Arrow’s Fall by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

Where We Left Off . . .

Arrows of the Queen: book nerd teen named Talia from misogynistic village is Chosen by a Companion, which is a mystical horse, to go to school to learn to be a Herald and the Queen’s right-hand woman.

Arrows Flight: Talia finishes school and goes on 18-month internship with Kris from whom she learns to control her Gift of empathy while snowed in a cabin for months and argues that his uncle, Lord Orthallen, is a big ol’ creeper plotting against Talia.

And now, for the final book in the Heralds of Valedmar trilogy . . .

Much like the previous novel, Arrow’s Fall has a slump, except this time it is the first 100 pages. Talia lost her virginity to the gorgeous and well-bred Kris while on her internship, but it’s common for Heralds to engage in sex without attaching romantic love to it. But at home is Kris’s best friend, Dirk, with whom Talia has lifebonded (basically an unbreakable romantic love) but doesn’t fully realize it. These first 100 pages feel like a love triangle that would be solved if someone spoke up.

There are two problems: 1) Talia and Kris won’t talk because she’s still accusing his uncle, Lord Orthallen, of treachery, which Kris doesn’t want to hear, and 2) Dirk won’t talk to Kris or Talia because he’s afraid of getting in their way if they are in love. And how could they not be? Kris is so good-looking and well-bred, and Dirk is as attractive as hay.

The point of Arrow’s Fall is supposed to be that the prince of a nearby kingdom wishes for the hand of the heir, who is still a teen. Both Queen and Talia have bad vibes over this, especially the way Lord Orthallen is really pushing for it. The Queen sends Talia and Kris to go ahead to meet the prince and his father in their kingdom about a week before the Queen and her envoy get there. If there’s danger, Talia would feel it with her Gift and Kris could send warning with his Gift.

Once I got to this part of the book, I was all in. There’s danger and I was made to feel deep emotions over the consequences of Talia’s and Kris’s trip. I discovered magic is not totally dead — the prince has at least one magician and one witch. The Heralds assumed the last Herald-Mage (meaning possessing both a natural Gift and able to do Magic) died hundreds of years before, so what does this mean for future trilogies set in Valdemar? Exciting!

Though Arrows of the Queen felt a touch juvenile, Arrow’s Flight too slow, and Arrow’s Fall ended on a twee note, I did care for the characters and feel invested in their lives, especially at the end of this last novel. Above everything, love is at the center of the Herald system: friendly, familial, romantic, and sexual love all exist in Lackey’s Valdemar books. Love of Companions and loyalty to kingdom create bonds that imply Heralds can always trust each other, and what a world to live in. I feel safe in the assured love in Valdemar.

Minor characters are brought back and pushed to their limits in this final installment. Griffon, introduced in the first book, returns during an epic battle to use his incredibly rare Firestarter Gift. This made me more excited that I bought the one-off novel called Brightly Burning about the legendary Lavan Firestorm, the only other Firestarter any Herald can think of. He was mentioned when we were introduced to Griffon.

The heir to the throne, Elspeth, grows and learns challenging lessons as she goes through puberty and teen feelings. She listens to advice during the epic battle but takes matters into her own hands by using her Gift in an impossible situation. Readers will get more of Elspeth in the Mage Winds trilogy, which I’ll review in April.

There was also more Skif, the street urchin and thief who became a Herald. He goes on to teach his thief-sneaking and tricksy dagger throwing to Elspeth. He remains a good friend to Talia, advising her on how to sort out the Dirk-Kris situation early on. He’ll also come back in Take a Thief, which I plan to read next year.

For me, the best thing about Lackey is that she makes you want to read more, and you feel insatiable. To get to Skif’s story, I have to read several other trilogies (well, I don’t have to, but feel like I need to). There’s one more trilogy before I get back to Elspeth. Lackey was wise enough to know that the infamous Heralds of lore in Talia’s time, like Lavan Firestarter and Vanyel, deserve their own stories, and so she wrote them. I feel greedy when I think about how many books there are!

I’m almost too enthusiastic about jumping into the next trilogy, The Last Herald Mage, this month. Readers go back in time to learn about Vanyel, who is the hero in Talia’s books and a legend among Heralds. There’s a lot I didn’t cover in this review, so be sure to catch my conversation with Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku at the end of the month!

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34 comments

    • I almost get dizzy with excitement because I’ve mapped out my reading schedule. I’m always looking forward to what’s next. Because I created that homework method of reading (giving myself a certain number of pages to read per day and marking them off with sticky notes), I’ve been reading faster than I used to when I was winging it. Thus, I’ve added more books to my schedule.

      • I know what you mean! I don’t tend to do TBRs etc., but when I’m reading something, I start getting excited about what I want to pick up next, and that makes me read faster.

        Glad to hear your reading is going well! 😊

  1. I totally agree about the love triangle thing being a low part of the whole trilogy. But at least Lackey solved it relatively quickly, instead of dragging across multiple books like other authors have done. There are worse things than love triangles that would be sorted out if the people would just talk to each other, but few of them are more annoying.

    • This is true. I know Jackie, my co-host, is especially irate about the physical and sexual violence at the end of the book. When we do our conversation post at the end of February, we don’t hold back on spoilers, so we’ll hash it out then.

      • Looking forward to your thoughts on it. I found it to be super frustrating, too, that Lackey really didn’t deal with it, and just said “well, time passed and it got better so here’s a happy ending everything is fine now!”. Not cool.

    • LOL! It’s not annoying so much as I’m trying to control my self-confidence. For years, I had blog posts on which a “like” notification would pop up 30 seconds after I posted the review. That sucker didn’t read my review! However, if my “likes” were too low, I would feel like, like I’d just hollered into a void. If I get rid of the “like” button, I focus more on writing, reading, and conversing. p.s. I adore you 😀

  2. You have so many wonderful, and positive, points in this review! I feel so negative compared to you… But you understand my concerns a bit already. XD I love how you connect these characters to future books. You already understand the books of the Valdemar universe so well! I definitely want to learn more about Griffon after this book — and, honestly, the other Heralds. I’m super intrigued to learn more about their gifts. There must be many more we don’t know about.

    Speaking of things we don’t know about! I am SUPER excited to read Vanyel’s story. I have so many questions about magic v. gifts. I hope they are distinctly different. Like, you can *learn* magic but you’re *born* with a gift. Or something. I want them to each mean something unique. I am super excited! Despite some graphic trepidations. #SpoilersMaybe

    Lackey 100% gets me to want to read more. I will struggle when we’re only reading one book a month… How will we stick to the schedule?! XD

    • I’m not sure how we will stick to the schedule other than stubborn will. I know that Kim has utterly read circles around us, in addition to loads of other books!

      I feel like my review comes off as very positive thanks to a couple of things: 1) knowing Vanyel’s story is better, which makes me forgiving of any authorial missteps in Talia’s story, and 2) The things that bother me are things I want to get into in our conversation post instead of a review. If I get too deeply into the things that bother me in the review, readers who aren’t following may feel very lost. I’m trying to stick to the classic reason people review books: to recommend (or not) that someone else buy/borrow the book. I think the way Talia’s story is a leaping off point for so many other books and gets me painfully excited about reading made it worth it to read.

      • In my case, stubborn will and a library circulation desk. XD My copy of Magic’s Pawn still hasn’t arrived… Darn it.

        Of course Kim has run circles around us! She’s amazing like that. Plus, she’s read most of this Universe already, yes?

        You have a great perspective about the conversation posts. You’re right – the purpose of a book review is to recommend the book or steer people away. I’ve always found it difficult to review series books because of this. I struggle to separate previous book content unless I dig into the things I love/hate deeply. Before I write future reviews, I’m going to re-read your Arrow’s Flight/Fall reviews to see if I could learn a thing. 😉

          • That’s wise. I will consider this going forward ofr my reviews. It helps when we chat through things and gets my brain churning. This is why I love book clubs! Talking about book ideas with people amps me up and gets my brain churning. I don’t take notes while I’m reading, as it distracts me from the experience. Perhaps I should for these books to keep myself focused?

            • Thinking about criteria is something I would teach to my comp students when I was still a professor. The last paper I would teach was a book review of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

              It seems to me like you have a lot of thoughts without taking notes, so if it distracts from the experience, keep doing what you’re doing. I wish I had a book club in which people actually had opinions. I had a meeting about a year ago for which we read Dumplin’. The first thing I hear, from a thin person, is “this book didn’t relate to me.” I wanted to say, “HELLO!? Welcome to my world! *angry face*”

              • Why *didn’t* you reply with that?! Controversy makes for wonderful conversation. The trick is to not get personal about it, you know? That’s difficult.

                Yeah, I keep a lot of thoughts in my head as I go. I honestly don’t know how I do that. If I take notes I imagine it might disrupt my experience, but it would also mean making it easier to write book reviews whenever I finally get around to some of my … uh… delinquent reviews. Of which there are many. XD Oops.

                When you talk about criteria, what do you mean? AKA – what’s the best way for me for formulate a Google search which will get me details I can learn from?

                • I didn’t reply to the woman at book club how I wanted because at the time she was my friend. She’s the one who is no longer speaking to me that I mentioned to you the other night.

                  Lately, I’ve been using Goodreads to keep track of my thoughts. I’ll update the page number and leave a thought in the little box. This is new for me, so I’ll see how it affects my reviews.

                  A criteria is anything by which you just something. You should have an idea of which way you want the scale to tip before you start. This is much easier with something like a car. Buying a car, you may have expectations about fuel efficiency, mileage, color, number of doors, moon roof, number of seats, type of vehicle, a specific make and/or model. Then, you thumbs up or thumbs down the vehicles you see based on your criteria. You do the same thing with fiction: plot, characters, dialogue, setting, point of view, pace, style, originality, etc.

                  With a Mercedes Lackey book, it seems most natural to discuss the characters, plot, and pace. Since Lackey writes fantasy, you may include further criteria, like believability of fantasy elements (magic), how much stereotypes are used, if the gender ratio is skewed (often leans toward male in fantasy), worldbuilding, etc.

                  I used to look for handouts for my students when I taught book reviews and was surprised to find almost nothing. I had to create my own lesson plans with examples from various sources.

                  • Ugh. I’m so sorry about your friend. I have thoughts on this I’d love to chat through– but this isn’t the right forum.

                    I like that you use Goodreads. I used to do more of that, but lately I’ve only been updating the paper books I’m reading with quotes. I should get back into the habit. Perhaps this will help my note taking!

                    I understand what the word criteria means. I guess I just don’t feel like I understand literature well enough to come up with a list of literary criteria. However, I see what you mean from the examples you used above that it’s not as simple as a list. I think I’d need to practice defining my own criteria and writing to it before I could get into a comfortable practice of naming it. When I read your more detailed examples (how stereotypes are used, gender ratio skewing, etc.), they sound obvious. But left to my own devices, I don’t know if I could come up with many! I’m not surprised you couldn’t find anything online. What sorts of handouts were you looking for?

                    Thanks for the clarification. i wonder how I can practice using criteria for my own reviews and figuring out how to be more comfortable with it… Hm.

                    • I was looking for handouts that gave an example of a book review that actually used criteria. When you read professional reviews–the kind folks get paid to write–notice that it’s mostly a synopsis and some buzzwords, like “breathtaking” or “tour de force.” As if any of that actually helps anyone.

                      I used to do this activity with my students where we would start by reviewing a coffee mug. It was a LARGE brown much, and on the side in white letters it said, “COFFEE MAKES ME POOP.” So, when reviewing the mug, it would get positive marks from students for holding so much coffee because it’s so big. Other students would count the size as a negative because their coffee would get cold because the mug has no lid. Some students would say the words on the side are a positive because they’re funny. Others would say the words are a negative because you can’t have that mug at work or maybe even a new boyfriend/girlfriend. The mug was pretty sturdy, so the students would say that was a positive.

                      Overall, when the students wrote their own reviews with these three criteria (which are simply things by which to judge the coffee mug), the review would have some positives and some negatives (just like you and I have with our book reviews!), but they had to overall determine if the mug was worth buying. That’s what it comes down to: a final determination. They couldn’t write something like “I didn’t like this mug, but you can buy it if you want to!” which is something I see book reviewers do.

                    • Exactly! I really hate professional reviews. They don’t give me anything worth digging into which hooks me. I recognize they are all stupidly short, but come on! You’re supposed to be selling this to me! Try. Harder.

                      You’re also on point with bloggers saying, “I didn’t like this, but you can buy it if you want to!” — I don’t believe in wishywashy reviews. I read your blog because I want to know you as a person and understand your perspective on the world. Well, mostly on books. But the world, too. Have an opinion! Have a backbone.

                      When I feel Meh about a book, that’s when I struggle to write a solid review. I don’t want to push people away from it, but I also don’t want people flocking to it on my recommendation. I know a lot of bloggers who only write reviews for books they love or hate — there is no middle ground. I wonder if they share my struggle?

                      I like the idea of picking criteria and writing each book review around it– something to provide consistence and make my reviews more of an apples to apples comparison. But, that sounds confining at the same time. Perhaps I’ll just stick with my ramblings? XD

                    • Ah, but the criteria frequently change, oftentimes based on what you want to talk about in a book. If I think about my latest review, Magic’s Promise, I had the following criteria:
                      1) did the plot keep me reading?
                      2) did the characters grow?
                      3) were Goodreads folks right in their concerns about how a gay man is represented?

                      You basically take what you want to discuss and turn it into a question. If there is a question, there is something you can “weigh” or “measure” and give a thumbs up/thumbs down.

                      If I feel “meh” about a book, I’m unlikely to review it. I’ve noticed some reviewers write that they were in the wrong headspace for a book (is this mood reading???), so we shouldn’t really listen to their review and just do what we want.

                    • I think being in the “wrong headspace” is similar to mood reading. It is often one and the same for me. If I’m distracted, or if something has happened in the world which is too close to the book, or if I’m reading a book because I feel like I *have* to — those are the things which I categorize into “wrong headspace”. For example, I know that I love reading Fitzgerald. But when I picked up Tender is the Night last year, I couldn’t get into it. My brain just wouldn’t connect to the content. I put the book down and I’ll return to it some day again later. Whereas mood reading is when I crave a contemporary but I’m reading historical fiction, so I put one book down and replace it with another.

                      Does that even make sense? I don’t know if i’m seperating headspace vs. mood reading well enough.

                      I like how you’ve demonstrated review criteria with your review for Magic’s Promise. It will take practice, but I’m going to start considering what questions I want to answer my reviews. You’ve given me a lot to consider!

  3. I really like how you shared which series characters will next appear in! I think I am going to take a break this month from Reading Valdemar, but if you and Jackie really like the next trilogy, I might pick it up in April and be a bit behind. I am going to need to do some research on which trilogies I want to attempt. I definitely think I’ll pick up the owl books…

  4. Up until reading this review, I had thought Kris was a female character! I think I mentally skipped over any mention of gender because I know someone (a female) who spells her name like this. Too funny! 🙂

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