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.