Winds of Change by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku and I are now on our 9th book for #ReadingValdemar. We have not stopped, we have not faltered; we, in short, are killing it. Currently, we are on THE MAGE WINDS trilogy and are grateful to those of you following along. Today’s review is of Winds of Change, the second book in the trilogy. We last left off with Princess Elspeth of Valdemar in a tribe’s vale with Darkwind, who has decided he will use his mage gift again and teach Elspeth to use hers so she can better defend Valdemar. They think the villain, Mornelithe Falconsbane, is dead.

Characterization is hit or miss in Winds of Change. While women are distinguishable and unique, male characters blend together. I confused Skif for Darkwind for several pages when I let my brain relax a little, and their backstories are nothing alike: a former street thief who is now a herald vs. a tribal person who has never been in a city and has a mage gift. Because Skif has a unique background from other heralds in THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR trilogy, I missed his unique playfulness while fighting and proficiency at sneaking around in Winds of Change. There were other pairs of men I confused, too. The only male completely his own was Firesong, a peacockish, yet unbelievably talented, person who is creative with his gifts.

Poor male characterization is forgiven because Lackey adds many new things to her universe. Readers get more information about evil mages and where Falconsbane (and possibly others like him) comes from. We learn how tribes were scattered and split up after a huge Mage War thousands of years ago that still affect the tribes today. The place called Pelagir Hills by everyone in Valdemar is called The Uncleansed Lands by tribes people because there is blood magic in the ground left over from the Mage War that mutates animals on those lands. The tribes collect and tame the magic to make it clean again. The more information a reader has, the more she feels like part of an exclusive Lackey club.

Although I complained that two women in Winds of Fate were boiled down to sex objects, all women in this novel grow and further separate themselves as individuals, even in romantic relationships with men. Darkwind acknowledges that what he tries to teach Elspeth with her mage gift isn’t working when he sees her train with a female gryphon. In that moment, Darkwind realizes that Elspeth’s ruler is her queen mother, her Companion is a female, and her armsmaster is female. There are ways he will not connect with Elspeth in which a woman can. Nice!

Even though Nyara grows as a woman because she is away from her slave master, she must contend with Skif, who has fallen in love with her after one sexual encounter. Lame, Ms. Lackey. Twice, Nyara is under the male gaze when Skif notes that she seems less sexual, a trait created in her by her slave master that she must unlearn. Instead of being happy that she is healing, he finds her “fascinating.” As if his feelings about her are the focus of her wholeness. While Nyara grows in confidence and strength, Skif believes it makes her “all the more beautiful.” Perhaps Lackey felt that a man viewing strength as beautiful would make it fine, but Skif has turned Nyara’s personal development into something that connects to him. He makes his opinions the center of her story. His pursuit of Nyara despite her running away seems desperate, and possessive.

To soothe my frustration, Lackey gives me Elspeth and Darkwind discussing how people court each other in their own cultures, signaling their interesting in one another in a natural way that isn’t forced love or lust, or possession. It was nice to see adults talk about their feelings and then act on them in a responsible way, noting differences from expectation and reality and accommodating each other sexually and emotionally nonetheless.

The novel ends leaning forward — that is, not on a cliffhanger and not resolved — which makes me excited to read the final novel in THE MAGE WINDS TRILOGY. I hope Lackey has done something about Skif, who appears to be at the root of most of my problems with Winds of Change.

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13 comments

  1. You guys certainly are killing it! 💪🏼

    “Skif has turned Nyara’s personal development into something that connects to him. He makes his opinions the center of her story.” – ooh, that is frustrating. A shame it sounds like the author didn’t explore the male arrogance of that attitude. A missed opportunity!

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  2. You two are killing it! I’m not sure how I’d feel tackling so many books in the same universe in a row, but I’m sure you keep each other motivated. Ew, Skif’s point of view sounds very questionable. It reminds me of this one book I read a couple of years ago where the male lead finds out the female lead had been sexually assaulted and we spend the majority of the novel focused on how this made him feel. Ugh.

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    • What’s interesting is Skif later tells Nyara that he is okay with her doing a mission that he was originally opposed to. I know Jackie read that moment favorable, and I get what she means: it seems like Skif is admitting he is wrong and humbling himself. Given that this is fiction, I saw it again as him shaping her story through his eyes, maybe because it is literally from his perspective.

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  3. Astute point about poor male characterization! I did notice things felt off, but this clearly articulates what I was feeling. I never lost track of who was speaking, but I did feel like Wintermoon and Skif were difficult to tell apart. Which is odd, since they are supposedly so different from each other. The men, in general, felt flat compared to the women. Including the non-human characters!

    Skif has gotten the shortest possible end of a stick. What has happened to his character in the last two books is disappointing. I know that time is passing and he is growing and changing, but he feels like a plot point rather than a true character now. And he was so unique in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy! I don’t think that Lackey meant to demean Skif by his acknowledgment of her strength making her more beautiful.- I think that Lackey was attempting to demonstrate Nyara’s independence through Skif’s eyes. It just backfired. His speech about how he has no right to hold Nyara back, etc. etc. was also a bit forced and uncomfortable (like the strength is beauty thing), but I like the sentiment. It’s an important one for ANYONE to hear, male or female! No emotional manipulation, people!

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    • I just wonder how that scene with Skif telling Nyara he’s been controlling would be different if it had been from her point of view — even that would have pleased me.

      I’ve been getting back to reading one book at a time again, meaning I’ll read about 50 pages for a single book per day, and I think sitting that long and covering that much plot is making me forgetful. I’m still not sure which mage up north you’re talking about. And I also noticed that you implied that it seems like Ancar (who I did discover is a mage) is on pause while Elspeth and Skif are in the Vale.

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  4. “The more information a reader has, the more she feels like part of an exclusive Lackey club.” This is exactly why I have always read and loved series (even though I’ve been rubbish at finishing them – for the most part – at least until recent years. Even though this isn’t a series that I’ve read/loved, I recognize the enthusiasm you have for it and am pleased that you’ve got a dedicated reading buddy with whom to discuss the fine points of kinda-sorta-mostly-but-still-90s feminism and characterization disappointments/wins.

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