Closer to the Heart by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

SYNOPSIS

While Herald Mags continues to develop his network of child spies from the orphan population in Valdemar’s capital, King’s Own Herald Amily gives advice to her king in political decisions. As the couple contemplate marriage, and how their wedding keeps getting pushed back due to major crimes against the crown that keep the Heralds busy, Mags suggests they just secretly elope. And the elopement is done.

But Mags realizes things are going too good, and he’s right: the Menmellith Ambassador, whose job has largely been in title and not deed, arrives in a hustle to Valdemar to tell them that a small army is rising up in Menmellith to challenge the boy king of their nation, and the army is supported by weapons bearing Valdemar’s insignia. And if Valdemar doesn’t stop, Menmellith will declare war upon them.

HIGHS & LOWS

I was immediately interested in the synopsis of Closer to the Heart because it’s so similar to different points in U.S. history, or at least what I’ve learned of it (I’m not a historian). We’ve funded the wrong people in South America and the Middle East, who went on to terrorize others. So, is Valdemar really supporting this rebel army because a new king would benefit Valdemar as the border neighbor of Menmellith, or is someone conspiring against the crown? Immediately, the records keepers of Valdemar verify that no money is leaving the royal treasury to support a huge cache of weapons.

I enjoyed how smart the characters have become. I’ve been waiting for a signal that Mags and Amily are grown up — we haven’t been given ages — and not precocious teens. To keep things under wrap, only a small number of those close to the king are informed of what the Ambassador has said. Together, they brainstorm that the only place money could come from that isn’t kept track of is the gem mines. Thus, Amily has to let Mags in on what’s the king’s secret group. He can use one of his spy personas to head out to the mines on the border of Valdemar and Menmellith to snoop around, and his past as a mine slave gives him the knowledge. Each moment of spy plotting in the novel, the characters plan carefully and look at the pros and cons of each idea. I’m someone who often wishes and wonders why my characters didn’t do something different. To see the options laid out and then why the spy team chose one was exciting to me.

I know my fellow #ReadingValdemar buddies don’t like when Mercedes Lackey includes the fictional sport Kirball in this series, but I enjoy the thrilling competition among players. In Closer to the Heart, Mags isn’t at the Collegium where Kirball was invented; he’s in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of miners’ sons who only heart about Kirball being played in the capital, and later made their own teams based on what a few who had travelled to the city learned about it. They took the rules and adjusted them because they have no Companions or Heralds to play. Lackey captures the sweating, getting dirt in one’s mouth, and the personalities of the horses and ponies in the game. I didn’t think Mags would play again, but this is like him reliving his glory days in “high school,” and he once again gets to be the hero of the sports team.

But Mags isn’t there to be a hero or play around. Of course, none of the miners’ sons know he’s actually a Herald. He’s pretending to be someone who played a lower position on a horse at the Collegium, which is still enough to make him a legend to these country folks, so as Mags careens around on an unfamiliar pony, he has to rethink how to play without his Companion or using his Gift of Mindspeech. Joining the team is all in an effort to gain the trust of these young men and gather information to report back to the crown about who is funding the weapons supply being sold into Menmellith. Spying can’t always be creeping around on a roof or crouching under a window, and in Closer to the Heart, Lackey truly makes the effort to show readers what an elaborate ruse spying can be.

The only lows I experienced in this novel were the way our villain explains everything (it’s a trope, but it’s not one I like) and the treatment of a Valdemar man who has a cognitive disability. He’s often compared to a child or a sweet animal, neither of which are acceptable. In fact, his mind is “so simple” and animal-like, despite him being a genius creator of inventions, that Amily can read his thoughts. Her Gift is Animal Mindspeech. I have to wonder if someone like Lackey would ever use a sensitivity reader. She’s still writing Valdemar novels, and Closer to the Heart was published in 2015. There has to be way she can write a character with a disability and still respect the individual, especially in a fantasy story where almost anything can go.

DISCUSSION QUESTION

Do you have a favorite book or series that you read in which the character grew up? How did you know the character was finally “grown” — what did he or she do differently?

15 comments

  1. Lackey’s treatment of Tuck bothered me, too. You’d think that someone with strong Mindspeech like Mags would be able to read another human’s thoughts, no matter how atypical they are? Why, oh why, did Lackey have AMILY be the one who could read him? Wow….

    This was a really up and down book for me. I liked the spying sections, but I wasn’t so fond of all the “here are all our options, let’s pick things apart” bits. And I found the ending to be incredibly disappointing. I definitely prefer Closer to Home over this one.

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  2. In terms of books where the characters “grew up”, the one that came immediately to mind was Anne of Green Gables. Obviously Anne goes from 11 to her mid-fifties during those books, but I think she’s quite grown-up by the end of the first one. Her loss of Matthew leading to her decision to stay with Marilla and the farm over going to college feels like the mature choice in that situation. When she was a young child, she might have chosen to stay with Marilla out of fear that she would lose her family, but when she makes the choice at the end of the book it’s not out of fear – it’s informed by an honest assessment of what her priorities are.

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    • That is a great example, Lou. I forgot that Anne stays on the farm, and it isn’t until Rachel’s husband passes and she moves in with Marilla that Anne does go off to school. I also remember the novel in which Anne’s first child is stillborn and how she deal with that. There are lots of great markers of Anne growing up.

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  3. This is my answer to your discussion question: A number of comments after your Sunday post mentioned Harry Potter. I think Rowling did a great job moving the kids up through the year levels with each successive book. A similar Australian series is Tomorrow When the War Began. Over the course of six or seven books the kids who save us from the invaders grow from innocent teenagers to young adult lovers (it was probably the first audiobook series I listened to, maybe 15 years ago). Driving around trying to come up with a clever answer it occurred to me that the couple in Normal People mature very quickly from kids in the last year of school to world weary adults (one of my favourite reads of the past few years).

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    • When I looked up Tomorrow, When the War Began, I got tons of hits on a movie that came out in 2010, which is based on the series you mention. I finally found the book series, and it reminds me in a small way of the Ender’s Game series (in that children are fighting battles). It sounds interesting, like a cross between the Ender novels and Mad Max, with a healthy dose of Australian history. I’ll see if I can get my hands on the first one. Thanks, Bill!

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  4. First of all, I love the image of the Ambassador “arriving in a hussle”. XD That is EXACTLY what I imagined.

    Second, I’m completely with you about Tuck’s depiction. He’s one of my favorite characters, but he was morally abused. I was so angry that Amily could communicate with him because of her gift. Ew. And I think it’s even worse coming from Amily who would know how people with disabilities would like to be interacted with. I support Lackey needed a sensitivity editor. I wonder if she just “gets a pass” from the editors because she’s so prolific and known for feminist fantasy? There are certainly some feminist elements in here (I was so happy to see them! I missed opaque feminist moments) but the sensitivity is cringeworthy.

    You know, while I didn’t enjoy reading all the Kirball, I do think it reinforced the intelligence of the characters. It didn’t go anywhere, but it could have. You hit the nail on the head with your observation about how smart the characters are. And it never bothered me! Lackey pulled this off well.

    Totally my favorite #ReadingValdemar book of 2021.

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    • Oh, yay! I’m so glad you liked this one so much. I just started the 3rd book and I want it to get moving along a little faster. I also really want someone to die. Part of the reason Vanyel’s story just destroyed me is that so many beloved characters perished. If the Herald’s job is a quarter as dangerous as they make it out to be, I need fewer folks coming out unscathed!

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