Mercedes Lackey is still interested in spies. You can tell from the title, The Hills Have Spies. You can also tell because this is the first book in a new set; Family Spies. You can even tell because this is the third set of books to involve Herald Mags. Obviously, the cachet has not yet run out for Lackey, and though she started on this trend early, the rest of the world has caught up and I’m seeing a lot more secret agents and whatnot in books than I did back in 2002 when she published Exile’s Honor. Yes, she’s been writing spies in Valdemar for sixteen years now.
This is part of why it’s taken me a month just to take this book out of the Pile. I’ve loved Lackey as an author for so many years, and it pains me to see her flagship series stuck in such a rut. That’s why I didn’t reread a single book first; I’ve seen so much of Mags that it just seems ridiculous that even more would happen to him. I desperately didn’t want to be disappointed by Lackey continuing in this direction.
Thus far, Family Spies is not disappointing. Sure there’s some groanworthy bits, but that can only be expected in some ways. I know Lackey’s foibles and tendencies, so there are some things that you just grin and bear because there’s still something worth reading. But let’s talk actual content and why I’m overall pleased with The Hills Have Spies.
Mags and Amily have been happily married for several years and, unsurprisingly, raising a family. They have three kids and Peregrine (better known as Perry) is the eldest at thirteen. King Kyril, whom we recall from the Collegium Chronicles and Herald Spy has stepped down in favor of Prince Cedric and his wife. They have four kids, and the lot of seven has grown up together.
This book is more Perry’s than Mags’, as we open to Perry having been kidnapped and having to escape on his own with only his wits, his skills, and Animal Mindspeech to help. No Companion, for Perry hasn’t been Chosen. It’s a test, since Mags and Amily are determined that none of their kids should be as trapped as they’ve been in the past. Later, we discover a report sent from Herald Arville, down on the Pelagiris border about “something not quite right.” Unfortunately, you may recall that Arville is one of those damned Scooby Doo characters, the one with the kyree who somehow talks.
I really, really hate that Lackey decided some kyree could physically talk. I see nothing wrong with them communicating only via Mindspeech. It’s…so much more dignified.
Anyway, Mags and Perry are sent to investigate, going as traders so as to not attract unwanted attention. A big portion of the book is devoted to Perry’s coming of age and father-son bonding. I’ll say this much for coming back to Mags, it’s very interesting to have a character that we’ve seen go from a feral childhood all the way into responsible parenthood.
The story itself is fairly self-containted for Valdemar, taking place mostly in a remote border region and even a bit beyond the actual territory claimed by the kingdom. That’s not a bad thing, as Lackey creates logical reasons why we wouldn’t go further out or even bring in different allies than what she presents us with. I definitely get the feeling that she wants to do more stories between Valdemarans and the more magical aspects of her world, given the trends of the latest novels and short stories. Which isn’t a bad thing, but at the “end” of the timeline everything’s so peaceful and resolved that it’s not as much fun, and she’d probably have to work harder to come up with a conflict. After all, the book has to have some kind of conflict to spark and drive the plot.
Internally, both Perry and Mags have viewpoints presented here, meaning we’re not as attached to either of them as we might be in other books. Between that, the title of the set, and the fact that Perry’s got two siblings, I’m hoping that each of the books here focus on one of Mags and Amily’s offspring. Mostly because everything seems to wrap up so very nicely at the end, that it looks like Perry’s fairly well set for the next few years, until he’s a full adult.
It’s another instance of no matter what my misgivings may be, Lackey is able to handwave most of them away just by being the good, solid author I’ve loved for years. Which says a lot, because while I do sometimes read absolutely terrible fantasy books, most of them aren’t able to say “yes, but you just love how well I’m written?” and get away with it. Not that The Hills Have Spies is terrible, I just had so many questions before reading because I really do want her to get away from spies.
And yes, I’m aware that the title is not so dissimilar to a certain horror movie. I’m quite sure that this was deliberate, as there’s at least one nod that I caught in the novel. More than that I can’t say because I don’t care for horror movies and have never seen this one. Something about not being one for visual gore, though I’ve read far worse. I also become very uncomfortable with the tension horror movies love to create. It’s bad enough when I get a book capable of creating and sustaining such a feeling. I don’t want to sweat through a movie too. But that’s a personal problem.
On another note, today is the first of the month which means Book of the Month selections are available! I always look at what they’ve got, even if I’m more likely to skip a month than choose a book. Today I was scrolling through the five selections and my eye was caught by a generic fantasy cover. Since Book of the Month skews towards fiction in general and romance in particular (with some thrillers and whatnot thrown in for good measure), it’s not often that they have pure fantasy available. Then I saw the author and I never did take a good look at any of the other books this month.
So I’m eagerly awaiting tracking on that tomorrow. I’ll probably be reading it fairly soon after its arrival, depending on how quickly I get through other books. Because yes, I do know what I’m reading next. I’ve been pondering this series for a few days now, and now seems like a good time to get to it. Sure, I’ll be working a bit extra tomorrow and Tuesday, but that’s because we’re still on summer hours even though I’ve got two days off this week. Thank you national holidays and federally mandated eleven days off a year that work pays me for besides vacation and sick time.
I also want to mention that even though I completed my library’s summer reading program three weeks ago and picked up my t-shirt prize two weeks ago, I’m still logging all the books I read through it. Also the comic book issues. Don’t look at me weird, the library said anything counts, even an internet article. Well, I’m not counting articles, internet or newspaper, but I see no reason not to include individual comic books. If they count enough for a blog post, they surely count enough for the log. So I know I’ve read 50 books/comic books since the program started June 1st. It’ll be interesting to see what the final count is on that front, and I’ll have to decide if reading something twice means counting it twice, especially if it’s a comic book. Obviously it counts for this blog, but I feel sort of bad with the library, as if its somehow cheating.
Now I’m just rambling, which means there are better uses for my time and attention. So I’m off to find them.