Brief Re-cap: In Arrows of the Queen, teen Talia is Chosen by Rolan, a mythical horse creature known as a Companion, to become a herald. Companions never Choose wrong. He takes her from her backward, patriarchal society on the edges of the Vamdemar kingdom to the capital where Talia attends school at the Collegium, training to be a herald (a protector of the queen, the kingdom, justice, and its people). She learns her natural Gift is empathy, which is totally weird in a herald. Talia’s job is to make the heir to the throne — a wretched brat named Elspeth — kind enough to get a Companion to Choose her. . . or the throne goes to someone else. Click for my full review.
Arrow’s Flight, the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s “arrow trilogy,” takes us back to Talia and her Collegium. She’s done with classes and is about to embark on her eighteen-month internship to learn the ropes of patrolling a sector of the kingdom with a senior herald. Before she leaves, two problems weigh on her mind: 1) Elspeth, now civilized, still hasn’t been Chosen, and she can’t inherit the throne of she isn’t a herald, and 2) the people in court are eyeballing Talia weirdly.
Just as she’s about to leave, Elspeth is Chosen by a Companion no one recognizes in the middle of the night. After finding Elspeth with her new Companion and Rolan, Talia “started to say something — and abruptly felt Rolan’s presence overwhelming her mind, tinged with a feeling of gentle regret.” What does he regret!?
There’s not much time to ponder: Elspeth is introduced to court and makes a good impression. Talia leaves immediately for her internship, paired with Herald Kris. Kris is known for being gorgeous, and Talia explains that she doesn’t trust good-looking people implicitly. Much to Kris’s disappointment.
I appreciate that Lackey doesn’t focus on appearance as an indicator of good or bad internal qualities. Talia is quite plain, and a herald who has caught her eye is downright homely. I believe people are only described so we can get an idea of how to imagine them, which is appropriate. Talia makes Kris earn her trust because she doesn’t equate good looks with a good person — sorry trope, Lackey knew you were icky.
The point of Talia’s internship is to ride in one sector of the Valdemar kingdom and listen to people’s issues that need resolved (like informal court with judges). I enjoyed these exchanges because understanding the people better shapes the setting more clearly, and I begin to “get” Valdemar as a place (well, at least the sector Talia and Kris traveled in — it’s a big kingdom).
Heralds also help defend against raiders, which is dangerous, and survive the environmental elements. The life of a herald is not easy nor safe. In fact, Talia and Kris make it to a camp maintained for heralds on circuits just as an epic snowstorm hit. They are stranded in what is essentially a log cabin for a month.
The middle section of Arrow’s Flight was a bit too slow for me. Several times Talia and Kris mention they have food to get through a month. But while I read the chapters, I thought several weeks had passed. Then another would go by. By the time they left the cabin, one month total had passed, but it felt like they endured an entire winter season.
While in the cabin, Kris and Talia work on one of her problems established at the beginning of the novel: those wary faces. Kris breaks it to Talia that people in the court think she’s altering political opinion with her Gift, empathy. True, Talia does soften people’s anger and despair, but can she alter their choices? Such a pervasive rumor ruins Talia’s confidence, causing her to lose control of her Gift. Instead, she accidentally projects her feelings on others. At one point, Kris and their two Companions believe Talia can kill them with her emotions.
I wasn’t completely sold on this. Talia has suffered no great loss, just some confidence. Would she feel so badly as to destroy another person with those feelings? Perhaps I’m being harsh; I’ve read the next trilogy of Valdemar books and know the writing is much better in that trio. It’s like Lackey has the idea now, but she’s not fully explained nor utilized it.
The arc of the trilogy would have made more sense if things were ordered differently. What it Talia couldn’t get a hold of her powers in the Arrows of the Queen, back when she was so shy and lacked confidence? During her time at school with her teachers, she could work on controlling her Gift. Then, as her confidence grew, she could solve problems (like discovering an enemy is working as a maid the heir to the throne) in Arrow’s Flight before she leaves for her internship. Flushing out the traitor seemed almost too easy in Arrows of the Queen. Lackey stretched what’s believable for me by asking readers to believe after years training to be a herald that one rumor would destroy Talia.
Overall, I think Lackey falls victim to the class slumpy second in a trilogy, but I’m still happy, invested, and motivated to read more in the Valdemar series, including the conclusion to Talia’s trilogy, Arrow’s Fall. With a name like that, you have to wonder what good can happen to her!
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