Wanting the Next Volume Already

It’s interesting to see how The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme introduce the elements of magic I’ve previously seen in the Symphony of Ages.  Things are much more casual here, and the magic itself isn’t the be-all end-all.  Sure, Ven’s job is to go around recording true stories of magic and whatnot, but we’re not talking about these things in terms of “a map to the vibrations of the world.”  There are some mentions of things on that level, especially related to Sharra’s Deck, but they aren’t part of the primary story in the book.  Not even the entire bit with the dragon.

Did I mention?  Today’s book is The Dragon’s Lair.  So one would hope that there would be a dragon within these pages.  And that wish is granted.  Of course, like with this entire series, nothing is ever what it seems.  In many ways, each book is a mystery that the reader can solve if they take note of the clues dropped along the way.  Or they can simply allow the adventure to unfold before them.  As I’ve said, there are some clues that I pick up on fairly easily, but for the rest, I’m not trying to analyze the book to death.  I don’t find it fun to pick something apart entirely.  Sure I’ll mention it if something is so obvious that it ruins my enjoyment of the novel, but I’d much rather if the big twist is a total surprise and I’m so caught up in the story that I never see it coming.

Now that I’ve read the first three books, I really want to continue on with The Tree of Water.  Unfortunately, that’s the only volume not yet available in paperback, which is pretty annoying when you consider that the hardcover edition was released two years ago.  I tried searching for a paperback release date, but had no luck.  Meaning I’ll either have to be patient, which I was when waiting for The Assassin King, or I’ll have to give up and buy the hardcover.  Interestingly enough, the endnote about the archaelogical dig which has found the Lost Journals does seem to imply that there may be more than the one additional book in the series.  I’ll be interested to see if that bears fruit – but I won’t check to see, instead waiting until I finally get my hands on The Tree of Water.  Unfortunately, none of my local libraries have copies.  Such a shame.

Anyway, I stopped at the comic book shop again yesterday for more Power Rangers.  Following my pattern last time, I decided to read Pink first.  However, remembering my decision from last time, I opted to only read issues #2-#4, having had enough of the first volume.

Things keep getting interesting, though as I observed before, I think the even-numbered issues are better than the odds.  Though there’s something in here that should give many old fans a thrill, especially those who keep arguing for equality between the sexes.  Of course, things can’t be too easy, otherwise this miniseries would wrap up in five issues, instead of the six that we’re promised.  So I suppose next time we’ll see how they’re going to prolong things just a little more.

Then, of course, I read Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #5-8.  As much as I love seeing stories I already know from new perspectives, I love new material with old characters even more.  It’s worth noting that some ideas that we see in Pink also show up in MMPR as well.  Plus the ongoing misadventures of Bulk and Skull.

One of the great values MMPR has always taught us is the value of teamwork, and how it’s the rangers putting their heads together that most often solves the problem.  The comic is proudly carrying on that tradition, and I’m excited to see where it leads to next.

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Watch Your Words

The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme continued today with The Thief Queen’s Daughter, who is exactly the person I predicted.  But that’s not a bad thing.  While I was reading this book, I spent a bit of time tossing quotes to a friend, and that’s always good.

Most importantly, the line saying “there’s cats.  And then there’s everything else.”  It’s a very cat-centered way to view the world which, of course, is how a cat sees things.  Let’s say that while there aren’t nearly as many good lines as a Tanya Huff book, Elizabeth Haydon has done a good job as an author.  I think I’m happier with her writing here than I was in the last few volumes of the Symphony of Ages where she was intentionally being cruder in her terminology than she had been.  Just because you can swear and use foul language doesn’t mean you should, especially if it doesn’t fit the character, scene, book, or series.  And even more so if it doesn’t mesh with how you’ve written the series previously.

The Lost Journals are written differently from the Symphony though, and you can tell that everything, from the dialogue to the description, has been cleaned up for a younger audience.  There’s also a lot more modern phraseology here which is a little out of place, but again it’s understandable as the author wants to connect with the target audience.  Nothing struck me as being wholly out of place though, which I do appreciate.

There’s a book I own which is set in a fantasy world with no relation to our own.  And in the first book of the series, the author uses the phrase “Pyrrhic victory”.  Well, this came into our speech because of a particular part of the Pyrrhic war, in which the King of Epirus defeated the Romans, but at the high cost of most of his soldiers.  It is a common enough term that it’s much easier to use the verbal shortcut than to describe winning at the cost of losing almost everything.  But in a fantasy world, there is no Rome, there is no Pyrrhus, and there is no Pyrrhic war.  So they cannot possibly have this phrase and those words would not have the same meaning.

This is in contrast to a book like The Princess Bride which is a timeless fantasy story that happens to mention blue jeans in the first chapter.  But this is intentional, done twice for emphasis, and helps to cement the idea that this story is humorous and meant to make the reader smile.  It also supports the idea that blue jeans are ubiquitous.

It’s a concept that I try to pay particular attention to when I roleplay.  If I am roleplaying an animal like a lion, then in their dialogue and thoughts I need to remove many of the concepts they wouldn’t have.  For the sake of ease, I’ll assume they can be as intelligent as any two-legger with a culture and society as well.  But the first error I might make would be to use the word “hand.”  Anything that would use the word hand – backhanded, on the other hand, etc. now needs to use the word “paw.”  That’s just the start and while I don’t always succeed, I do try to limit myself to what terminology the character would know based on their environment.

Haydon Returns

We saw the Three, leaving early and arriving late.
We saw them quest to kill a demon across a continent still divided after the Cymrian War centuries before.
We saw them fight the War of the Known World.
We saw them usher in a new Age of peace…

But what happened before that?

Venture into the Second Age and the shoes of Ven Polypheme, the Nain explorer who wrote The Book of All Human Knowledge as he illuminates the world of Ages past.

This is what my mind wrote as I began to read The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, starting with The Floating Island.  Set in the same world as the Symphony of Ages, this is another series by Elizabeth Haydon.  However, there are some key differences.  Firstly, it takes place in the Second Age, while I believe Rhapsody begins during the Third Age.  Secondly, these books are written for a younger audience.

I touched on the changes in Haydon’s writing as it related to the last few books in the Symphony of Ages, becoming cruder and more explicit.  Now we’ve gone to the opposite end of the spectrum.  Instead of farting or producing flatulence or even passing gas, male merrows are described as “making bubbles at both ends”.  There’s nothing wrong in this change of writing style, nor in the author writing a book that she can actually read to her children.  It’s simply an interesting choice to have a single world with two very different target audiences.  Again, there’s nothing preventing an adult from reading young adult books, but you probably don’t want a child to read about a former whore – and that’s in the first few chapters of Rhapsody.

The Book of All Human Knowledge was mentioned briefly in the Symphony of Ages, as an aid to identifying Sharra’s Deck.  This set of artifacts is made from scales taken from the eldest Sleeping Child and each contains a great deal of power.  By this time, the Fourth or Fifth Age, the book was nothing more than an artifact itself, missing pages and pieces, and not entirely legible in all parts.  The author is the legendary Ven Polypheme, which makes you think of a mature man, determined to explore the world.

Ven may be fifty years old on the first page of the book, but as a Nain his age is equivalent to about thirteen in human terms.  Old enough to be considered a very young adult.  Which makes him about the same age as the friends he gathers, including Char, Ida, Clemency and Saeli.  So the Lost Journals as a series may be a coming of age story, as well as a record of Ven’s travels and explorations.  I can guess at some of the things being set up for the future, based on the titles of the forthcoming books and some notions which have been repeated two or three times already.

Still, I’ve enjoyed The Floating Island and I look forward to reading The Thief Queen’s Daughter.

Oh Gods

Today I went for something nice and easy after the Real World Problems that Mike Royko discussed repeatedly.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being informed, but it does make for heavier reading.  So I went for something frivolous, yet educational.  That would be the Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds: Your Introduction to Deities, Mythical Beings & Fantastic Creatures.  This is, as stated on the bottom of the cover, a companion book to Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, which currently has two released books – The Sword of Summer and The Hammer of Thor.

This is not Rick Riordan’s first foray into mythology.  In fact, there have been [poor] movie adaptations for a couple of the books from his first such series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  He’s also written the Kane Chronicles and the Heroes of Olympus series, as well as begun The Trials of Apollo.  Like so many of us, he began by focusing on Greco-Roman mythology, which is what our Western Civilization (to use the collegiate term) is mostly familiar with of the polytheistic religions of the past.  However, the Kane Chronicles feature Egyptian mythology and Magnus Chase quite clearly utilizes that of the Norse.

I am not greatly familiar with Norse mythology.  I know a large number of the Greco-Roman stories well, and have had some exposure to the Egyptian gods.  But my knowledge of Norse gods, creatures, and tales is scanty and lacking.  So when I was at Target last weekend and saw the Guide to the Norse Worlds for under $7, I figured why not?  At least it would be well and humorously written.  You’ll have to take my word that Riordan is very good at making people laugh, but I’ve decided that you can be entertained simply by reading the table of contents in any of his novels.  The only one I can remember offhand is “I Did Not Ask for Muscles”, chapter two in The Sword of Summer.

The target audience for Rick Riordan’s books probably starts somewhere around fourth or fifth grade, but I see no reason for adults to avoid these books.  Who cares if they’re shelved with the kids books in libraries and stores?  So is Harry Potter, and no one argues with adults reading those.

I can see how little asides throughout the Guide reference current events in the series – that is to say, the gap between books one and two.  Admittedly, I haven’t read the second book yet, but that’s because Disney-Hyperion is a pain in the ass.  Paperback editions are released roughly eighteen months after the hardcovers first come out.  I see no reason to buy hardcovers, especially since I do have thirteen paperbacks all nicely lined up.  Admittedly, the Guide is hardcover, but it’s also a different size from the novels and wouldn’t fit in perfectly no matter what I did.  I’ll probably read The Hammer of Thor sometime next year, after I get my hands on a paperback copy of The Sword of Summer.

I’m also eager to see if there’s more crossovers in store.  We started seeing crossovers between Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Kane Chronicles near the end of the Greek series.  Those have since been collected in Demigods and Magicians.  And here and there in The Sword of Summer we had some cameos.  Will we see more?  Will Ragnarok actually come?  Has anyone reading this blog ever watched Soap?

Tune in next time!

School Books

When you read a book at school, they always try to convince you that this is one of the most amazing books you’ll ever read.  Kind of like book clubs.  And for some people, it’s true.  But not always, or even usually.  Frankly, most of the books I read for school were mediocre and unmemorable at best.  Some of them I actively despised.

But there were a few that I am genuinely pleased to have been introduced to.  Some of those still adorn my shelves today.  However, most of the books I retained are not the ones we read during the year.  These tend to come from the summer reading lists.  See, in order to motivate kids to actually read over the summer (and not just with a grade on an essay when they return), the school puts together a long list of books, and any of them will count, instead of “you are going to read this book and like it, damnit!”  By providing more choices in the matter, a discerning student can find a book that is more interesting to them than the rest.  A book they actually want to read, instead of something they’ll endure.

I started reading Orson Scott Card because of one of those lists.  Ender’s Shadow was on it.  Of course, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse was on that same list, and I could not stand that book in the least.  As you may have noticed, I am not overly fond of so-called classics.  I’m sure the authors were very talented and that their stories were very popular in the bygone era when they were released.  But I am not from that era.  I have a hard time getting through prose of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.  I had to fight just to get through The Lord of the Rings.

That doesn’t mean I won’t read anything older than a certain age.  I’ve read and enjoyed several works that are significantly earlier than the majority of my collection, including the unabridged Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, as well as Ann Veronica and The History of Mr. Polly by H.G. Wells.  But I looked on Huckleberry Finn with disdain and managed to avoid taking the English Literature class in highschool.  (Shakespeare is a different issue entirely and I’m not including him today.)  Frankly, schools just don’t pick great books for students to read as part of class.

Part of the problem is that very few books have mass appeal.  Most of the time, only a small portion of a group is going to enjoy a particular book.  Only another small portion will actively dislike the book, but the rest will simply not care very much one way or the other.  So making a curriculum where the class (as a class!) must read a certain number of books a year means that no matter what you pick, not everyone will enjoy it.

Then there’s the fact that once a book is added to some special List of Classics, it’s assumed to have worth and therefore must be read by children of whatever age is deemed most appropriate.  And it’ll stay there as the book grows older and more remote from the students reading it.  Until the teachers are making an entire unit around it, to explain to the students how different everyday life was when the book was written from today.  But, of course, even the teachers weren’t around when the book was being written, so they can’t actually have a firsthand experience and the material is even further divorced from today’s reality.

Some people are absolutedly fascinated with the worlds and time periods of these books.  That’s wonderful.  It still reads as a “dry British novel” to me and I’m going to put it down before I fall asleep.  And I’m more likely to be interested than most of the class because I do read a lot and for fun.  I’m certainly less likely to resort to SparkNotes or whatever today’s equivalent is.  But if the teacher is reading the SparkNotes in order to make the daily quiz answers something that you can only find in the book, don’t you think that maybe this isn’t the right book to be reading as a class?

Sure, there’s a load of other factors.  Kids have shorter attention spans, we’re told, thanks to things like TV, the Internet, and all the crap they’re being diagnosed with.  I won’t tell you that mental issues aren’t real or worth diagnosing because they are and they are, but I think people are very quick to diagnose their kids today, instead of just…raising them.  When I was a kid, the only pills I took relatively often were vitamins shaped like cartoon characters.  The only kid I knew who had to take medicine daily was my cousin with Type 1 diabetes and needed insulin shots.

My point is that there are very few books I read in twelve years of public school that I have any interest in rereading.  Hell, there are very few books that I remember reading!  If you started listing standard books for students to read, yeah, sure, I’ll start to remember.  But the ones I can list off the top of my head are many fewer.  Then we can narrow them down by the ones I actually liked.  I’ll also point out that I was in an early readers class (big surprise there) so we tended to not read the same books as the rest of the school.

So on my shelves are things like Animal Farm (and 1984, but we didn’t read that one in class), Sara CreweSnow TreasureA Lesson Before Dying, And Then There Were NoneJoyful Noise, and The Things They Carried.  I also recall enjoying stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and Flowers for Algernon.  (These latter ones I do not own.  Currently.  Check back later.)  These are the books I remembered and retained.  I actually have very few schoolbooks today (when compared to the number that I’ve read), even leaving aside my design and art history textbooks which I keep for reference and to look at all the pretty pictures.

(When I was in college I took a seminar about His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: The Golden CompassThe Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.  It was a wonderful class, but I have since given away my copies of the books, which predated that class by several years.  I started reading the series in the late nineties, picking up The Amber Spyglass in hardcover when it was first released.  The books are good, but I was always left feeling vaguely unsatisfied and the seminar exacerbated the feeling.  I knew I wasn’t going to read them again any time soon, and if I really wanted to, I was sure my local library would have copies.)

Today’s book is one of the summer reading books that I selected in high school.  Why I picked it, I cannot remember, as it is quite outside my realm of normality.  It isn’t even a novel; rather it’s a selection of newspaper columns by a single author with some background for each decade of work to better understand the environment that produced these writings.  This is One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko.

I had never heard of the man before I picked up the book.  Newspapers have never been of great interest to me, though you’ll see me visiting a news website every now and then.  But Royko didn’t really write news, he wrote a column.  He touched on current events, but through a personal lens.  Starting with local interest, over the course of some thirty-four years he gained a national following while still remaining a simple, humble man.  A true Chicagoan in so many ways.  Not to say that he was corrupt, but that he did understand how politics worked in this city for many decades. That he didn’t back down from what he believed in.  That he loved this city, its people, its teams, even when they were at their worst.

The last column he ever wrote was about the Cubs.  Saying that the goat curse isn’t real, that what brought the team down was racism.  (And yes, the goat curse is a real thing.  They haven’t brought it up nearly as much this year as they did in 2008, but you can search it on Wikipedia.)  It makes me wonder what Mike Royko would say, if he’d lived twenty more years, to see his beloved team in the World Series.  I think he would’ve been pleased, but would refuse to bet on them winning.  I believe he would’ve been happy just to see them there.

This was probably the best book I could have grabbed off my shelf to read during the World Series, and I’m glad I hung onto it.  I’m even happier that someone thought enough to put it on the summer reading list in the first place.

Way Back When

Mercedes Lackey really likes heart-shaped faces.  I can think of at least four times in the past few days I’ve read that description – and it’s four different characters.  But that’s not really important.  What’s important is the amazing amount of contrast between Closer to the Chest and The Lark and the Wren.  Today’s book, collected in The Free Bards omnibus, is the first Bardic Voices volume from 1992.  The story was actually expanded from “Fiddler Fair”, a short story that I found in the collection of the same title.  Originally written in 1989, this story was intended for the Magic in Ithkar anthologies edited by Andre Norton.

This was the first example I’d seen of Lackey’s willingness to lift her own work wholesale.  And I mean that quite literally – much of what’s changed is just names, and I don’t ever read “Fiddler Fair” because I much prefer The Lark and the Wren.  The story was cleaned up, polished and expanded into a series of five books, and I can appreciate that.  I just don’t like being reminded that this is a remake in some ways and that the original was, well, I prefer my original exposure.

But I was going to talk about how this story differs from the most recent Valdemar book.  The Lark and the Wren, having grown out of a short story, is more segmented than Closer to the Chest, though it also covers about two and a half years as opposed to roughly four to eight weeks.  There’s a section establishing the home Rune wants to leave, a section where she’s left home to learn, a section where her dreams are crushed, and a section where she finds new and better dreams.  If there’s a theme to the whole story, it’s probably the Hero’s Journey.  The villains of each arc are separate and unrelated, though they often have similar themes.  And the arcs aren’t all about the theme or the villain, focusing on Rune: what she’s doing, what she’s learning, what she’s planning.  It’s her story and no one else’s.

In retrospect, it seems like the villains of Closer to the Chest were in charge of the story, even though we viewed the plot through the lenses of Mags and Amily.  Everything we saw came back to the villains in some way, and they were a presence in just about every scene.  It’s true that you need a conflict in order to create a plot, but it doesn’t always need to be an actual conflict of interests.  It can simply be an obstacle to be overcome, and there doesn’t have to be a villain (shocking statement, I know).

It’s also interesting to note that while the Herald Spy books are all about 330 pages long, The Lark and the Wren wraps up at 298.  Yet it took me longer to read.  There is a lot more going on in the world of the Free Bards than in Valdemar, and yet it all wraps up much more quickly than I remembered.  Not that it’s an unsatisfying ending.  Lark and Wren’s tale comes to its conclusion, and if we want to know about our other main characters, we can simply turn the page and continue with The Robin and the Kestrel.  (Hint: I’m not going to be reading that next.)  I felt that Closer to the Chest dragged on, partially because we got next to no relief from the Very Heavy-Handed Plot.  I have nothing against authors putting messages into their stories, but when the message overwhelms the story so, you’re going to lose your audience.

I enjoyed rereading Lark’s tale and finding reasons for why I still enjoy Lackey.  I picked it mostly because I had the second section (when Rune lives in Nolton) on my mind and felt like experiencing it again.  I’m not entirely certain I’ll pick for tomorrow, though I think I’ll be moving away from Lackey for the time being.  The problem of planning a long reread for a book that won’t arrive for a couple weeks is that if I start it too soon, there’ll be a longer gap than I’d like between the newest book I had before and the new release.  Ideally I’ll move smoothly from one to the next.  I’m also thinking of reading something fluffy, though that’s open to debate.  Then there’s all the other factors, such as how much I hate dragging hardcovers to work or how recently I’ve read a potential choice.  There’s no real science to my picks, it’s mostly what I’m in a mood for.

Current Events

Weddings.  You’d think we would’ve had enough of those in Mags’ story already, but nope, we still have to have his in Closer to the Heart.  And, because of the bride, it’s to be another big Occasion for the capital and Crown.  But how could we possibly have a simple story with a wedding and Mags?  Intead it’s an on-again off-again threat to the entire country thing.  So you can see why I’m starting to wonder if it’s really feasible to expect so many things to happen to a small set of characters.

Back in Bastion, Herald Jakyr wonders if Mags carries a blizzard attractor with him, as that was the third major one we’d seen in the Collegium Chronicles.  In Across the Wall, as a preface to the story “Lightning Bringer,” Garth Nix mentions a man who was going to mail his proof of a record-breaking number of lightning strikes on himself when he was struck yet again.  So these things can happen, but there is a practical limit.  Also Mags gets kidnapped a lot.  And Amily, but that seems to be a feature of being close to Mags, Nikolas, and the Crown.

Also Lackey is still on her sports kick here.  How very convenient that the mining town has Kirball teams!  How even more convenient that one of the players is injured, creating an opening for Mags to ingratiate himself!  Now, I am not against sports in general, but I chose to go to a college that had no football team.  In fact, my school was so apathetic we didn’t even have a mascot at that time.  There was a vote while I was there, trying to get us to pick a new one, and we voted to continue with no mascot.  The only sports team that I have ever had any real interest in (aside from when I was younger and played little league) is the Cubs.  And yes, it’s a great time to be a Cubs fan.  So I’m paying a lot more attention to sports right now than I usually do, as I tend not to give a crap beyond the one team.  (I’m not ignorant, I know most of the major teams around here; the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Wolves, Fire, Sky, etc.  I just don’t care about any of the others.)

I moved on to the new book, Closer to the Chest and suddenly I have questions.  Seriously, how likely is it that I’d pick up and read Feminist Fight Club a week before the book where Lackey decided to totally shift gears and make her villain a misogynistic woman-hating bastard who acts like a Youtube comment troll?  This is, for the record, most of the book.  Absolutely anything else that happens in this particular volume is secondary to this plot.  In fact, it makes me realize how unusual such a focus is for this series.  Harassment and mental abuse is a rather heavy subject, and I desperately wanted some relief from it, or some kind of change in direction every now and then.

I suppose this is Lackey taking on Internet bullying and trolling, which is an admirable goal.  And it is well-handled, as opposed to the cutting in The Invasion of the Tearling.  I just wish it wasn’t women, specifically, being targeted in this case.  I do understand that when you have a Medieval society there won’t be the same kind of options as we have in today’s world.  Plus the fact that the Western European society that so many fantasy novels and worlds are based on was rather patriarchal, lending itself to prejudice against women and limiting females to rather specific roles.  My understanding is that the gender roles would actually be less rigid depending on class, era, and maybe location, but I am no expert.  The general view says Western Europe has been a society dominated by males for quite some time.

Frankly, I think Closer to the Chest comes on even stronger than the original SERRAted Edge novels, which take on child abuse and missing children rather bluntly.  One of the young girls in those books has been sexually abused by her father since she was five, resulting in multiple personality disorder.  That’s just one of the books.  And I’m telling you that I think the focus on harassment and the mindset that brought on GamerGate is even more heavy-handed here.  In fact, maybe that’s why.  This is a viewpoint that women in fandom run across a lot.  There is a reason for the Cosplay is Not Consent movement.  There is a reason why a friend of mine won’t go to cons in a certain state anymore.

There is a reason why I do not hesitate to play my ace card.  Admittedly, I am pretty bad at picking up when someone is hitting on me.  But it has happened, it does happen, and it will continue to happen as long as these men feel they are entitled to force their attention on people who are uninterested and unwelcoming.  Luckily, I haven’t had as many encounters as others.  The one that sent up the most red flags was when I was invited to a lingerie party – not on the official Party floor – and told that I could take home anything I liked, so long as the (so obviously male) host got to see me in it first.  That is incredibly disgusting and offensive.  I stayed in the game room and didn’t bother going upstairs at all.

So I can understand what some of the motivations behind writing this book are, and why at this time.  I would even guess that Mercedes Lackey has gotten hate mail of the sort described.  After all, she’s been a very successful author for decades – the dedication in Closer to the Chest is to her editor Betsy Wollheim and 30 years at DAW – and while earlier authors like Andre Norton had already paved the way for women in fantasy and sci-fi, that doesn’t mean there’s no sexism around.  Because Lackey has always written strong female characters (except for the ones who exist to be the mice and provide the contrast to the eagles) I’m pretty sure that’s why the focus here is the actual abuse and harassment instead of “women can do shit too!”

As for the book and plot…overlooking the heavy-handed message, this was an incredibly obvious plot.  It’s not just that everything was set up in the beginning or anything, it was just incredibly easy to see.  I knew where the villain was coming from, I knew where the motivation had to be, I could see it all, even though Lackey was dancing around in five other places.  And this wasn’t “oh, that’ll be the love interest when we get around to it” kind of obvious.  This was “can we please just stop the bullying and whatnot because we all know who’s at fault here” kind of obvious.  Now, this won’t stop me from reading more Valdemar the way I did with Elemental Masters.  And it certainly won’t stop me from reading more Lackey the way I’ve gotten so cautious about Orson Scott Card.  But this might end up in the same category as “Moving Targets,” the short story written with Larry Dixon in the anthology of the same title.  That story of Herald Elyn and four Trainees on Circuit is so obviously a Scooby-Doo ripoff that it is one of my least favorite stories in all the Valdemar anthologies (and we have established that there are quite a few of those to pick from). Essentially, that’s a category of “I’m probably only going to reread it when I have to, and skip it when I feel I can.”

Anyway, Closer to the Chest was not the satisfying read I’d hoped for, so I wanted something much simpler and overall happier to follow it up with.  So I went with Oddly Normal #3.  This is the third trade paperback of the comic series I read before.  As a reminder, Oddly Normal is no longer being serialized, and so is only being released in trade from now on.  At this juncture, the villain (or is this just a villain?) has been revealed!  But there are still many more mysteries for Oddly and her friends to unravel.  This series is surprisingly deep and intelligent for something that is super kid-friendly, and I’m enjoying myself as I read it.  Again, there’s not much I can really say without spoiling anything, but there is a new twist (or two!) in this volume.

Moving Forward

And so the Collegium Chronicles come to an end in Bastion.  In the tradition of bringing things full circle (and establishing traditions that will carry on for centuries), Mags goes out on Circuit with a mentor for the last part of his training as a Herald.  In fact, this is not the usual Circuit to those familiar with the series.  Rather than traveling through the region, stopping for a few days in each village to do their job, Mags and Herald Jakyr are basing themselves in a cave system known as the Bastion and making trips out to each village, one at a time.

Considering that the people of the region are rather insular and not always cooperative, it makes sense.  What’s even more interesting is that the Bastion is where Mags and his parents were kept prisoner by bandits all those years ago, allowing Mags a chance come to terms with the physical place and perhaps to find anything that might still be lying around.

With this being the final book of the set, it’s no surprise that this is the climax not only of Mags’ training to become a Herald but also the assassins who’ve been trying to  kidnap him and take him home to his blood kin.  Oh and there’s some romantic subplots that also get resolved, but since those are the most predictable parts of the book, we can safely gloss over them.

I think my only real complaint about the Collegium Chronicles as a set is that I never get a good sense of how much time has passed between books.  They feel as if mere months fill the space between, but I am pretty sure that it’s more like several years.  As an experienced reader, I know that time in the Collegia tends to be 4-6 years, depending on the Trainee and their prior experience (and, you know, if they get kidnapped or not because that can seriously cut into your studies).  Going based on feel, I think Mags would’ve only spent two years in the Collegium, but that can’t possibly be right.  Now, if it was only two, he would’ve been something like eighteen or nineteen years old, based on fourteen years at the mine and being two or three when he was found in the bandit camp.  So his age is right, but experientially I feel he needed another year or two at the Collegium being, well, human.  The mine owner treated him and the other slaves like animals, so Mags was the next thing to feral when he was Chosen.  But overall this is a fairly minor complaint, more me trying to get everything straight in my mind than anything that actually affects my enjoyment of the books.

Closer to Home, the first book of Herald Spy, picks up at the end of Mags’ Circuit and sees our protagonist and his beloved return as full adults and be granted real responsibilities.  Then, the worst happens, but thanks to CPR it’s not actually the tragedy we think.  Instead, the plot takes a turn for Romeo and Juliet.  Seriously, we’ve got two feuding families and the altercations and discussions get worse as the winter and all its highborn parties goes on.  Admittedly, Lackey screws with our expectations of Shakespeare just as she does with fairy tales, so things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.

However, this is the sixth book starring Mags and, frankly, as I recall what happens in the next volume, I’m starting to hit the wall of believability.  Is it really so likely for so many things to happen to this small group of people?  Do I think that Lackey is hanging on to these characters well past the time when she should have moved to a new protagonist?  It’s hard to say, and sad to think about, but only time will tell.

Editors are Not the Enemy

If there’s anything that drives me crazy, it’s finding errors in books.  And not simply typos such as “teh” or other common mistakes.  In Changes, there are not one but two glaring errors that I noticed.  Firstly, there is a Healer with the Guard.  He’s not really a character as such, for all he has a name.  When he’s first mentioned on page 63, it’s Cubern.  But when he reappears on page 270, it’s Cuburn, which is the spelling used for the rest of the book.

Then there’s a bit where the Karsites are discussed.  Karse is a country to the south of Valdemar and they’ve been traditional enemies for centuries.  While Valdemar is a monarchy, Karse is a theocracy, ruled in fact by its religious leader.  That person is known as the Son of the Sun, as they worship Vkandis who is also called the Sunlord.  The Karsite priests are also known to summon demons.  In Changes, it is said that there are black-robed priests and there are red-robed priests who summon demons.  However, I pulled out Storm Warning (the first book in which Karsite priests are main characters) and it says right on pages 90-91 that black-robes were demon summoners.  Now, Storm Warning may be far older than Changes, but that’s no reason to switching basics around!  Honestly, it’s not the looking up these details that makes me feel like one of those people complaining about how they recast the cat in the Hunger Games movies, it’s the fact that I knew it was wrong when I read it.  The first time, not just today when I went through the book for the…probably sixth time.  This is simply the first time I bothered to look it up to confirm.

And then, reading Redoubt, I find a bit where it’s black-robes summoning demons again.  Because of course!  At this point, I’m just inclined to think that Changes just needed another editing pass.

So yes, I’ve now finished Changes and Redoubt, books three and four in the Collegium Chronicles.  Mags continues to play sports, train as a spy, flirt with his mentor’s daughter, and be pursued by assassins.  The assassins have been an underlying thread through all these books thus far, starting with the one who unexpectedly recognized Mags during the climax of Foundation, following with him tracking down another in Intrigues, then nearly being kidnapped by them along with his love interest in Changes and finally being actually kidnapped and taken south in Redoubt.

Going back to the incident in Foundation, it was rather unexpected for this orphan to be recognized by someone he’s never seen before.  So Redoubt spends a great deal of time on this.  The assassins go out of their way to grab him because they claim he is kin, and they want to bring him back to the fold.  He’s apparently been sought since before he was born and his parents fled their homeland.  They even manage to reawaken many of his earliest memories (and some others), giving Mags a small vocabulary of their language, some knowledge of their customs, and even the name his parents gave him.  And he despises it.  He surmises that his parents felt that way too, which is why they fled so far that not even could they not communicate with anyone, no one remotely recognized their style of dress.

At this point we still don’t know much about the Shadao, as they call themselves.  But there is still one more book in the Collegium Chronicles.

Sports!

Today was Intrigues, the second book of the Collegium Chronicles.  This is one of the Valdemar books that sticks out most clearly as a highschool analog.  Complete with the entire “school” but for a few friends hating on the main character for some stupid reason.  Also sports.

Having read Lackey as much and as long as I have, I can see a lot of trends in her work.  For the past several years, she’s been very interested in both sports and spies.  Both Exile and the Collegium Chronicles involve new sports being played at the Collegium, and both sports double as combat training.  We also have at least one character in each set of books who will (eventually) give up the sport because they’ve acquired combat experience and find the two too closely related.

Then, of course, there’s the interest in spies.  Alberich and Mags both become covert agents (though the latter is still in training at this point) who must assemble a variety of identities to fit in with the various peoples living in the capital city of Haven.  I’m not entirely certain if there’s been an increase in thriller movies and bestselling books in the past decade or so, or if this is just a personal interest of Lackey’s.  It can be said that the Collegium Chronicles are meant to garner the young adult audience – as I’ve mentioned, the story takes place at a school of sorts, the main character is a teenager, we have the classic elements of sports, gossip, and young love.

This is an advantage of writing a world instead of a direct series.  Lackey can choose a character of any age, gender, or race to be her new protagonist, enabling her to target different audiences.  She doesn’t always aim for the young adults, but I’d say that her work in general has a wide appeal.

Really, what can I say?  It’s a second book.  It continues the story, it introduces some new elements and characters, it develops previously introduced characters, elements, and plots, etc.  Considering that there are five books in this set, we still have a ways to go.