Conversation Post for Owlknight by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon: the penultimate post of #ReadingValdemar 2019

At the end of each month, Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I talk about the #ReadingValdemar book scheduled for that month. We have a conversation via video, or face-to-face, or on a Google doc we shared. Sometimes, when we’re busier, we come up with questions that we both answer at our own pace. That’s what happened this month. I came up with questions based on differences that I noticed in my review and Jackie’s review of Owlknight. I also brought up some questions that I had been thinking about but didn’t have space to address in my review.

Please be aware that if you’re planning to read Owlknight, this conversation has some spoilers!

At the end of the year, we’ll have one more discussion post about the full experience of #ReadingValdemar, including 2020 plans!

Did you consider Darian’s many rites of passage (knighthood, brotherhood, master mage) necessary to the plot of Owlknight?

Melanie: Well, the narrative says that if Darian becomes a knight and is inducted into the Ghost Cat clan, he will then be on equal footing, status-wise, with the new Herald sent by Queen Selenay, who is coming to live in k’Valdemar vale. However, we never see a moment when the Herald questions Darian’s authority or suggests that he wanted to. In terms of how Lackey and Dixon set this scenario up, I would say no, the rites of passage were not necessary.

However, I found the rites interesting — the way Lord Breon’s son fell asleep during the rituals for becoming a knight suggests the process is kind of silly, though the final message is serious: honor, loyalty, doing good. Then, there were the descriptions of the role of women in the Ghost Cat clan during a sacred initiation into their brotherhood, and the ghost cat actually appears and leaves a gift. I was engaged in this part of Owlknight, but not for the reasons the authors presented.

Jackie: Interesting. I felt like the Knighthood and the Brotherhood were both a bit contrived, but for some reason I didn’t associate the Master Mage test as a part of this pile. Something about how Lackey and Dixon wrote the exchange between Darian and Firesong made me think Firesong was going to deliver the test that day, no matter what. 

But, I’m with you. I found the rites interesting but wanted more. Lackey and Dixon got a bit lost in exploring the many cultures we have been exposed to and how they differ from each other. This is one of those moments. I did hope that Knighthood was one step towards future Darian books, but, alas, as of this writing there are no more. One can hope, I guess.

There are so many passages with descriptions of ceremonial clothing in preparation for Darian’s rites of passage. It’s clear that the hertasi put an absurd amount of work into clothing design and construction, in addition to building guest quarters, continuing work on the vale, cleaning, cooking, etc. What is your impression of the treatment of hertasi? Are they more like slaves, or some kind of lizard-like Oompa Loompas?

Melanie: Honestly, I worry about this all the time. On the one hand, so much work is done that I imagine the hertasi run themselves ragged. Yet, Darian acknowledges that no one knows how many hertasi actually exist in the vale because they live in underground tunnel/cave spaces. All I could picture was the gopher exhibit at my local zoo, where they, too, acknowledge they don’t know how many gophers are in there.

But the question of slavery — the hertasi seem respected and receive genuine compliments, and they are free to leave. Darian and other Hawkbrothers help out with labor when they are not engaged in activities the hertasi couldn’t do.  In a previous novel, Lackey described what the hertasi need protection from, but I can’t remember what. Then again, in this Owl Mage trilogy, Lackey and Dixon note that the creatures are excellent swimmers, have sharp teeth, and can be used in battles, which we see in Owlsight. Ultimately, I think this is meant to be an Oompa Loompa situation, but is actually a clever writing tool to explain how wonderful things happen so fast — including clean laundry.

Jackie: I don’t blame you for feeling this way. But I felt weirder about this in the previous books than from the Owl Mage trilogy. You’re right– the relationship between the hertsai and tayledras is explored in Owlsight. Darian laments how odd it is to have hertsai doing all the work for them, but he explained the symbiosis in a way that works for me. Hertsai exchange their services for food, warmth, and protection. Plus, they are intrinsically motivated to help out. I always got the impression they were all very motherly and down-to-earth. This is just part of their nature.

It’s the overwhelmingly positive relationships the Hawkbrothers have with the hertsai, which prevented me from thinking about them as slaves in any way. As you pointed out, the tayledras respect and complement the work of the hertsai regularly. Sigh. They are just one more reason I want to live in a vale.

What was your reaction to Darian’s travel party traversing the same lands Vanyel had hundreds of years ago?

Jackie: My initial reaction was one of respect for Lackey and Dixon. Vanyel is the greatest Valdemarian legend. They have managed to mention him in very single series we’ve read this year! Certainly not in every book, but at least once per series, and each time with reverence and awe. I have never read another fantasy series where the greatest legends of their lore are this well known without the legend being a protagonist as well (such as in The Wheel of Time). I love how Lackey and Dixon have demonstrated long after The Last Herald-Mage trilogy the breadth and reach of Vanyel’s actions. He is truly a legend. 

Melanie: When I was reading The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, it wasn’t clear to me where on the map Vanyel was, though it might be that Lackey hadn’t completely imagined this world. At the time, she only had a few Valdemar books under her belt. I thought it was a good choice to firmly place Vanyel’s travels and final mage battle in the far northern region of the map. Some of the squidgy details include the Forest of Sorrows (though the spell is now broken) and being north of Valdemar. This firmly sets Vanyel’s travels in the far north, surrounded by clans, in the mountains, and far from the Valdemaran capital. Seeing the setting through the eyes of Darian, Keisha, and others made me respect the history of Valdemar and its legends and the work Lackey put into creating a history that goes back hundreds of years.

Queen Selenay basically ignores the villages on the borders of Valdemar in favor of the capital and strategic locations. What was your response to this?

Melanie: Going back to the first trilogy, The Heralds of Valdemar, I would have assumed Heralds always had to do the right thing and care for every living thing, especially if it is in the borders of Valdemar. I even assumed there was something magical in the person that prevented them from doing harm, and that’s what the Companion sensed when they Chose.

The Owl Mage trilogy sure makes murky water of my happy assumptions! When Darian was a boy in Errold’s Grove, there was no Healer, let alone a Herald to protect them. If Darian hadn’t taken out the mage of the Blood Bear clan, Errold’s Grove would have been decimated, and Queen Selenay may not have even noticed. But why would the crown ignore a whole village? It’s not a strategic place of trade or war. There isn’t anyone “interesting” there, like a person with mage potential. The whole situation made me angry yet relieved. Angry, because surely there is a system of taxes that would mean the capital is responsible for caring for every citizen, the way the police or fire department serve my community. Angry, because the crown doesn’t see a village as “valuable,” even though people are there. Relieved, though, because people who are flawed are people who can make errors, even grave ones. Remember when Vanyel caught a Herald whipping another Herald and his Companion who were accused of murdering a family? That’s the last time I can remember a Herald really screwing up, and that was three trilogies ago.

Jackie: I don’t have any judgment against Selenay and her choices. Ruling a country is freaking hard! Remember, when The Owl Mage trilogy begins, Darian’s family has only recently vanished and Change Circles are still a threat. Errold’s Grove used to get the annual Herald visit for those on patrol at the borderlands, but once the mage storms start all the Heralds are called back to Haven. Selenay has declared a state of national emergency! She doesn’t have the resources for Heralds to continue their regularly scheduled patrols when they are fighting against this crazy unknown magic AND a large invasive force. 

I imagine Storm Breaking ends immediately before Owlflight. Selenay is cleaning up everything she can and trying to get her kingdom back in order– which isn’t a small job! By the time we reach Owlknight Heralds are back on patrol. I don’t believe Selenay is suddenly paying attention to Errold’s Grove due to k’Valdemar. She’s always proven to be a just and caring Queen — k’Valdemar is just a bonus.

What were your feelings about the mage battle at the end of Owlknight?

Melanie: I thought it was excellent! There’s something about this novel that has made the authors decide to circle around to the past: traveling Vanyel’s path, seeking Darian’s parents after he’s been adopted in so many other groups, and the magic spell that sticks a person’s foot to the ground. This silly little spell was one Darian learned when he was fourteen, and he used it during the raid on Owlflight. To see it come back when he’s around twenty and a master-level mage made me proud. So unlike Firesong, the showiest mage to surely ever live, Darian knows the value of small magic. He uses what he knows, so when he diverted the underground stream to make a hot pool in k’Valdemar vale, he was unknowingly preparing to reroute the water underground when he battled the Wolverine clan’s mage, creating a sinkhole that would drown his foe. I mean, the guy drowned as opposed to being wiped out by a giant “final hit” mage spell.

While I was interested in these big blow-out spells in The Last Herald-Mage simply because it was the first time we saw it and Vanyel nearly killed himself each time he did a big spell, I got really tired of every mage — Firesong, Darkwind, Elspeth, Ma’ar — holding so much power. When everyone can destroy a foe and half the city with one powerful spell, it becomes meaningless, and thus I would lose interest. I believe this was around the time you and I lamented the lack of Gifts playing a role in the plot. Gifts, to me, are much more interesting because they have fairly clear limitations. Going back to small magic, magic that can be done without the seriously powerful ley-lines pre-mage storms, is more like reading about Gifts. I was super pleased with the final mage battle and how it was handled. I nearly tipped over with glee when Kelvren, cut and stuck with arrows, lands to ask where more bad guys are and to bring them on. When he learns there are no more, he basically falls over. What a funny creature.

Jackie: I love you point about everything come full circle with the past. Darian might have become a Master level mage under Firesong, but he’s still Justyn’s pupil through and through, learning the small uses of magic. I agree that this battle was quite gratifying. For me, the most gratifying part was how Lackey and Dixon demonstrated the value of small magics. Perhaps even they were bored with the overpowered nature of their own magic system?

On the other side of things, I also respect Keisha’s part in the battle. She laments that, unlike all her friends, she is no warrior. She watches them fight with her breath caught in her throat and longs to join them, though she knows that would be fatal. I adore Keisha’s self-awareness to stay back and do what she does best: heal those who are wounded. It also gives us a new side to all these crazy battles we’ve read about; Keisha’s perspective made me realize there is more to Valdemar than being just a kick-butt Herald, Mage, or Gryphon!

That’s it for #ReadingValdemar in 2019! As I mentioned, we have one more wrap-up post, and start looking ahead to what we’re reading in 2020:

  • January: a post about #ReadingValdemar 2020 + a schedule
  • February: The Black Gryphon
  • March: The White Gryphon
  • April: The Silver Gryphon
  • May: Brightly Burning 
  • June: Oathbound
  • July: Oathbreakers
  • August: Oathblood
  • September: Exile’s Honor
  • October: Exile’s Valor
  • November: Take a Thief
  • December: Wrap up post

Are you following along with #ReadingValdemar 2019? Be sure to add your post links to enter for a free copy of the EXILES OF VALDEMAR omnibus. Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. Notice that we’re reading the EXILES stories in 2020, so get a leg up and enter!

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