Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

SYNOPSIS

Several Heralds with the Gift of ForeSight have spoken: someone of foreign origin will be covered in blood with a knife in their hands next to the King of Valdemar. The ForeSight Gift can be tricky — what a person does changes what happens in the future, and the vision may be symbolic instead of literal. Also, there’s no context for what is Seen. That doesn’t make a difference when all eyes turn on Herald Trainee Mags, of unknown origins. Digging through the palace archives makes it no better because Mags discovers his deceased parents were foreigners in Valdemar, even though they died saving others. Mags and his Companion, Dallen, try to distract themselves practicing a new sport that replicates battles on a war field. He also attempts to cheer his friends Lena and Bear, who have problems with their families insisting the youngsters don’t live up to expectations. As things grow more tense and Mags’s friends reject him, a terrible accident determines the Trainee’s mind as to his place at the Collegium.

HIGHS & LOWS

Several elements of Lackey’s second book in the Collegium Chronicles stood out to me in a good way. First, most Companions seem the same: prancy, loyal, vain. Mags’s Companion, Dallen, breaks out in Intrigues with a sense of humor. After Mags heads to the Companion stable with two apple pocket pies, one for him and the other for Dallen, they have a serious discussion about Mags’s lack of social know-how. Living as a slave in a mine his whole life means he wasn’t exposed to manners and expectations: “He was never quite sure of exactly what it was he had done or said when he violated some code or guideline for behavior that others just took for granted.” Dallen describes what it means to “muddle through” with the knowledge that Mags was Chosen by an ethereal spirit in the avatar of a white horse to be at the Collegium to train to be a Herald and mete out justice, be noble, strong, brave, helpful. The conversation concludes with a burst of Dallen’s personality:

Dallen raised his head and looked regal. :You can mock. But answer me one important question, if you will.:

Mags nodded.

Dallen lowered his head and looked his young trainee hard in the eye. :Are you actually going to eat that other half of your pie?: he queried, pointedly. :Because if you’re not . . . :

Such shifts from dark, serious topics to something more amusing become Dallen’s trademark in Intrigues, giving him a stand-out personality among other Companions.

Lackey seems to have caught on to the idea that Companions and Heralds should have similar personalities because it gives readers an inkling of why each person was Chosen. Mags, ever a serious tween trying to do good, also notes when his friend Lena locks herself in her room after she has a bad moment with her father that it must be serious because she’s missed dinner, and it’s beef night. Lackey’s choice to include little spurts of humor in both Dallen and Mags that mirror personalities gave the characters something different and a clearer bond.

Intrigues is more plot-driven than Foundation, which means Lackey did something to keep me turning pages. Wondering if the ForeSeers actually Saw Mags with the King, blood on his hands, and a knife introduced an engaging mystery plot. Readers familiar with tales of Heralds know there’s almost no way anyone would believe a Herald would be capable of murdering his/her King. Except . . . that old story about Herald Tylendel, whose murder-revenge plot was so egregious that his Companion repudiated him. This one historical example makes everyone at the Collegium eyeball Mags, as a precedent has been set. Would Lackey take us through such a harrowing situation again?

There’s also quite a bit about Mags’s friends turning on him. They feel he needs to get over his past as a slave, move on, in fact. His success in the war games makes him a momentary Collegium legend, and Mags’s friends feel that, too, has gone to his head despite any evidence. Jealousy and selfishness create a rift among the three teens, yet I was surprised that Lackey didn’t make the trio steadfastly good, as she is wont to do. I half wondered if Mags just needed to find a new group and ditch some folks, like we do in the real world.

DISCUSSION QUESTION

Rarely do I read a book with teens friends who do not forgive one another after any moments of betrayal, abandonment, or mistreatment. Consider Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy in which lifelong high school best friends separate because Willowdean can’t seem to share Ellen with a new girl. There’s also This One Summer, a graphic novel by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki in which Rose’s and Windy’s families spend the summer at the same beach. The girls are inseparable summer friends until Windy scolds Rose for calling older teen girls sluts and drunks. But, the meanness comes from deeper issues, so Windy forgives Rose’s erratic spitefulness. Have you ever read a book in which teenage best friends don’t forgive one another? Should such plots exist in fiction? Consider friends you broke off with when you were a teen.

20 comments

    • I was interested in him getting oriented because the Collegium was new. However, if I had thought about it harder, I would have realized it’s the same damn buildings that exist in later books, lol. I did like all the stuff about how people were sleeping in weird places because there was so much construction. I wish the students, Heralds, Bards, and Healers had all been involved so there was a feeling of community efforts toward one end goal, especially since some believed the Collegium was a bad idea. Then again, that would cut into study time. But it’s how Tuskegee University was built!

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      • I enjoyed that part, since he was actively doing something. It wasn’t like the Kirball scenes, where all this action is going on, and there’s no real point to it. I kind of like the ‘searching the seedy side of Haven’ scenes we’ve gotten from this and the Alberich books.

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          • Awww, yeah. They get food because they’re with the police service, but this guy recognizes that people are hungry. He felt like a modern example of how policing can be by warning Mags that if he stays in certain places he’ll likely get complaints and attention drawn to himself, explaining how the law around staying on the street works rather than shouting at him.

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            • Exactly. And, now that I think about it, this is a great example of Lackey showing rather than telling us about street life. Mags had to explain some things to us, like that different beggars staked out different spots, but this was shown. I do love being shown rather than told.

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        • I agree with Kim. I really love the spy stuff that gives us a closer look at Haven. That’s why I’m excited about 2021 focusing on Mags and his future family and a tradition of spying. I love the people, places, and disguises.

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      • It felt a lot like reading about Skif wandering around Haven looking for the people or person who murdered the old guy who took care of Skif (blanking on the name). But I do enjoy getting a sense of the city. Even the part in which Mags and Dallen go to the soap maker was informative to me. It gave me a sense of how this woman felt about Herald Trainees and Companions and what industry is present in the city.

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  1. The parts where Mags friends turned on him – specifically Bear and Lena – felt so wrong to me. It came out of nowhere, seemingly. Lena and Bear had been so compassionate to Mags the whole book but when Dallen is injured they stop that immediately? Honestly, I almost expected foul play! If this hadn’t been in a post-magic-Valdemar I would have expected an evil magician corrupting their minds. Or perhaps mindmagic of some variety. And I didn’t feel like the Trio resolved their issues with each other by the end of the book. So I wonder if we’ll see more about them drifting apart in the future? Honestly, I doubt it based on the other Valdemar books. But it’s possible.

    We 110% need books about best friend breakups. If I knew that was a thing, I think I could have escaped a ton of toxic relationships. I never read a single book about friends drifting apart. I didn’t even know that could happen. So when it happened to me, I fought tooth and nail to keep the relationships strong.

    As such, I have three YA books on my TBR which are all about best friend breakups: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk, We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding, and The Spaces Between Us by Stacia Tolman. I hope they fill this void you’ve called out in teen literature. Readers use books to help them understand their life experiences and make educated decisions about the paths they must choose. I hope these are all great books with great messages that it’s okay to take a different path sometimes…

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    • I’ve had many splits with best friends, and while I was relieved when the split happened, it was crazy how often other people tried to pressure me into changing my mind about things. I would hear “you two just need to kiss and make up” sort of stuff, and in one case the ex-friend and I were in a French class together; the teacher decided she would require us to do a project together to make us be friends again. I was so angry with that lady. It wasn’t so much that I thought I was being petty and stubborn, but that I felt the friendship had crossed into a toxic place and I set a boundary. Learning about boundaries as an adult has absolutely changed my life 100% for the better. When we’re young, everyone around us is reinforcing this idea that if you have boundaries, you are too “sensitive.”

      I guess I felt like Bear and Lena were good friends in the first book, but in the second book they just kept disappearing and leaving Mags on his own when he was struggling. They wouldn’t share their problems and were brooding. It felt like Mags had shifted over to other people, like the Kirball teammates who supported him and the kids from winter festival sleepover (I can’t think of their names right now). I’d like to see more books not only about friends who break up, but about growing apart.

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      • I’m so sorry your French teacher did that. Yuck. School can be a shockingly toxic place. And this makes me wonder if the adults were staying out of all Mags’ problems because they didn’t feel it was appropriate to get involved. Perhaps the opposite of your French teacher? Hm. Interesting.

        I agree. I look forward to books in the future, Valdemar or not, where friends grow apart. And in a respectful way, not a hurtful one. it’s okay for people to spend less and less time together as they grow. We should see that reflected in the literature we read.

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        • I would often try to vanish into the background after, basically, putting the ball in the other person’s court and noticing they weren’t passing it back, or by setting boundaries and keeping a bit of distance. This, to me, is much better than, “Hey, keep it up and I might chase you with my car,” which is definitely a feeling I would occasionally have as a teen.

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  2. I haven’t read the book Dumplin’ but I did watch and enjoy the movie. And This One Summer is one of my favourite summer stories; I just reread it again last year. But I didn’t necessarily feel like the girls there had broken things off, just that they weren’t “kindred spirits” to borrow LMM’s phrase anymore, because their priorities suddenly seemed quite different (and Windy was even further from understanding the difficulties that her friend’s parents were having, when she was having quite enough trouble with it, even living with them front and centre). That’s the kind of story I’d like to read more of too, the kind where we don’t have to drop a curtain on a final act (although sometimes I know that is the best choice, too) but how do we move forward together when we’re not necessarily lock-step but there’s nothing unforgiveable between you either.

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  3. Nice to hear there was more plot this time around! And another great discussion Q. It turned out that half of my reading last month was YA, and thinking back, I don’t think there were any permanently broken friendships in those books. I feel like I must have read *something* YA where friendships end at some point, but I think you’re on to something with it not happening very often. I do think it’s worthwhile for books to show that sometimes friendships end, not necessarily because the other person is evil but just because life happens and can be messy. I actually don’t think I broke off with any of my teen friends until college, when being in different places and doing new things just made it hard to keep up, and I guess that’s the kind of broken friendship I’d maybe like to see explored more in YA lit. Otherwise, I think a lot of teen friendships are held together simply by being in the same place at the same time and the only reason for those friendships not to last is if one person hurts the other in an unforgivable way or the circumstances change so that it becomes hard to stay in contact, so I suppose in theory I actually do like that a lot of YA focuses on showing sympathy and compassion and mending rifts.

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    • Good point about YA showing compassion and sympathy. I tended to have REALLY intense friendships with one person at a time, and by the end of the year I would be so over it and move on to someone new the next year. I think a big part of that is I can be the kind of friend who is so “here for you” that I get entangled in other people’s problems, which start to feel like my problems (in addition to my own, actual problems). When someone else’s baggage becomes my own, my tendency is to want to change or influence, but we can’t tell someone else how to live. On the other hand, we CAN tell them that it’s too much to be a problem dumpster and move on. That’s what happened to me until well AFTER college *sad/guilty face*

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      • Ah, it can definitely be hard to keep up a friendship where you feel like someone’s leaning on you too heavily without carrying their own share of the weight or doing anything to relieve it. Maybe I’ve been lucky in avoiding those lopsided relationships, though I’ve definitely experiences phases in my friendships where that has been the case at least for a little while. My school was just so small that remaking myself or my friend group entirely wasn’t really possible for me so seeing characters mend their rifts was helpful in my circumstances, though I can see how kids with more choice in friendships would benefit from seeing when it’s healthy to disengage and start fresh. It’s so important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself before putting yourself out there to take care of someone else!

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