Changes by Mercedes Lackey is the third book in a quintet series known as the Collegium Chronicles. Our lead character, Mags, is still a Herald Trainee attending classes, and sports practices that prepare students for battle. His training expands, though, when suggestions that Mags could train as a spy with the King’s Own Herald Nikolas, an advisor to Valdemar’s crown, become reality. Playing a deaf jeweler, Mags listens in as Nikolas, in his disguise as a trader called the Weasel, tries to gather information from unscrupulous citizens and foreigners who may have some knowledge of a possible attack on the kingdom. This is all spying in the name of prevention. Mags and Nikolas learn that the attack sustained in the previous book by some unknown leader who sends his/her worst each time may not have been the last. So, here we are with two new villains; except, the problem is Valdemar doesn’t know what the evildoers want, and Mags cannot find them because they have some unrecognizable shield that hides their presence. Will they choose a target that would crumple the kingdom? And who would that be? Or is it something else entirely? Who knows?!
HIGHS & LOWS
My first beef is that these two villains seem so similar to the ones in Foundation and Intrigues that I wasn’t afraid of their actions. Each novel made the “bad guys” seem like there could be no one worse than they, only for Lackey to throw in some new ruffians who are only modestly different. This is the third book in a series, not another boss level in a Nintendo game. Move the plot along with a villain who has something to achieve of which I am aware in the duration of the novel — not revealed in the last chapter, please! To be fair, Lackey’s young adult series does make use of little level-ups in the same way other series do, and readers are often on board for that. Has she simply found a formula that works for many and capitalized upon it?
Then again, there was plenty of room for Lackey to expand through teaching. Mags is learning how to be a spy from Nikolas, or so we’re told. Mostly, Mags figures out everything for himself, sometimes even surprising his mentor, and I can’t remember a single example of Nikolas informing Mags of a trick or some obfuscated logic. Basically, Lackey missed a key opportunity to push the quintet meaningfully forward.
Not only are the villains similar, we’re still reading about Lena, the Bard trainee, and Bear, the Healer trainee, crying about their parents. Lina’s father is a master Bard, totally respected but also a manipulative, negligent human, especially when it comes to his daughter. Bear’s family views him as an abomination because he’s learning to be a Healer without the Healing Gift. Instead, he’s basically training as a regular doctor in a family full of Gifted Healers, and they want him to leave the collegium, go home, get married, and father a bunch of children who may be blessed with the Healing Gift that they know and respect. Both characters have been crying — literally and figuratively — for three books.
The problem is I cannot tell how old these characters are. If they’re twelve or thirteen, it might make sense because they’d rely on family for a sense of identity and purpose. But, that would be odd, because Bear is an excellent, albeit unGifted, Healer . . . as a tween? I’m not buying that; he must be older. One new plot point is that Bear is working on a model and surgical plan to repair Nikolas’s daughter Amily’s leg, which was crushed in a carriage accident and healed incorrectly, making the limb useless for mobility. Lackey has failed to provide clear time stamps. Yes, there is snow and summer, but I’ve lost track of if summer is the same summer or actually next summer, so tracking the years is not practical. One of my only solid clues is that Mags and Amily have started a romantic attachment, which would suggest to me at least sixteen.
To keep her characters from crying all the time, Lackey would have done well to imagine some sort of therapist Gift. The trainees are almost all children, who can come from any background before being Chosen. Who are they talking to about their trauma, such as child abuse, starvation, and homelessness? Even the older Heralds would need a therapist. Instead, they seemingly “get over” witnessing violence on the battle field, death of family, rape, torture, and their own near-death experiences with time — and no lasting effects.
Then ending was where Lackey recaptured my attention in Changes. I did enjoy watching Amily and Mags confess their feelings for each other in an organic way, and she writes action scenes well. After a big chase and capture, Amily and Mags are reunited only to learn that our two new villains . . . have revealed nothing about the larger plot to do something bad to Valdemar. It’s a cliffhanger, but I’m simply expecting a new evildoer with the same objective in the next novel. Overall, Changes felt like the fifth wheel in the quintet, which I hope I don’t regret writing because there are still two more books.
Series are such a tricky thing, and yet trilogies are a normal part of Western literature. We all know about that middle book slump in a trilogy, and now I’ve learned the same thing can happen when there are five books, too. Do you enjoy reading series? Are they chronological, like The Collegium Chronicles, or are do they stand alone, like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot books? What do you do when you read a book in a chronological series that disappoints you? Do you continue with the series?