Closer to the Heart (Mercedes Lackey)

November 17, 2015 Book Reviews 4 ★★★★

Closer to the Heart (Mercedes Lackey)Closer to the Heart by Mercedes Lackey
Series: Herald Spy #2
Published by DAW Books on Oct. 6, 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library
Goodreads
four-stars
Also in this series: Closer to Home
Also by this author: The Serpent's Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, Phoenix and Ashes, Home from the Sea, Steadfast, Elemental Magic:, Blood Red, House of Four Winds, The Fairy Godmother, The Lark and the Wren, Owlflight, From a High Tower, Owlsight, Owlknight, Closer to Home, Hunter, Take a Thief, A Study in Sable

Mags was a Herald of Valdemar. But he had once lived the brutal life of a child slave. When he was Chosen by his Companion Dallen, his young life was saved, and he slowly adjusted to being well fed, educated, and treasured as a trainee in the Herald's Collegium at Haven. Singled out by the King's Own Herald, Mags would thrive in his secret training as a spy. His unusually strong Gift—an ability to Mindspeak and Mindhear anyone, not just others who were Gifted—made him a perfect undercover agent for the king.

Sequel to Mercedes Lackey's Closer to Home, this adventure continues Mags's journey as Valdemar's herald spy.

Review

Lackey’s latest Valdemar novel is better than the last, if not quite a return to her top form.

Instead of a pair of feuding highborn families, the problem facing Mags and Amily is more serious this time around. A rebel force in Menmellith is apparently being supplied with Valdemaran arms, and Menmellith’s regent is on the verge of declaring war. But neither King Kyril nor the Council–nor indeed the Treasury–are aware of any arms shipments. So where are the arms and the funds to pay for them coming from?

Mags goes undercover, traveling back to his old “home”–Valdemar’s mining region–to search for answers, while Amily pursues both information and diplomacy at Court. Two side stories are somewhat integrated into the main plot; one deals with an autistic man with a genius for making and improving things, and the other with a school for handmaidens (lady’s companions) which doubles as a spy school to provide Amily with her own set of “irregulars.” Mags’s irregulars play a role as well, particularly young Coot.

The story is well told, the side characters interesting–particularly the young autistic man. I am not an expert on nonverbal autism, but from my untutored perspective, Lackey’s portrayal is caring and respectful. I enjoyed getting to know Lady Dia and her much older husband better; there’s more to both of them than meets the eye.  Other highlights include Mags’s visit to a mineowner’s holdings, where he’s pleasantly surprised with what he finds. (Readers familiar with utopian socialism and 19th-century villages like New Lanark and Cadbury’s Bournville will recognize the inspiration.) Those chapters offered a happy and inspiring contrast to the horrors of Mags’s childhood (Foundation.) Kirball also makes an appearance, having made its way into the countryside. All these and more serve to flesh out the story and lend immediacy; the central danger, while real, seems rather nebulous and far-off through most of the book.

I’m still waiting to see if Lackey plans to introduce an overall arc to the series. I didn’t see one, but I can imagine ways in which a story arc could be built on what happens in this book.

The only other complaint I have, and it’s a minor one, is that neither Mags nor Amily experiences much personal growth. There is some: Amily gains experience and confidence as King’s Own, while Mags is growing into his role as agent and spymaster. Their relationship is strong (thank you, Ms. Lackey, for not manufacturing any romantic problems just for the sake of dramatic tension!) All that is fine, but it means that the book lacks the impact and intensity of Lackey’s best works. In other words, the book is capably written and certainly enjoyable; it’s no Magic’s Pawn or Exile’s Honor, but Closer to the Heart came closer to my heart than several of its predecessors. . . and for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

four-stars

About Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is perhaps best known for her bestselling Valdemar, Elemental Masters, and Tales of the 500 Kingdoms series. Her books now total well over 100, not counting anthologies. She writes (or has written) several other popular series as well as stand-alone novels, both on her own and with collaborators including Larry Dixon (her husband and illustrator), Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Rosemary Edghill, Marion Zimmer Bradley, James Mallory, Roberta Gellis, and others.

Lackey graduated from Purdue University in 1972 and worked as a computer programmer before quitting to write full-time. A strong storyteller and a prolific writer, she turns out four to six books per year. She has also written lyrics and recorded songs (many of them based on her stories) for Firebird Arts and Music. Music is a prevailing theme throughout her work, and a major element in the Bardic Voices and Bedlam’s Bard series.

Mercedes Lackey lives with her husband in Oklahoma. She keeps parrots and has been active in raptor rehabilitation. She has also been active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and the MRPG community.

(sources: Goodreads, author website, and Wikipedia.)

4 Responses to “Closer to the Heart (Mercedes Lackey)”

  1. Bea @Bea's Book Nook

    Question – is the release date listed above accurate (October 2016) or was it released October of this year?

    The lack of personal growth is troubling but if the story is engaging enough,I might overlook it. The spy school of handmaidens immediately made me think of Carriger’s Finishing school series.

    I’m glad this one was better than previous efforts if still not up to form.
    Bea @Bea’s Book Nook recently posted…Bea Reviews Rendezvous in Rio by Danielle BourdonMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Whoops, thanks for catching that! This year, October 2015 (and I’ve fixed it.) The handmaiden spy school is a side plot, so we don’t actually see inside it that much, but it could serve as the setting for a tale in the future, or fertile ground for fanfic. 🙂