In this last of the Family Spies trilogy by Mercedes Lackey (she/her), Prince Kee and Tory have been best friends since they were born because they both grew up in the palace. Though neither has been Chosen by a Companion, they appear to share a Gift, which is unheard of. Tory has FarSight, which should allow him to see far away though he can only get it to work a few feet, and Kee boosts the Gift, making it possible to see far away. When they touch, they are able to See their family members, no matter how distant (both in distance and blood line) the relation.
This becomes important when Tory’s distant cousin from another nation is kidnapped. She is the daughter of the leader of the Sleepgiver tribe, a clan of assassins for hire. Their leader sends his son Ahkhan to say that if the kingdom of Valdemar helps rescue his daughter Sira, the Sleepgivers will forever side with Valdemar and never take a contract to assassinate a Valdemaran. The deal is too important to pass up, but who will go? Only Tory and Kee and their odd shared Gifts can find Sira. To send a prince would be ludicrous, but he is far down the line of heirs. And though Tory is the son of the King’s Own Spy, Mags, and is trained for stealth and quiet, he’s never left the capital. But who has Sira? They fear the worst: Valdemar’s sworn enemy, the nation of Karse.
HIGHS & LOWS
Once again, it’s difficult to know how old the characters are, but I’m guessing teens. Although I was enjoying this quest adventure, it would dawn on me that no real adults were present. Perhaps the Sleepgiver leader doesn’t go because he is a king in his culture, but why not include Mags or Tory’s older, more experienced brother, Perry? Basically, Lackey finds a way to get Mags’s third child to have his own adventure in this trilogy. Companions often feel like an adult presence, but because Tory and Kee have not been Chosen, Companions don’t play a large role in Spy, Spy Again. So, what you get feels a bit more like watching Katniss Everdeen run around, clever and able, but still a teen. However, when I watch Hunger Games, I never wonder where the adults are. When it’s appropriate, Lackey lets readers feel that an understanding, wise grown up would certainly benefit our young cast when they experience terror, exhaustion, and run out of ideas.
What may seem like a princess rescue novel is anything but. The Sleepgivers do not care about an assassin’s gender; in fact, Lackey notes that Sira’s mother had a higher body count when she met and felt in love with Sira’s father. Doing important work, Sira’s job is to wait for idiotic Karse priests to sneak into Sleepgiver territory and then murder them. Should we feel bad about cold-blooded murder? Wellll . . . Lackey has made it clear that the corrupt Karse reign is one of terror. Priests murder children who show signs of having Gifts or Mage abilities. They unleash demons that kill indiscriminately. So, when Sira is kidnapped by demons, readers are eager to learn how fast she’ll escape, who she’ll kill, what she’ll do.
The problem is her prison is in the middle of a desert in Karse, far from her homeland. Lackey sets up a challenge fit for a Sleepgiver, meaning readers will have trouble maintaining hope. That is, until Lackey introduces magical creatures of the four elements. Instead of reading the same survival challenges Tory’s siblings faced in The Hills Have Spies and Eye Spy, we’re treated to the talents of these elemental creatures and address problems in new ways.
One thing that irritated me was Lackey had trouble keeping her pronouns clear when dealing with three male characters and one female. In the example below, it’s tough to follow if she means Ahkhan or Tory running next to Sira:
Ahkhan did not launch into a flat-our run, as they had done yesterday, although Tory would not have been surprised if he had. He and Sira matched paces, side by side, in an identical lope made for endurance running. He and Kee followed right behind, and Tory, at least, was watching carefully to see where Ahkan put his feet so he could match that as closely as possible.
Overall, the plot had many predictable moments, but gave readers a new setting in the desert, a closer look at the reign of terror in Karse, and non-human characters powered by magic, all resulting in an interesting adventure novel that oddly gave me some Conan the Destroyer vibes.
The setting, the princess, the mages — all of it kept making me think of Conan the Destroyer, one of my favorite high fantasy movies. What fantasy movies do you enjoy, and what kind of fantasy is it?