Mercedes Lackey Novels

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Burning Brightly by Mercedes Lackey

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Take an adolescent misfit, uproot him from beloved surroundings and place him in a situation where he’s bullied and harassed mercilessly, throw in a latent psychic "Gift" and you’ve got a recipe for disaster that’s been written about many times over. Despite the familiar plot, Lackey takes this story and gives it some twists and turns that keep it from becoming too trite.

This is one of Lackey’s most recent additions to the multitude of stories she’s written about various eras of the kingdom of Valdemar. If you haven’t read any of her earlier work, you may find some of the story difficult to follow, since Lackey assumes you know and understand the history of Valdemar; including their long-standing enmity with their neighbors, the Karsites, and the mystical link between Herald and Companion. This doesn’t mean the concepts are completely unclear, she just doesn’t go into in-depth, step-by-step descriptions of everything she discusses. In fact, this book is actually a return to a character referred to in stories set later in Valdemar’s history. The awkward adolescent is Lavan Chitward, destined to be become the legendary Herald Lavan Firestorm.

All that Lavan wants is to leave the capital city of Haven and return to the countryside he loves. Instead, he is sent to a trade guild school to help him sort out what he should do with his life. Rather than being the help he longs for, school becomes a nightmare of torture and sadistic bullying by older students. One day he is pushed too far and his latent talent erupts with devastating consequences. Fortunately for Lavan, his Gift is recognized as such, a Companion steps forward to claim him as her Chosen, and an experienced Herald takes him on as student and trainee. Beset by guilt and horror, Lavan gradually learns to control his Gift and accept the responsibility of its awesome power. He also discovers love and friendship, as well as a sense of purpose in his life.

Lackey’s writing is always interesting. This story is no exception. The plot was well executed and Lackey’s descriptions are thorough without being tiring. The cover art and interior artwork at the beginning of each chapter was quite striking and related well to the story also. Her main characters are well drawn and very realistic. The reader can relate to Lavan’s troubles and doubts, since they are common to many during adolescence and even beyond. I would have liked to have seen a bit more character development in some of the minor characters but Lackey’s focus is almost entirely on Lavan throughout the tale. There were some points in the story that seemed rushed, almost as if the author was hurrying towards the conclusion, but overall the pacing wasn’t too bad. However, the publisher and/or editor does get some rather low marks for the errors strewn throughout the book. I found numerous typos and even one occasion where several lines were repeated within the same paragraph. Such errors weren’t sufficient to detract from a good story, but I still find them to be an annoyance and disappointment.

Reviewed by Diane

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The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey

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This was easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time! Anyone who has ever enjoyed the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm will be immediately drawn into The Black Swan. Lackey is known for her strong heroines. In this story she has two of them, along with an evil sorcerer, a wicked queen, enchanted maidens and a handsome prince.

Baron von Rothbart, for reasons only partially explained, has taken it upon himself to punish unfaithful maidens. The faithless women are forced to spend most of their time as swans, only returning to their human form during the light of the moon. The Baron’s daughter, Odile, is charged with tending to the flock, led by the Swan Queen Odette. Odile is a sorceress in her own right, but has yet to gain her father’s praise and approval, attention she desperately craves.

During one of his journeys, the Baron strikes a dark bargain with a queen obsessed with retaining rulership of her lands, no matter what the cost. When the Baron announces that Odile and the flock will be travelling with him, she believes this will be her chance to prove to her father just how responsible and reliable she has become. Instead, it becomes a journey of enlightenment and Odile begins to see her father and the flock, especially Odette, in a new light.

This novel is not as one-dimensional or moralistic as a fairy tale; rather it is full of twists and turns. There is still a lesson to be learned, but in Lackey’s tale the world is never black and white. The main characters are well defined and the plot moves at a brisk pace. There were a few spots where Lackey seemed to wander, hinting at another direction and then letting it drop, but for the most part this didn’t detract from the storyline. Lackey has taken all the elements of the fairy tales I knew and loved as a child, added lots of new details and insights and woven it all into a wonderful, entertaining story. Make sure to read it — your inner child will thank you!

Reviewed by: Diane

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The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey

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This latest effort from Mercedes Lackey is set in post-Victorian England, right around the turn of the century (last century, that is!) when England was still a force to be reckoned with in India. Maya Witherspoon is the intelligent, well-bred daughter of an English doctor and a high-caste Indian sorceress. Forced to flee India after her parents’ mysterious and tragic deaths, Maya is trying to establish a new life for herself in London. Trained as a physician by her father, her talents are augmented by the strange and untrained magic running through her blood.

Maya faces a number of hurdles as she tries to establish herself in this new land, not the least of which is her gender and mixed blood. While not insurmountable, things become even more difficult when it becomes clear that the enemy responsible for her parents’ deaths is now pursuing Maya. Fortunately, Maya is supported by a number of friends and allies. While some of the allies are the trusted servants she has brought with her from India, others come in the guise of the unusual "pets" that were her mother’s, and still others come from a secret and mystical brotherhood located in England.

There’s a lot of "East meets West" in this novel and a huge dollop of romance. I’m not sure what Lackey was actually trying to do, but I found this book to be vaguely unsatisfying. She introduces a lot of different elements — racism and prejudice, the women’s suffrage movement, aristocracy vs. the common man, and Elemental magic, among others and then tries to tie them all together with a love story on top of it all. The story would have been better if she had narrowed her focus and concentrated on just one or two of these themes. It’s not that I didn’t like the story or the characters, but this novel just seemed rather shallow, as if Lackey was only skimming the surface. The character development could have been more thorough and the enemy is strictly a cardboard baddie. Some of the best scenes involve Maya’s struggles to be taken seriously as a woman physician and her involvement with the poorer class of patients. Lackey has explored the ideas about Elemental magic and Masters of Earth, Air, Fire and Water in some of her previous novels, including Fire Rose, and done a much better job of it. In The Serpent’s Shadow, she tells you just enough to be intriguing, but never really fleshes it out. Personally, I’d like to see a follow up novel featuring some of the main and secondary characters and a more in-depth examination of the magical forces she barely touches on here. All in all, this wasn’t a bad story, but if you’re looking for something along the lines of Lackey’s signature Valdemar series, you may be disappointed.

Reviewed by: Diane

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