Mags returns to the Collegium, but there are mixed feelings — his included — about him actually remaining there. No one doubts that he is and should be a Herald, but he is afraid that his mere presence is going to incite more danger right in the heart of Valdemar.
The heads of the Collegia are afraid that coming back to his known haunt is going to give him less protection than if he went into hiding. Everyone decides that going elsewhere is the solution for now. So since he is going elsewhere — why not return to the place he was found in the first place and look for clues? And those who are closest to him, and might provide secondary targets, are going along.
Together they head for the Bastion, the hidden spot in the hills that had once been the headquarters of a powerful band of raiders that had held him and his parents prisoner. But what they find is not what anyone had expected. — from the publisher.
HIGHS & LOWS
In the beginning of the novel, it seems that this final episode may conduct itself similarly to the previous four books: Mags courting Amily, and Bear and Lena and their new married life. Our basic quartet of friends. However, because Mags was kidnapped for weeks in Redoubt, he loses his place on the Kirball team (I’m sure Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku is pleased!). On the other hand, the foursome attend yet another seasonal fair, and it seems readers may be treading familiar water. I would disagree. In this particular fair scene, a special gift for Amily demonstrates Mags’s efforts to court her even though everyone at the Collegium is watching them. She’s the daughter to the King’s right-hand man, so people are gossipy and over protective. Poor Mags and Amily do their best to do more than make out, but to no end.
Then, elder Heralds conceive of a plan to make Mags disappear; there are perpetual concerns that his parents’ tribesman will be back to make another kidnapping attempt. What if Mags completed his Herald training by actually doing a circuit of the kingdom with an experienced Herald? That’s what all trainees do. Lena, a bard trainee, also needs to travel with a mentor to gather current stories about Valdemar and perform for the people, which is a way to share news through song to become a full Bard. Bear is considered a Healer, but he won’t separate from Lena, so while she’s out, he could travel with her and teach more citizens how to use the herb kits he makes for anyone with some health training (dentists, animal caregivers) who could minister the sick until they can get a Healer. And though it’s unconventional, Amily won’t stay behind if Mags leaves. She’s been working on weapons training, becoming adept with a bow.
A plan comes together: Mags and his mentor, Herald Jakyr, will leave for their circuit. Amily, Bear, Lena, and Lena’s mentor, Bard Lita, will leave at another time in a different direction for Lena’s apprenticeship. The two groups will surreptitiously meet up and camp out for a year. When they return, it will be without Mags, telling everyone he died. Being a Herald is a dangerous job. Mags will change his appearance and use a new name to return later. The place they will camp? The Bastion.
I loved the main setting of Bastion. It feels like Lackey divides her worlds — the “regular” countries and the Tayledras magic vales — so that you’re immersed in one or the other. In this novel, the travelling crew stay in caves known as The Bastion, which have nooks and shelves and privies that don’t taint the drinking water, and it all seems so convenient. Herald Jakyr explains that evidence suggests The Bastion is in an abandoned vale, meaning the Tayledras people cleaned up all the dark magic from the earth and moved on to a new vale to start again. Their servants, hertasi, which are a sort of lizard people, are the ones who lived in the caves and delighted in comforts, making Mags’s circuit training one of the cushiest we’ve read yet. That cross that Lackey does, people of magic and people of Gifts, made the whole world come into focus for me.
Characterization is also spectacular in Bastion. Did Lackey loosen up? Get a better editor? Seek out more advice on her work in progress? For instance, Herald Jakyr and Bard Lita are former lovers who now verbally kitty-claw at each other incessantly. Jakyr is not aware that Lita is Lena’s mentor for the trip when he and Mags leave, so when he sees her, he’s not pleased.
But Lackey lets out a left hook and demonstrates how well the old lovers know each other. On the trip to The Bastion, Jakyr and Mags follow a route suggested by Jakyr because he can stop at all the places with the best food. Jakyr’s discerning palette and cooking skills are uncommon in Heralds; they’re fed by a staff at the Collegium and eat whatever is given or in their rations on circuit. The minute Jakyr and Lita lock eyes the first time on the trip, she says, “We’ve been expecting you for the last two days. . . . Were you gorging yourself at inns at the Crown’s expense again?” I love that again, suggesting Lita knows Jakyr well, has a history with him, without Lackey laboring the point.
You wouldn’t think Jakyr knows anything about physical passion the way he’s such an old crow about Lita, but as Mags despairs that he and Amily will never move past first base, considerate Jakyr teaches Mags what sex is like. Yes, we get an off-the-page sex lesson that incorporates what to expect and how to please and communicate with your partner. Birth control is no worry; all Herald trainees know about that. It’s the respect and connection with his partner that Mags is shy about. I was pumped that Lackey returned to her sex-positive roots, and I had no doubt Jackie smiled as she read the entire scene.
It even feels like pocket pies, delicious baked and easy-to-travel food that can be stuffed with savory or sweet filling, are a character. Companion Dallen is always dreaming about them or mooching off people. I appreciated they way Lackey used the repetition of pocket pies throughout the entire Collegium Chronicles to give Dallen a personality different from other Companions. It’s hard to deny Companions and Heralds begin to feel like the same people across the different trilogies, but a food-obsessed Companion we have not yet seen. And Mags gets away with calling Dallen “horse,” a huge no because Companions are not horses, they avatars for the gods and widely considered reincarnated Heralds. (Bastion even implies that Dallen is reincarnated from the famous Vanyel’s time). Their uncommon relationship endeared them to me.
Readers do learn more about Mags’s tribe and why his parents fled that tribe. The history is intriguing, and I can’t help but think this strange culture has existed in Valdemar all the time Jackie and I have been reading! Okay, that’s not true. Lackey surely made them up later. But near the top of the VIP ladder in this tribe called The Sleepgivers is Mags’s cousin, Bey, who looks remarkably similar to Mags. Mags laments, “Why does he have to be handsomer than me?”
Good gravy, Bey was a delight. He speaks the language of The Sleepgivers, and through fantasy novel reasons, Mags knows the language, too. They speak to one another, and the text reads like standard English. But when Bey switches to Valdemaran for the others in the group, his broken speech and word choices had me smiling. For instance, he refers to Lita as “Elder Singer,” and in context it does come off like he’s calling her an old lady who sings, but not in a rude fashion. He just calls ’em like he sees ’em.
Surprisingly, the novel does not conclude with that return to the Valdemar capitol, as most Lackey books do, but with Mags and company still at The Bastion, snowed in with cousin Bey, who had never encountered pocket pies but now is pleased they cannot leave so he can stay at eat such decadent food. I so hope he makes an appearance in the next two series; he’s currently one of my favorite Valdemar characters.
Name a specific fantasy character who has really stuck with you for positive reasons. Who was the author, which book was it, and what about the character made you smile?