeth has listened carefully to Darkwind’s critique, and then gone away to think about it rather than throwing knives at him with her eyeballs, which we all know she is completely capable of doing. She is so mature! Talia taught her to do that when she was nine! Elspeth may have been mellowed by the amazing selection of hertasi snacks. There’s a thing I suspect is basically chocolate, and a lot of finger food, and, FYI, the hertasi grow a plant that tastes like cheese. Elspeth and Darkwind’s liaison serves the plot by building on to the crucial close connection between these characters. The love scenes take place when they are between major projects. I’ll allow it.
Skif and Darkwind’s brother, Wintermoon, leave the Vale in pursuit of Nyara, who absconded with Need at the end of Winds of Fate. Skif and Wintermoon get to bond and talk about their lives, which is nice for Skif’s many admirers, especially those who might have been wondering what the hell happened to the teenage delinquent with a heart of gold. Wintermoon’s personal issues are rooted in Tayledras family dynamics. The Tayledras are shockingly business-like about reproduction and a little lackadaisical about child-rearing.
Nyara has been holed up in a cave having Story Time with Auntie Need. I could only be happier about this if a hertasi brought me an attractively sliced cheese plant to eat while reading it. The impacts of the Mage Wars are tricky to identify. On the surface, Need’s stories appear to reflect a stunning degree of continuity with Elspeth’s era. However, the apparent similarities between the present and the ancient past imply both massive disruptions in the intervening period and great difficulty in understanding shifting mentalities in the Mage Wars and the centuries that followed. Need’s focus on educational parables is a further challenge to the historian. Nonetheless, this is more information than we’ve ever had before. Need also reverses some of the genetic and physical manipulations that Falconsbane inflicted on Nyara, which allows her greater control of her body and her relationships and lays the groundwork for her future relationship with Skif.
Starblade, Falconsbane’s other victim, is recovering from his years of torture and mind control with the help of a Shin’a’in shaman who is aiding in his sexual healing. They become lovers. First, ick. But this makes sense in the context Lackey has created in which actions must be reversed in order to heal their impacts. Starblade was controlled through his bond bird. This is also reversed when he gets a new bird, Hyllarr. Like the crow Falconsbane gave to Starblade, Hyllarr is huge, intelligent, and manipulative. He’s also perceptive, sweet, and funny. He can share my sliced cheese plant.
Not all of the relationships in Winds of Change go well. It is not yet clear whether or not Darkwind and Elspeth are lifebonded, so we get to appreciate the visiting Healer-Adept Firesong through Elspeth’s eyes. He’s a gorgeous, glamorous creature. Hertasi flock to him in droves. No one is immune. He’s gay, so Elspeth is out of luck. He’s also her cousin roughly 28 generations removed, because Vanyel.
Falconsbane lies around in his secret stronghold attempting to recover from the injuries he sustained at the end of Winds of Fate. Between brutal killings of members of his household staff, he muses about his past lives. He’s had a lot of them. Falconsbane’s obsessions impose significant limitations on his account of historical events, but it is clear that he hates Gryphons and Tayledras more than he hates everyone else. His obsessions are relieved somewhat by the appearance of a group of mysterious black-clad riders who bring him gifts. Falconsbane decides these must be representatives of Ancar of Hardorn. Even more regrettably, Visiting Shin’a’in shaman Tre’valen drew the short straw in the romance department, and falls in love with Dawnfire, Darkwind’s ex-girlfriend who has been transformed into a vorcel hawk.
Lackey is at her best when she’s laying down clues about what’s to come. Winds of Change brings back Vanyel and his connection to Sorrows after two books about the situation to Valdemar’s south. She hints that Vanyel is working through the Web. She reminds us that Gates wreak havoc with the weather. Elspeth’s Companion, Gwena, continues to be a horse-shaped mystery. She initially denies being able to manipulate magical energy, then admits that she can. Elspeth confronts Gwena about withholding information and Gwena agrees to stop keeping secrets, but she doesn’t tell Elspeth that she’s Grove Born. There’s a brief chapter about An’desha for future reference. Lackey deals with three relatively unfamiliar cultures here, plus a lot of Need’s personal history. Heavy exposition is inevitable. Some parts of the book feel like an educational documentary, an impression that is unpleasantly reinforced by an Epilogue that says I can’t have a pet hawk. Still, it’s one of my favorites. The fluffy romance holds up the framework for the next books and leaves an attractive space for the reader’s imagination to run wild.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.