Herald Trainee Mags is working more closely with his mentor Nikolas to learn the business of spying for the King of Valdemar. Through different costumes and personas, Mags talks to folks who enter the pawn shop Nikolas set up, in one of his disguises, to gain information. But one night as he’s leaving, Mags feels eyes watching him. He’s unable to pinpoint who or what it could be, and his Companion, Dallen, isn’t sure either. Is it ghosts? Mags knows ghosts after spending his youth enslaved, working in a mine where children and people with disabilities were either murdered or left to die after cave ins…
Then, in a somewhat confusing, lengthy transitional scene, readers are unsure if Mags is remembering his experience with ghosts in the mine. Or is he in a new mine after being kidnapped and brainwashed? Or drugged? What comes next is a story of survival.
HIGHS & LOWS
The lows are in the eyes of the beholder. Er, reader. The trainees and other Valdemarans play a war game called kirball to practice for battle when they’re graduated to Heralds, Guards, etc. For Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku, kirball scenes are boring, and they may go on for a whole chapter. I love reading sports drama on the field, so I’m in my happy place. There’s more drama around Bear’s and Lena’s families again, but this time the nonsense is concluded by a rational, adult decision, and Lackey doesn’t linger there.
There was tension around Amily’s leg in Changes; would Bear be able to develop a surgery to repair her leg that was mangled then healed improperly when she was a girl? Somewhere between Changes and Redoubt, Amily has the surgery and is in recovery to strengthen her muscles…and I was disappointed. Lackey focuses on Amily being a “cripple” and needing to made “normal” instead of taking the opportunity to develop something cool. This is a fantasy novel.
Why isn’t there a Companion with a disability that could Choose Amily? Instead, Lackey emphasizes that Amily is not considered capable enough to be a Herald with her unusable leg. She’s physically carried everywhere, yet she tutors Herald trainees and has an excellent set of ethics. No, she couldn’t go out into the field or war if she were Chosen to be a Herald, but plenty of Heralds don’t. They are archivists, teachers, and advisors. Lackey couldn’t even conjure up a wheelchair or some other device so the world meets Amily where she is. Imagination, much? Instead, Amily is given two wonderful, usable legs. Ooh la la.*
Other than the aggravating ablest side plot about Amily, I enjoyed Redoubt because Mags ends up in a survivalist adventure. Kidnapped and drugged, he’s taken around two weeks away from Valdemar into enemy Karse. There, he learns more about the power-hungry priests who pervert the religion to keep citizens in line, sending demons into the night to kill those who disobey. If you’ve read previous books, you’re familiar with what happened to the Karse religion and who these priests are and how it resolves.
Mags also gets more information about his unclear origins, perhaps even his nation of origin. Lackey hits her stride as Mags escapes, forages for food, and attempts to walk home, all without any survivalist or maps training — he wasn’t quite there in school, yet. A nearly-blind priest and a sassy FireCat help him along his way, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy from there. Lackey sends Mags through the ringer until he needs a daring-do rescue, but from who or what will it come? As a survivalist/ adventure writer, Lackey succeeds. As an open-minded person writing about feelings, she often does not.
It happens in fiction and movies all the time: people are rewarded for conforming to a “normal” standard by “overcoming” their disability. A angry blind man can see after an experimental surgery, a deaf person gets a cochlear implant and everyone cries upon watching the person hear for the first time, a paraplegic can walk after being possessed or entering a fake world (Avatar, anyone?). And then there are those who would rather be dead than disabled. As I learn more about disability activism and how the disabled community wants to be seen (which involves listening rather than assuming), I’m noticing more icky examples of “fixing” disabled people so they will be “normal.” Can you think of a book you’ve read that celebrates someone “overcoming” their disability?
*One of Mags’s spy personas is a boy deaf from birth who is an expert at analyzing the quality of gemstones. I learned than pretending to have a disability to trick people is also a negative stereotype of people with disabilities. It suggests folks are not as disabled as they claim, that they’re using other people, lazy, etc. I am still learning!