Owlflight by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon is the 14th book Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I have tackled for #ReadingValdemar in 2019. It’s been quite an adventure! Known as the OWL MAGE trilogy, this last trio of books for the year follows Darian, a thirteen-year-old boy whose parents disappeared in the frightening Pelagirs Forest, a place no one typically dares to go. Darian’s parents did, though, because they would hunt and trap the fearsome creatures that were born of the mage storms, which transformed anything living that they encountered into twisted monsters — monsters with beautiful fur, apparently.
Now an orphan, Darian has been put into the care of Justyn, a hedge wizard and healer whom no one in Errold’s Grove respects. Readers get a smile out of learning Justyn’s history: he was a mage with a mercenary group that helped Kerowyn back when she was leader of the Skybolts in By the Sword. A brain injury hurt his ability to perform magic, so he was sent to be of use to Errold’s Grove, a faraway Valdemaran village, though everyone there thinks he’s a doddering old man.
Darian has the mage Gift, which Justyn is trying to train, but Darian has no use for magic. Why levitate an apple when you can pick it up with your hand? Angry that a village of people who hate him entrusted him to a wacky wizard, Darian often runs off, disobeys Justyn, and cries for the loss of his parents. On one occasion, while hiding in a tree, Darian see Errold’s Grove is in flames. A barbarian tribe has attacked, and while the villagers were fleeing they set their own property on fire to discourage the attackers from staying in the empty buildings. Justyn defends Errold’s Grove in an act that ends his life, and Darian is completely orphaned again.
As he attempts to flee, Darian is being chased cat-and-mouse style by three attackers when he is rescued by a Hawkbrother, a member of the mysterious clan of people akin to Native Americans who cleanse the land of rogue magic. Darian goes home with his rescuer, Snowfire, to tell the Hawkbrothers what happened, to heal emotionally and physically, and to figure out what to do next.
I’m so glad that in the previous trilogy Lackey blew up the structures that allow mages to do huge magical tasks. It felt like those old 90s cartoons in which things build and build until you’ve got the Power Rangers forming a Megazord to take down Rita Repulsa. There’s nothing bigger, and there’s no way they’re not gonna win, so just get it over with already! Lackey got rid of magic reserves and put everyone back on the ground doing things the “hard way.” I see it as the more interesting way. We get more physical fighting, thinking about how to use useful small bits of magic, and planning out human and animal resources in an attack. The tower of power has collapsed, and we’re back to basics — which I love.
Both Mercedes Lackey and her co-author and husband Larry Dixon are trained to care for birds of prey. It shows in Owlflight. Lackey’s descriptions and characterizations of birds makes for wonderfully warm interactions. Here is Darian meeting Snowfire’s bond bird, an unnaturally large owl named Hweel:
Darian reached hesitantly to touch Hweel’s breast-feathers, but the owl had other ideas. Quick as a thought, he leaned down and butted his head against the outstretched hand, and before he knew it, Darian was scratching the top of the owl’s round, densely-feathered head.
Whereas Lackey was writing birds to read as almost human (an error she makes with all non-human characters in THE MAGE STORMS trilogy — *sigh*), the birds are definitely still avian animals in Owlflight, and I appreciated how each character and species varied. Both the dyheli and hertasi become better-written, too. The dyheli add to strategy planning, and the hertasi are apparently good swimmers with sharp teeth! I did not find myself confusing characters for being too similar, as I did in THE MAGE WINDS trilogy.
Really, Owlflight is an action-oriented story, and that’s where Lackey and Dixon shine. I could see the physical fights in my head, the setting was much clearer and added to the daring-do, and things moved along at a good pace. I was satisfied with the end, feeling unsure of what will happen next in Darian’s life yet eager to see how he will continue when he is neither born a Hawkbrother nor a true resident of Errold’s Grove.
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