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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) With Elspeth, the heir to the throne of Valdemar, come of marriageable age, Talia, the Queen's Own Herald returns to court to find Queen and heir beset by diplomatic intrigue as various forces vie for control of Elspeth's future.
But just as Talia is about to uncover the traitor behind all these intrigues, she is sent off on a mission to the neighboring kingdom, chosen by the Queen to investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from Prince Ancar.
Thoughts: The action really picks up in this conclusion to the first trilogy of Valdemar, as Orthallen's treachery is uncovered and Ancar's plans are revealed. There is war, death, love... It sounds so very cheesy to put it that way, but Mercedes Lackey pulls it off in a way that doesn't make the reader feel like they're being drowned in cliches.
Most of the time, anyway. I have to admit that the revelation that Orthallen sent an assassin to kill Selenay's father in the heat of battle was just a little too corny for me.
I'm not sure whether or not to class that one as one of the inconsistancies of the Valdemar timeline, really. In a later book, the one that deals with the Tedrel wars, it's revealed that Sendar was indeed killed in battle, but no mention of anything other than just a simple overpowering by an enemy force was even implied. Somebody could have sent an assassin in specifically to kill Sendar at that moment, I suppose, but it seems like coordinating that would have been far too complicated. It seems more like another little established thing that the author forgot about when she wrote later books.
One thing that has always puzzled me about the Valdemar series is the arrow code, which plays a central part of this first trilogy. If it's ever mentioned again, I don't recall it. No other Herald seems to learn it or teach it in any book that takes place before or after the Arrows trilogy. The way it's presented here, that would be something akin to Herald never learning weaponswork: inconceivable. And yet...
But all that aside, this was an enjoyable trilogy, even if it did start off rather slowly. You see the characters grow and change very realistically as the books progress, especially Talia and Elspeth. I think the author did a wonderful job of protraying people who are having to grow up in extraordinary circumstances. What makes them so believable is that although Heralds as a whole are presented as being immaculate and close to perfect to the general population, they are anything but. Dirk loses himself in angst and confusion and starts drinking himself to sleep at night. Elspeth is made a fool of and then makes a fool of herself. Mistakes are made, and sometimes rectified but sometimes not, and when you're writing a story about a group of heroes who are, in some sense, a gift from the gods, it can be so easy to write them as being infallible, perfectly sensible and with logical reasons behind everything they do. Instead, they are wonderfully portrayed as real people, with problems and emotions and quirks.
I've always said that Mercedes Lackey's talent lies in characterization. If you're looking for fantasy books packed with epic battles and world-changing awesomeness... Well, read Lackey's Storms trilogy, honestly. But the rest of her books are driven more by characters, by people, than by great cataclysms, and that's what I enjoy about them.
The trilogy ends with a positive event as a reprieve from negativity, rather than a negative event overshadowing anything positive that could happen. Talia's wedding to Dirk (and the supernatural gift from Kris at the very end) is a little bit of a twist to the usual formula. Plenty of people would have a wedding surrounded by apprehension over the inevitable war, or have the wedding come before the initial skirmish, to end the book on a much more powerful cliffhanger. Yes, I say powerful because such a thing might have drawn more readers if there had been more action to end the book with, a reason for them to go out and immediately buy the next book to see what happens next. On the other hand, what must be remembered is that this book isn't the story of a country. It's the story of a person, and people are very apt to cling to small moments of happiness in the middle of chaos.
Not saying that's the best way to do it, but the happy -- or rather, happier -- ending can certainly be excused, as it follows the authors style and plays to her strengths very well.
The book also ends with some of the songs of Valdemar, not just ones mentions in the trilogy but also ones written about characters or events that the books deal with, a taste of what Valdemar's Bards have been up to this whole time. It's a nice little treat for the musically-inclined, and I enjoy getting to read the lyrics. (And before I learned that music had already been put to those lyrics and released as CDs, I enjoyed making my own tunes for them!)