Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Mercedes Lackey’ Category

Just Reviewed Lackey and Edghill’s “Sacrifices” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, if you don’t regularly read my book reviews, I’d be really astonished.  (Well, those who aren’t following me simply for my insights, often trenchant, on the Milwaukee Brewers, that is.)  That’s the main reason I try to post something here when I write a new one.

Anyway, I’m very short on time right now, but I did get up a book review this evening for the excellent young adult urban fantasy by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, SACRIFICES.  This is book three in their Shadow Grail series, which deals with Arthurian myth (I called it “neo-Arthurian” as this series fuses the best of what’s great about urban fantasy and the best of historicity, in case anyone’s wondering how I came up with that) along with self-sacrifice and a whole lot of other interesting concepts.

If you love urban fantasy, mystery, Arthurian legend/history, or just admire the writing of Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, you want to read this book, soonest.  (Trust me.)  Not your typical “middle series” book by any means, this book is a non-stop thrill-ride (unfortunately, as I’d already used that term for another of their books, DEAD RECKONING, I didn’t think I should use it in the review, variety being the spice of life and all that) that will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

So I figured that before I went off to tonight’s rehearsal with the Racine Concert Band (for Sunday’s free concert at the Racine Zoo; I’m playing alto saxophone), I’d get something up for the review, then write a very quick blog post about it.

Anyway, go read my review, then go grab the book!

Just Reviewed Lackey and Mallory’s “Crown of Vengeance” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, if you are looking for a compelling epic fantasy that’s never boring, features a fine, yet flawed, heroine and a subtext that heroines need love, too (yet can rarely find it), you will really adore Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s newest novel, CROWN OF VENGEANCE.  Set in their world of Jer-a-Kaliel deep in the misty past, they tell the story of the great Elven Queen Vieliessar Farcarinon . . . and how the myths and legends that have arisen in the centuries upon centuries since her adventures are both more and less than what she actually was.

Before I discuss more of my typical “after-action report,” here’s the link to my review: http://shinybookreview.com/2013/03/17/lackey-and-mallorys-crown-of-vengeance-one-compelling-epic-fantasy/

Now, back to the AAR.

See, Vieliessar is a very complex person.  She’s a mage.  She’s a fighter.  She’s a scholar.  She’s a wise and benevolent ruler.  But she starts out very much behind the eight ball, as her mother died giving birth to her, the rest of Vieliessar’s family has been killed due to infighting among the Hundred Noble Houses, and because of that infighting, Vieliessar barely knows anything about herself until age twelve or so.

Instead, she thinks she’s Varuthir, and no one special.  But she hopes to become an Elven knight anyway, and win glory on the battlefield, as that’s the best way for her to gain a name, and home, of her own.

At that point, she is instead sent to the Sanctuary of the Star — the place her mother gave birth, mind you — to become a perpetual servant.  The reason this happens is because the Hundred Houses want no one of Farcarinon left able to reclaim her birthright.  But because one petty, spiteful noble actually tells Vieliessar her real name and just a tad about her heritage, Vieliessar becomes both curious and angry as to why she’s been misled all this time.

The Sanctuary is a safe place for Vieliessar for a number of years.  She learns more about who she is by doing various things, including learning that servants are just as important as nobles, that the status of the Landbonds (serfs tied to the land, more or less — farmers) is far below their actual worth and value, and that she actually has magical talent.

Then, after she’s resigned herself to becoming Vieliessar Lightsister (sort of a combination of mage, cleric and scholar), she has to reinvent herself again due to factional infighting at the Sanctuary.  (Mind you, I didn’t have time to get into that in my review, plus I didn’t want to give too much away.  Read the rest of this AAR at your own risk!)  And she becomes a swordswoman.

At this point, she finds a few of her family’s old retainers — the few that were left alive after the destruction of House Farcarinon — and decides to go to war.

But she’s not going to war with the other nobles, even though they think she is due to her destiny as the “Child of the Prophecy.”  (I talk more of this in my review.)  Instead, she knows she must unite the noble houses behind her banner in order to fight the nasty, vicious, disgusting and evil Endarkened — blood mages of the worst sort, who don’t see themselves as evil but obviously are.

Note that Vieliessar does not know who the Endarkened are, much less what.  But she does know that some sort of monstrous evil has been prophesied.  She also knows that she’s sensed something really bad out there that doesn’t like Elves, and figures that this must be the evil that’s been prophesied.  (She’s right, too.)

Book one mostly discusses Vieliessar’s quest to unite the noble houses.  It’s an absorbing read so long as it’s fixed on Vieliessar’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations — and it’s even interesting when dealing with the petty, political one-upmanship seen in the various maneuvering of the noble houses as they try, in vain, to escape their eventual joint fate as vassals to Vieliessar.

Really, if you enjoy a good, solid epic fantasy, you will love this book.  And if you loved any of Lackey and Mallory’s previous six collaborative efforts, you will assuredly love this book . . . so what’s stopping you from first reading my review, then reading the book itself?  (Go pick up a copy today!  Further reviewer sayeth not.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 17, 2013 at 3:09 am

Just reviewed Mercedes Lackey’s “Redoubt” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, if you like Mercedes Lackey’s writing, or if you’re a big fan of her Valdemar series, you’re in luck.  Because REDOUBT, the fourth novel in the “Collegium Chronicles,” is out . . . and I just reviewed it over at Shiny Book Review (SBR).

Go check out my review, then go grab the book!  (And Happy Friday!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Just Reviewed “Arcanum 101” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, if you’re looking for a short, but really good, urban fantasy novel — better yet, one written by such masters of the craft as Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill — look no further than Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students.  (My review over at SBR is available here.)  This is a fun, fast read that does many good things — it introduces two good characters, Tomas Torres, a fifteen-year-old pyrokinetic (read: fire-starter) from the barrio, and teenaged techno-shaman Valeria Victrix Langenfeld (always called “VeeVee”), who’s been raised with magic, accepts it as her due, and has more talents than she knows what to do with.  Both end up at St. Rhiannon’s School for Gifted and Exceptional Students — St. Rhia’s, for short — and both are attracted to each other within moments of their first meeting.

As this is a young adult story, their romance is PG-rated.  I appreciated this, because it seems most unlikely that a young romance needs to become explicit right away — especially while in a school setting.

Overall, I enjoyed Arcanum 101 thoroughly, and think if you enjoy urban fantasy, anything written by Mercedes Lackey and/or Rosemary Edghill, or better yet, all of the above, you will enjoy it as much as I did.

So what are you waiting for?  Go read my review — then go grab the e-book!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 21, 2012 at 12:25 am

Just Reviewed Lackey/Edghill’s “Legacies” and “Conspiracies” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, if you love urban fantasy as much as I do, you really need to grab hold of these novels and don’t let ’em go until you’ve read ’em.

Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill have created a magical academy out in the middle of Montana called Oakhurst that’s both familiar and terrifying.  They get all the “teen stuff” right — the “teen speak,” all the emphasis on technology, wanting to eat junk food (and hating healthy food, for the most part), “teen angst,” etc. — and they also manage to get in there a great many hints at mysteries that go back to the Morte d’Arthur . . . really nice work, and I enjoyed both Legacies (book one) and Conspiracies (book two) immensely.

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/sbr-2-for-1-special-lackey-and-edghills-shadow-grail-series-off-to-a-rousing-start/

So go read my review already, then go grab the books!

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 22, 2011 at 12:17 am

Just reviewed Mercedes Lackey’s “Changes” at SBR

with 4 comments

Folks, I just finished up a book review for Mercedes Lackey’s CHANGES at Shiny Book Review, so here’s the link:

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/changes-by-mercedes-lackey-decent-but-not-her-bes/

As Lackey is one of my favorite authors, writing a review like this, where I stated she’s “done this all before” and talked about the formulaic nature of the Valdemar series at this point was difficult for me to write.  Note that saying something has a formula to it doesn’t mean it’s bad; in this case, Lackey has so much skill that you can’t help but read any of her novels, even one of her weaker efforts, until the end.  Lackey is a very good writer for a reason, and she’s sold a great many books for a reason also, because her formula works.

In the Valdemar novels (also called the “Heralds of Valdemar” series), there are a number of things that are generally seen.  These are:

1) A likeable hero or heroine (in this case, Herald-trainee Mags).

2) The likeable hero feels like an outcast, as he’s come from someplace that doesn’t know much about the Heralds of Valdemar and struggles to fit in.

3) He finds friends who, like him, feel like outcasts for various reasons, so he’s not entirely alone.

4) He solves some problems due to his unique set of challenges and gifts; the way the hero looks at the world is vital to the safety and security of Valdemar, and thus everything the hero does (even the stuff that isn’t so nice) makes sense in context.

Those four things all have to be in a Valdemar novel, and they all were present with abundance in CHANGES.

So why, then, did I give this novel a C-plus when I really like Lackey’s writing?  Because while I sympathize with her in trying to come up with a unique angle for writing the Valdemar stories after all this time (after twenty-nine novels, the first one being published in 1987), this angle didn’t work for me.  Mags is analytical and intelligent, yes, but the way he speaks (in heavy dialect) is there so the reader will be constantly reminded that Mags really is intelligent and analytical because he doesn’t sound like either one of these things most of the time.  As a reader, I don’t like being “force-fed” like this, even from someone who writes as well as Lackey.

Second, as I said in my review, I’ve seen this done before and done better by Lackey, most notably in EXILE’S HONOR, BY THE SWORD, and the allied novel OATHBREAKERS (the latter being a view of Heralds from outside Valdemar, and through the lenses of two diversely gifted women).  

Third, even though there was a very nice emotional center to the book (I said this in my review, too), some of the emotional lows were not really there.  Mags doesn’t doubt himself so much as think that he should doubt himself, if that makes sense; also, when there were fights between the major characters, it felt forced and unnatural, as if Lackey figured there’d better be a fight so she put one in there even though it didn’t flow out naturally from the characterization.  And since I know Lackey can and usually does do better than this, that was the primary reason why CHANGES only garnered a C-plus from me, with the other reasons being that this book seemed more like an appetizer to whet my palate rather than a full, rich, satisfying meal.

Anyway, no writer is going to hit 100% with every reader on every book, so Lackey only hitting about 75% of what I’d hoped for with regards to her newest Valdemar novel, CHANGES, isn’t that big of a surprise.

Still, if you want to read Lackey (and I hope you do), you’d be better served to start with these books instead (along with the ones I’ve already mentioned):

ARROWS OF THE QUEEN (the very-first written Valdemar novel), ARROW’S FLIGHT, and ARROW’S FALL — These star Talia, an unwanted child from the puritanical Holderkin who live on the far outskirts of Valdemar.  She is Chosen to become the Queen’s Own Herald, struggles mightily in the role as her primary gift is empathy (not usually seen outside of Bards or Healers, and most especially not seen alone), and eventually finds her soul mate, Herald Dirk, after a great many trials and tribulations.

MAGIC’S PAWN, MAGIC’S PROMISE, MAGIC’S PRICE — this is the “Last Herald-Mage” trilogy, and it stars Vanyel Ashkevron, who is gay.  Vanyel’s family doesn’t like this fact overmuch and causes great troubles for him; when Vanyel’s first (and best) love, Tylendel, dies through misadventure, Vanyel tries to commit suicide.  Instead, he is Chosen and must come to terms with his new-found, prodigious abilities while his lover is still dead.  Very real emotions are evoked here, and the storytelling is as strong as I’ve ever seen it in any of Lackey’s novels.  Lackey won the Lambda Award for the final book in this trilogy, MAGIC’S PRICE, due to her sensitivity and understanding of Vanyel’s problems.

Try one of these trilogies, or better yet, try both as they’re uniformly excellent.  Then read the newest novel, CHANGES; if you do so, I’m sure you’ll see some of the same things I did with regards to this newest novel (the lack of freshness and emotional depth compared to “what has come before”).

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Just reviewed “Unnatural Issue” for SBR — and a few thoughts

leave a comment »

Folks, I just reviewed Mercedes Lackey’s “Unnatural Issue” for Shiny Book Review and I hope you’ll enjoy it.  Before I forget, let me give you the link to this review:

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/mercedes-lackeys-unnatural-issue-a-bildungsroman-with-teeth/

Now, as for everything else . . . it’s June 24, 2011.  That means it’s been nine years since my husband Michael and I married, which is a wonderful thing — but it’s been seven years that I’ve now observed my wedding anniversary alone due to his untimely passing, which is awful.  The dual nature of this day makes it a difficult one to get through, yet somehow I’ve made it to this point and I’m glad.

Remembering my husband Michael, his bright mind, his kind heart, his lively wit, his incredibly sensitive and spiritual soul, is a joy no matter what day it is.  I’ve never met anyone else like Michael, not in all my life, and I doubt I ever will again.  Truly, Michael was a Renaissance Man in every single possible respect and I’m grateful we were able to meet and then, later, to marry.  Because being with him for even a short time was worth it.

All that said, reading “Unnatural Issue” was difficult because it was about a widower who takes his grief way too far.  Because he has magical talent, he’s able to raise the dead if he wants and since he misses his wife so much, he’s resolved to do just that — more than that, he’s willing to end his daughter’s life in order to do this, because his daughter means nothing (his wife died giving birth to her) and his wife meant everything.

Mercedes Lackey is a pro, and she knew what she was doing in setting up the story this way.  She wanted to show that grief can sometimes be a horrible thing.  Richard Whitestone (the father in this tale) has forgotten his wife’s bright spirit and only wants her back because he sees her as a possession, or maybe a bit more accurately, a part of himself that’s missing.  And while that’s true that in marriage “two become one,” it’s wrong to bring back someone who has died, especially in the way Richard Whitestone tries to do it.

I believe, very strongly, that Michael’s spirit is alive.  And I am glad of that, because I would not be able to handle believing that everything he ever was has gone out of this universe — it would be anathema to me that any Deity figure I would care to follow would do this, and even if we don’t have a Deity to have to deal with, I refuse to believe that someone as extraordinarily good and special as Michael could arise due to a cosmic accident.

I see love as something that is eternal.  And I look forward, someday, to rejoining him in eternity.  But I cannot and will not hasten that day, as I know Michael will always be there and I’m certain would want me to get whatever good I can out of this life.  And there’s still our stories to write and edit and do my best to publish, and editing to do for other people . . . and to play on occasion when my hands will let me.

Anyway, I will continue to do my best to see Michael for what he was and what I believe he still is — a force for good, whether in this world or the next.  And a profoundly creative and spiritual individual, besides, someone I was proud to call “husband.”

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm

My favorite “comfort books”

with 2 comments

After several extremely trying days, I read some of my favorite “comfort books” in order to feel better and be able to keep going.   And that got me thinking about what, exactly, is a “comfort book?”

To my mind, a “comfort book” is one that will give you a positive feeling time and time again.  It’s a book that gets your mind off your troubles, or at least diverts you from them somewhat.  And it’s a book that you tend to admire for some reason — maybe due to how well the writer in question uses language, maybe because the characters “speak” to you, maybe because it has a bright and lively feel to it, or maybe just because these characters have survived something terrible but have lived to tell the tale.

These books all inspire me to do more, be more, and to keep trying, no matter how hard it gets and no matter how long it takes.  Though the plotlines are disparate, and the situations all over the map, they all have in common one thing — they reach me, no matter how awful I feel, and no matter what sort of chaos is going on all around me.

So in no particular order, here are my favorite books that I turn to again and again when I’m feeling the most down and out:

MIRROR DANCE, Lois McMaster Bujold — Mark Vorkosigan’s story goes from anti-hero to full-fledged hero, has huge peaks and miserable valleys, and contains some of the best writing of Ms. Bujold’s career to date.

CORDELIA’S HONOR (omnibus of SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR), Bujold — Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan’s story is humane, interesting, revealing, and engaging.  Cordelia makes her own life her own way, yet realizes she’s as fragile down-deep as anyone else.   Finding a mate as extraordinary as she is in Aral Vorkosigan is half the fun — watching what they accomplish together is the rest.  This is my favorite of all Ms. Bujold’s novels/novel compilations; it also was my late husband Michael’s favorite work by Bujold.

Poul Anderson, the “Dominic Flandry” series (two outstanding novels in this series are A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS and A STONE IN HEAVEN) — Flandry is an interstellar secret agent, a literate and erudite man with impeccable taste who still manages to be a flawed human.   He’s also a bon vivant with an alien valet and a romantic heart buried beneath his cynical exterior.  If you haven’t read any of these stories yet, you should.

André Norton, FORERUNNER FORAY and ICE CROWN — Note that Miss Norton wrote many, many outstanding novels in the science fiction, fantasy, romance and historical romance fields; these are my two favorites.  The former novel has a heroine in Ziantha who goes from unwanted child to highly-trained psychic, albeit in thrall to the latter-day version of the Mafia; how she breaks free and finds friends and companions is well worth the read.  The latter features Roane Hume, an unwanted cousin forced to do her uncle’s will on a backward planet that knows nothing of space travel or advanced societies; Roane finds her own inner strength and throws off her shackles while finding the right man for her (more alluded to than delineated, but there), proving that knowledge indeed is power.  (Note that André Norton was Michael’s all-time favorite SF&F writer.  He had good taste.)

Stephen R. Donaldson — A MAN RIDES THROUGH.  This is the second book of the “Mordant’s Need” duology and is a rousing tale of romance, mistaken motivations, political intrigue, and contains an unusual magic system dealing with the shaping and control of various mirrors.  The two main protagonists, Terisa and Geraden, go from not knowing anything to being supremely powerful and confident in and of themselves while maintaining their fallible, undeniably human nature in a realistic way that reminded me somewhat of medieval epics (albeit with magic).  Excellent book that works on all levels, and as always, Donaldson’s command of language is superb and worth many hours of study.

Rosemary Edghill, TWO OF A KIND and THE SHADOW OF ALBION (the latter written with André Norton) — the first is a hysterically funny Regency romance, the second is an “alternate Regency” with magic.  Excellent books.

Mercedes Lackey, BY THE SWORD and Vanyel’s trilogy (MAGIC’S PAWN, MAGIC’S PROMISE, MAGIC’S PRICE) — both emotional and well-conceived, these books draw you in and don’t let go.  Ms. Lackey is one of the most popular novelists in fantasy literature, and it’s easy to understand why.

KRISTIN HANNAH, WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES — I go back to this book again and again because of the strength of its romance between contemporary woman Alaina “Lainie” Constanza and the outlaw John Killian in 1896; this is a paranormal, time-traveling romance that gets everything right.  The characters are engaging though deeply flawed, and have had terrible things happen to them in the past but manage to overcome all difficulties by believing in the power of their love — but taking time to get there, which makes things far more realistic.

Linnea Sinclair, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS.  I enjoy all of Ms. Sinclair’s work, but it’s the story about psychic priestess Gillaine “Gillie” Davré in the far future (she’s a Raheiran, is also a soldier and member of the Raheiran Special Forces) that always draws me back.  Gillie is a complex heroine that, despite her special abilities (of which she has many), still remains a flawed human being.  (The Raheirans think of themselves as human.  Other types of humanity, such as the Khalarans Gillie works with, tend to think of them as lesser Gods and Goddesses, which discomfits Gillie no end.)  Her love story with Khalaran Admiral Rynan “Make it Right” Makarian, a man as complex and interesting as she is, holds my interest time and time again.

Jane Austen, EMMA and MANSFIELD PARK — these are my two favorite novels of Miss Austen’s output, partly because the first is a biting satire and the second a morality play in addition to the “comedy of manners” Miss Austen seemingly could write in her sleep.   I appreciate Miss Austen’s work more and more as I get older; her craftsmanship was outstanding and her eye for detail even better.  (Note that Jane Austen, like André Norton, was one of Michael’s favorite writers.  It was because of Michael’s insistence that I re-read EMMA and realized the fluffy nature of it concealed biting wit and savage satire, then I went on to re-read everything else.)

Finally, there’s the writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and their entire “Liaden Universe” series.  I can’t say enough how much I admire these two writers, how much I appreciate their fine series of books (twelve or so to date), and how much I’m looking forward to GHOST SHIP, the sequel to both SALTATION and I DARE.

These books are all emotionally honest, they get the issues right, they don’t play games with the reader and the way these writers use the English language is superb.   I gain more every time I turn to these authors and their books, and I believe you will, too, if you give them a chance.