The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

SYNOPSIS

Several years have passed since the last books all about Heralds Mags and Amily. They now have three children. In a stroke of wisdom, author Mercedes Lackey presents a new trilogy in which each book focuses on one of the children, giving us the opportunity to get to know the youngster within the context of what we know about his/her parents. In The Hills Have Spies, the oldest, thirteen-year-old Perry, has been rigorously training with his father in all areas: escape tactics, equestrian skills, dog breeding and care, weapons work, how to assess pawned items, and how to use his Gift of animal mindspeech to his advantage. A sort of do-everything teen, Perry still hasn’t been Chosen by a Companion, and while it sits in the back of his mind, he’s not too worried about it.

When Perry’s parents receive word that an elder, scatterbrained Herald living on the border of Valdemar back to back with the strange Pelagirs region believes people are disappearing without a trace, Mags decides to check it out and invite son Perry for some real-world experience. It’s probably nothing; this old Herald has been reporting disappearances for years but is so erratic and struggles with communication that other Heralds think he just needs reassured. Both Mags and Perry are city people through and through, and not only is the Pelagirs region rural, it’s saturated with magic from an ancient battle between mages, making not only the people, but the animals, warped versions of what is familiar.

HIGHS & LOWS

It’s very easy for Mercedes Lackey’s characters to blur together; they’re all Heralds or Companions or Native peoples divided into those who do and do not use magic. Four groups, basically. However, in different mage-focused books Lackey scatters in creatures from the Pelagirs region: gryphons, hertasi (servant lizard-people), firecats, bondbirds, etc. All of these creatures were made from magic, but they don’t often appear in books about Heralds, who do not use pure magic, and thanks to a strong magic spell, can’t even think about magic. All that changes when Mags and his son Perry head to the magic-saturated Pelagirs region. Readers enjoy a mix of magic creatures and humans with mind Gifts. Each character had a unique personality; I could easily tell Perry was not a slightly different version of Mags, for instance.

I liked the way each creature uses the language of its people. The dyheli king stag refers to Perry as Mags’s “fawn.” Larral the kyree (a sort of giant wolf) thinks in terms of “pack” instead of friend or companion. Interestingly, these magic creatures don’t subscribe to the same values as the Heralds of Valdemar. The king stag worries about the effects of the disappearing people, and whomever is doing it, because that person could harm his herd, not because saving humans is the right thing to do. There is also the issue of Mags and Perry crossing out of Valdemar to investigate the disappearances. What legal right have they to police a region not part of any kingdom? Neither the king stag nor Larral care about borders.

Mags and Perry are admittedly very much city people, so when they’re out in the wild, they don’t suddenly become master campers and survivalists. Mags only knows the little he’s learned here and there, which isn’t reinforced by experiences in the capital metropolis of Valdemar. It’s like trying to apply something you learned in a classroom: somewhat effective but mostly clunky. Instead, they are bolstered by the magic creatures that bring them food and seek out shelter. Working together for the good of all their people, herd, pack — whatever — to discover the evil entity that’s disappearing humans and snuff it out.

I was worried The Hills Have Spies would largely be Mags and his son arguing because Perry is a take-action teen and Mags is a father with years of experience as a spy, but that doesn’t happen. They are separated early on and spend the entire novel working apart through craftiness and the help of their new magical friends. Because Perry has animal mindspeech, he can communicate with all the mage-created animals plus whatever animals are around, including a pack of hunting and tracking dogs, which was loads of fun to read. Despite their differences, Mags is quick to say, “I love you” to his son, which surprised me in a book about two male characters. There was a warmth there emphasizing Mags’s deep feelings about family, having been raised an orphan slave, that eventually lead me to have misty eyes near the end of the novel.

Several surprises are in store for readers, including who the villain is and what he’s up against, the way the magic creatures work together and play a large role in the novel, and how Lackey carefully maintains everything she’s built up in regards to Mags while making a fresh story. The mystery wasn’t confusing, but I couldn’t solve it. The clues that are truly eerie and slightly off from reality until it all comes together. I was hooked and immersed and eagerly await next month’s book.

DISCUSSION QUESTION

Name a book you read that made you tear up. How do you feel about books that make you tear up?

11 comments

  1. I have never heard of this series but I really do think it sounds fantastic. I’m going to have to put the first book on my TBR list. Lovely review! And the last book to make me tear up is Lies Like Wildfire. When they were running from the fire and the dog just gave up trying to outrun it – I lost it. Nothing gets to me like pets do.

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  2. Firstly, The Hills Have Spies is a great name. Glad you enjoyed this one!

    In terms of your discussion question, I initially thought “oh, that’s easy, I’m always crying at books” but actually I think it’s been a long time since I teared up while reading. Maybe my tastes have changed. I am much more likely to cry at a very happy ending than a sad one – one of the things that reliably makes me tear up in both books and films is if a lonely person is making their first friend, or first friend in a long time. That’s always a good thing to read!

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    • I can’t think of any reviews in which you noted that a book made you cry, though perhaps that isn’t something you share? I do love stories about two oddballs coming together and forming a friendship. I think that’s why Bridge to Terabithia hits so hard. The Great Gilly Hopkins is another. Okay, anything Katherine Paterson writes.

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      • I don’t tend to share if a book made me cry, not because it’s personal but because it’s not really any indicator of whether it’s good. There are certain strings that an author can pull to get me to cry easily, even if the writing overall isn’t very good. Like putting violins in the background of an otherwise unremarkable film. If I think of the books I read over the summer, probably the most moving were The Anthropocene Reviewed and The Big Green Tent, neither of which made me cry even though both have very well-written distressing elements.

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  3. Haha loving that “The Hills Have Eyes” reference/pun in the title. 😛
    I agree, I love what you wrote about the different creatures utilizing their own terms and language when referring to things. That’s a really nice touch and I’m sure it makes the story that much more immersive. 🙂

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    • I wonder if Lackey thought about the horror film The Hills Have Eyes when she came up with that title. The Hills Have Eyes, if I remember, is about people turned into cannibal monsters due to nearby nuclear testing, while Lackey’s book has characters in an area that mutates people and animals due to an abundance of old magic polluting the area, so….yeah! They go together!

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