Arrow’s Flight by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

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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61 comments

  1. I wasn’t sold on the “one rumor shatters Talia’s confidence” thing, either. She’d had five years surrounded by Heralds helping her get sorted, so it didn’t seem realistic to imagine that it and Kris’s wondering about her would totally wreck her.

    • I felt forgiving because it’s only Lackey’s second book and I know Vanyel’s books are superb. As Jackie pointed out in her review of Arrows of the Queen, I enjoyed how sex positive Arrow’s Flight continued to be. The characters can have sex because it feels good and still openly discuss their feelings for other people.

        • That IS something interesting about Heralds. Because they rarely form lifebonds, the love triangle is pretty much impossible (unless she breaks this rule somewhere in a trilogy I haven’t yet read).

          • The lifebond is a special connection- a soulmate, essentially- and it doesn’t happen very often, no, but Heralds can and do pair off in marriages more often than that. And while Lackey didn’t wander off into love triangle territory, she did state in Arrows of the Queen that three-way lifebonds could happen, but were exceedingly rate. For the most part in Lackey’s books, romance is just another story element and not the whole story. That’s one of the things that drew me in way back when, since I don’t really care about the romances in books.

                • I am super sad we don’t get to explore this more deeply! A three-way lifebond?! I wonder if it’s just two different people who have a lifebond with Keren or if all three of them feel/felt the same way about each other? I want to know!!

                    • One of the newest trilogies IS about Skif, so maybe we get to read about him at the Colligium as a new student and we find out more about our lady trio. The prize for the December giveaway is a copy of the Skif omnibus–all three books!

                    • Exile’s Honor and Exile’s Valor are about Alberich, and Take a Thief is about Skif, if that’s the trilogy you’re talking about. Skif does feature in the Mage Winds trilogy, but that one’s mostly about Elspeth. The very newest Valdemar books (the Collegium books and The Hills Have Spies) occur long, long before Arrows of the Queen. There’s no other trilogy about Skif that I’ve been able to find.

                    • Oh! Yes, those are the ones I’m referencing. I haven’t read them, but based on the description I thought it would be about how Skif was Chosen and arrived at the Collegium. I feel like you’re our guide through this read-along, Kim. 🙂

                    • Woohoo! I can be a guide for something! I usually get lost and serve as a poor guide for travel.

                      Take a Thief is about Skif’s choosing and entrance into the Collegium, and the Exile books serve a similar purpose for Alberich.

                    • I’ve been researching around and trying to find the best order to read the books after we finish 2019. I think I’m going to read the Exile books because I will still have Skif and Alberich fresh in my mind, then go way back to the Mage Wars and move forward again.

                    • I have no recommendations for reading order! I read them in a wonky order to start with, and spoilers don’t bother me very much, so while I can answer all sorts of questions about the world, the reading order isn’t necessarily my strong suite.

                      That said, I think the order you and Melanie have set up is just fine, as there are events in the Last Herald Mage trilogy that are helpful (and sometimes vital) to know when you get to the Mage Winds and Mage Storms trilogies. So while we all want to get to see Elpseth all grown up, I think getting to Vanyel’s story first is the best way to go.

                    • Right? It’s going to be difficult for me to step away from Elspeth even for a little bit. But I am very curious about the differences between gifts and magic — so Vanyel’s story will (hopefully) answer those questions. The magic system in this universe just got MUCH more complicated!

                    • Yes, Gifts are natural psychic abilities that lots of people have but really get awoken when Chosen. The weatherwitch has a gift that was brought on by trauma, as an example of non-Heralds using gifts. Magic is more like what you would see in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. You have to learn it, that I remember. I think you have to have something in you to be able to learn it….I can’t remember but will know within the week!

                    • BIG TROUBLE REFERENCE. YES. I AM SO HAPPY.

                      Or, well. David is. That’s one of his all-time favorite movies. It’s so weird! But you’re right. Old Magic. So… we lost the ability to teach people magic? I have more questions than answers now!

                    • Tonight I convinced Nick to watch Big Trouble in Little China with me because it is a romantic film. Wang Chi wants Maio Yin back. Nick agreed to watch the movie but argued that it is not a romance film. It is a movie in which the side kick does not realize he isn’t the hero.

    • Agreed. But I did buy into Kris’ hypothesis: Being an Empath, it’s easy for Talia to get into emotional spirals; positive or negative. Once they start to build, no matter the direction, they keep spiraling. Also, I feel like the confidence shattering from the rumor was only a piece of the falling apart she experienced. The opening chapters implied that Talia was already losing her shields and hold on things before Kris shared the rumor.

      But yes, I wasn’t completely sold on it. Talk to each other, people!

        • She didn’t lose her shield exactly, but things weren’t feeling right. Her whole Gift system felt “off”. We don’t see the shield deterioration until later — I guess I made assumptions and allowed my brain to fill in some blanks?

          Oh yeah. Elspeth’s choosing was very weird. I have a feeling we will hear more about this in the next book, or in Elspeth’s trilogy. Either way — I HAVE THEORIES.

          • I have NO theories on what’s happening. I mean, Rolan looked “guilty,” and so I feel all kinds of uncertain. He’s a Companion! How can he be guilty of anything?! *bites finger nails*

            • I think he looked guilty because he altered Talia’s memories! My theory is that Gwena didn’t EXIST before Elspeth started to become a viable candidate for Herald. Gwena appeared from the Sacred Grove out of nowhere. Talia didn’t remember this Companion when she first laid eyes on her. There must have been no Companion who matched with Elspeth for whatever reason. Also, as there is all this foreshadowing to an upcoming great war, perhaps Elspeth, as Queen-Presumptive, needs to be bonded with an extra-special Companion with extra-special powers. I bet we’ll learn more about the Scared Grove and Gwena in Elspeth’s trilogy.

        • I do kind of get that she’s afraid to tell Kris anything because she could be manipulating him with her gift. She can’t prove otherwise. It reminded me of people with mental disabilities, such as anxiety or depression. They are afraid to tell people what they’re thinking for fear of sounding “crazy.”

  2. I 100% agree: Middle book slump! The pacing was just all off when they were trapped. I feel like exploring Talia’s Gift and the training Kris provides her could have happened on the road more. Perhaps a bit more Circuit and a bit less trapped-in-a-snowstorm? But I can see Lackey’s writing blossoming into something stronger with this book. She took some risks. They didn’t all pay off, but I loved this book enough to keep reading.

    Lackey’s witty banter, for example. This is getting so much better. Despite the overall blah feeling I felt about this book, I did laugh aloud quite often!

    Great review, Melanie. We have a lot to chat about. 🙂

  3. Aw, a slumpy second book. Those sequels can be so challenging and sometimes middle books feel very mediocre. I often think some trilogies work better as duologies. Now I’m wondering if duologies are a new thing. I see them pop up more these days. I hope the next book is a better fit for you.

    • Have you read many duologies? I think a whole lot of books could get rid of that middle one, but it’s likely publishers who push for a true money-making trilogy. Readers will ignore a dumpy second book because they “have” to know how it all ends and buy the third book regardless.

  4. This series sounds interesting, and hope you have better luck with the next book! I appreciate that the author didn’t play into her time’s conventions, whether resisting tired tropes or including LGBT rep.

    • Thanks, Michael. If you’re into fantasy at all, I’d recommend you read the three magic books: Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price. You don’t need to read any of the other books to jump in, and the main character is a gay young man.

  5. This is not a series I’m going to read, and I don’t suppose any of them will make it to my very middle of the road public library, but in all the SF I’ve read there have been some series. I think Jackie B hit it on the head – middle novel slump. This is basically pulp fiction being pumped out at one or two books a year and it’s probably impossible to maintain continuity let alone quality.

    • I’ve done some snooping around on the internet and found that most people stop after 25 books. There are another 10, which is where people get burned out on Lackey. So, I’d say she must be doing something right. She’s also not the kind of author who does loads of PR: readings, lectures, book signings, etc., so keeps her time to herself in a way few authors can or do.

  6. Totally agree that the middle part of this book was a big slow. My biggest issue was that Talia was very overdramatic in this one… She almost seemed to regress in maturity and felt more mature in the first book when she was a child? I agree that the order of her struggling with her powers would have been better in the first book.

    • I’m nearing the middle of Arrow’s Fall, which I know you’ve read. I’m interested, because it can’t be all as simple as it seems on the outside. Unless it is! I’ve been talking with another blogger, Kim, who has read all these books and reassures me that I’m not forgetting: the three books with Magic in the title (know as The Last Herald Mage trilogy) is vastly better written. According to Kim, Lackey really hits her stride after the Talia stories.

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