We are now on the 7th book of #ReadingValdemar! I love how this buddy read has given Jackie and I something in common to talk about. We talk about all sorts of things, but the Valdemar books get more complicated the further you read into Lackey’s world, and having someone on the same page — sometimes literally — is amazing. First we read THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR trilogy starring Talia. Next, we read THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy, which is all about Vanyel. We did a side step and read By the Sword, a stand-alone novel about a mercenary named Kerowyn. And now we’re on THE MAGE WINDS trilogy.
The novel begins with Elspeth training with armsmaster Herald Kerowyn and Herald Skif. Her practice is worth it, as shortly thereafter an assassination attempt is made on her life. When the Heralds realize Prince Ancar, who has attacked Valdemar twice already, is able to magic in assassins, Elspeth realizes Valdemar needs its own mage. There hasn’t been one in Valdemar since Vanyel died hundreds of years ago, and he was so afraid a mage would attack Valdemar that he set a spell that drives any mages who enter Valdemar insane. It seems as if the spell is weakening, leaving Valdemar exposed. Though the Heralds and Queen appear to fear magic — they won’t even discuss it — Elspeth is convinced that if they found a mage with herald-like qualities, he/she could check youngsters for mage potential and then train people to be Herald mages.
In alternating chapters, we meet Darkwind, who was once a mage but has renounced his gift after his mother was killed in an accident. He is a Hawkbrother in the clan k’Sheyna, a clan that is dying for reasons they can’t quite piece together. Taking up a position as a scout along the clan’s border, Darkwind finds a cat-like woman — a Changechild — who assists some animals despite being injured. He takes her under his wing only to learn she has a deadly master, a blood mage, who has something to do with k’Sheyna’s downfall. . .
The plot is exciting. If Valdemar gets a mage who can check other people for mage potential, it’s like returning to the days of Vanyel! The only reason there haven’t been mages in Valdemar is because they were dying rapidly during Vanyel’s time, and no new mages were identified. No new mages have come to Valdemar because of the spell Vanyel set. Note: Valdemar’s relationship with mages is covered in THE LAST HERALD MAGE.
Winds of Fate doesn’t end on a terribly happy note, though. The blood mage the characters fight — Morenelithe Falconsbane — is ancient, having lived many life times, and remembers the great mage wars, which happened thousands of years ago. He wants the magic that flows through a Darkwind’s clan’s vale. Elspeth struggles with her own villain, Prince Ancar, who employs mages. And what if Ancar and Falconsbane unite? This is the first book in a trilogy, so lots of room for treachery!
The characters in Winds of Fate are hit and miss. The novel begins with Princess Elspeth training with Kerowyn. Although Jackie and I asked ourselves if it was necessary for us to side step and read By the Sword, I have no doubt it was important. Kero is the kind of fierce, logical leader I love. Her influence and training with Elspeth show: Elspeth is now a trained fighter, knowledgeable in battle strategy, and confident in her independence. Had Kerowyn not been around to get the heir to the throne in shape mentally and physically, I likely would have doubted that Elspeth matured just because time had passed.
Darkwind is an interesting addition. After meeting the ethereal, calm, highly-magical Hawkbrothers in a different clan in Vanyel’s story, I thought all Hawkbrothers would be like that. They’re not; they’re still people with stubborn attitudes and baggage. Darkwind’s characterization is interesting. In general, he seems like a Herald with a bird instead of a horse. But when he meets actual Heralds, their differences are emphasized: Heralds don’t often see magic used, they don’t live in trees, and they don’t think about how the environment is alive with magic and life. However, these differences more so emphasize the differences between Hawkbrothers and Valdemarans than Darkwind vs. other characters. Though I easily liked reading about him, I’m struggling to describe what makes him unique. There’s room for him to grow in the next two novels, and I have hope!
I was so glad Skif was back. He hasn’t really been around much since Arrow’s Flight, and I enjoyed him then. Talia rejected Skif back in those first books, deciding he’s more like a brother, and though Skif falls in love with Elspeth in Winds of Fate, she rejects him, too! I thought, “poor Skif” but then I remember women don’t have to love men just because he feels feelings. I always enjoy Skif for his limberness and trickery in his fighting strategy, reminding me he was raised a street thief, but in Winds of Fate, Skif came off as an over-bearing love-sick puppy. And that’s what Lackey was going for, I assume, so both hooray and harrumph.
Jackie and I, and other readers when they join us, write about the way Lackey represents women, from discussing birth control and menstruation, to sex-positivity and employing women in traditionally male-dominated roles. Lackey both succeeds and fails in Winds of Fate. The Changechild Darkwind harbors is genetically designed to be sexy all the time. Her master made her this way so she could seduce his enemies and use her as his own sex slave. She’s always posing and slinking and blinking and licking her lips. Gross.
Dawnfire, a woman in Darkwind’s clan, seems to exist only to have sex with Darkwind. She gives herself to him, although it seems like she wants more. She’s just waiting for him to realize that and give her a feather that represents a confirmed relationship. Lackey also writes Dawnfire as an impetuous girl, who goes where she’s asked not to and is mad when someone won’t do what she wants. Her character could have been struck from the novel with little change in the plot.
But! There were passages I eagerly highlighted when Elspeth stood up for her autonomy to Skif in a way that is definitely feminist. Elspeth leaves Valdemar to find a mage, and Skif is sent along with her as a sort of bodyguard/watchman. Elspeth is not happy, but it’s the only way she can convince Queen and council to let he go. When Skif becomes overbearing on the trip, she makes her thoughts clear, despite having left obvious warnings and “tolerated” his advances for a while:
“Don’t you dare say it,” she snarled. “Don’t you dare say that you love me! You don’t love me, you love what you think I am. If you loved me, you wouldn’t keep trying to prove you were better than me, that I should follow your lead, let you take over, permit you to make all the decisions. . . .”
“I’m not like that!” he bristled. “Some of my best friends are female!”
She very nearly strangled him.
I cackled when Skif pulled out the “Some of my best friends are _______” card, a move that is so tone deaf regardless of who you put on the blank line. Elspeth takes him down, reminding him that not only is she an heir, but a human being. Lackey has never made it a thing where male heralds protect female heralds, not that I can remember, and I’m glad she doesn’t start now.
Despite some questions that remained and some characters who could have been better written, I enjoyed the Winds of Fate and will eagerly read the next novel, Winds of Change.
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