This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.
Arrows of the Queen
Mercedes Lackey, 1987
For today's article, the first novel ever published by Ms. Lackey.
Premise: Talia's only pleasure in the hard life on her border community was the bits of reading time she stole while doing mindless chores. But it's her thirteenth birthday, and her family says that it's time for her to be married. She flees the prospect of the dead-end life she's seen her sisters fall to, only to run into an extraordinary animal called a Companion, who chooses her above all others to return to the capital with him and be trained as a Herald, one of the psychically gifted lawgivers of the Kingdom of Valdemar. She needs to learn quickly who to trust, because there is a conspiracy afoot, and she'll need to survive long enough to complete her training if she hopes to help her Queen.
It has some weaknesses in the prose here and there; it is definitely a first book that was written in the 80's. The edition that I have wasn't typeset carefully, and the typos mark this as a true “mass market paperback”.
Nevertheless, this charmed me today just as much as it did when I first read it as a young teen.
I think I like Talia more than I did when I was young, because her blend of quiet bravery and empathic skills used to be less interesting to me than more flashy magic. Now that I'm a little older and perhaps wiser, I can appreciate her simple strength.
Also, I think Valdemar is a good example of building a fantasy kingdom to lend itself to strong female characters. Social attitudes are fairly modern among the protagonists, but not universal in the world, and every country or race has both its shining stars and its bad apples. That feels plausible to me: it doesn't present the world as gender-neutral sunshine and rainbows, nor does it exaggerate harsh gender roles such that any interesting woman needs to be a “rebellious warrior” type.
There are some wrinkles in the magic system and the history of the world that get ironed out or refined in later novels, but this is a strong start. Mercedes Lackey is still writing in this world, and the series has grown to over 30-odd books and collections.
Super Bonus Points: A First Novel, published in 1987. Target audience: Young women. Establishes in an off-hand way that gay people exist and are even historic figures, on page 2. PAGE 2. Not to mention the significant lesbian supporting characters who are teachers at the Collegium. I have said before, and I continue to say that I credit the Valdemar novels with teaching a generation of pre-teen girls from the suburbs that it is not okay to discriminate against those who are homosexual.
4 Stars – A Really Good Book
Check out Arrows of the Queen (used copies are dirt cheap) on Amazon.com