Series: Owl Mage #2
Published by DAW Books on 1998
Source: my personal collection
Also in this series: Owlflight, Owlknight
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, Owlknight, Closer to Home, Hunter, Closer to the Heart, Take a Thief, A Study in Sable
It has been four years since the village of Errold's Grove, on the border of Valdemar, was sacked and burned by barbarians. Four years since the rebellious orphan boy Darian escaped into the vast Pelagiris Forest, finding sanctuary with the mysterious Tayledras Hawkbrothers.During his stay with the Hawkbrothers, Darian has found his calling and has begun training with them to become a Healing Adept. Born a Valdemaran, but now steeped in the mystical ways of the Tayledras, it is his dream to become their emissary - forging an alliance and providing a diplomatic link with his own people.
Keisha Alder has taken over the workshop left empty when the wizard Justyn was murdered by the barbarians. With no formal education, working with only the natural instincts of her inborn Healing Gift, this young woman has devoted herself to the care of the people of Errold's Grove.She knows that she should leave the village and seek proper training at the Healer's College in Haven, the capital city of Valdemar - but how can she? She is solely responsible for the medical care of her now bustling community. Yet with the heightened empathy of a Healing Gift, and the inability to shield herself because of her lack of training, it is becoming harder and harder for Keisha to bear the strains of everyday life.
And then Darian returns to Errold's Grove with a small contingent of Hawkbrothers to warn the townsfolk that another tribe of barbarians is approaching their village and advises them to evacuate their homes. But Keisha and some of the villagers refuse to flee. As a Healer she knows she will be needed if there is bloodshed, and her Gift dictates that she stay, even if it puts her life in jeopardy. Yet how can one small band of Hawkbrothers and two Valdemaran teenagers with partially trained Gifts stand against the destructive might of a barbarian horde?
After four years of traveling, the Tayledras group returns to k’Vala, their home Vale, where Snowfire and Nightwind celebrate their wedding and Darian studies with an elderly Healing Master. He also enjoys getting to know the young people of the Vale (in at least one case, rather intimately.) But his thoughts are on the future: on a mysterious teacher he has been promised, and on his plans for k’Valdemar, the Vale he hopes will become a sort of Camp David for Valdemar and its Hawkbrother neighbors. (Anyone who has read the trilogies that immediately precede the Owl Mage books can probably guess the identity of the promised teacher, but I’m not going to spoil it for you.)
Darian is eighteen now, responsible, competent, kind, and confident without being arrogant. His sense of humor and down-to-earth practicality, as well as an occasional mistake or hesitation, save him from being boringly perfect, but the fact is that he has largely “come of age” already, even if he’s not yet ready to take on the leadership of a Vale. If I were still in my teens, I would have a huge crush on him; he’s handsome and, well, nice; there’s not a mean bone in his body, though he can and has killed to protect others.
Keisha Alder, on the other hand, is still struggling to achieve her independence. Her sister Shandi is Chosen early in the book and departs for the capital to train as a Herald, leaving Keisha, as the only remaining daughter, the main focus of her mother’s sometimes smothering attention. She increasingly craves solitude and quiet, but both are hard to come by at home. Despite her age, her parents still see her as their child, and her four brothers are large and generally noisy. As the village’s healer, though, she already has plenty of adult responsibilities.
Keisha struggles even more with her Healing Gift than she does with her mother’s expectations. She’s been told she has a Gift, but there’s no one nearby to teach her to use it, and she doesn’t feel she can leave the village without a Healer for the years it would take to train in Haven. So she does the best she can with herbs and medicines, her own and those learned from the textbooks sent to her from Healer’s Collegium. And her best is pretty good; the villagers already think of her as their Healer though she’s still just an apprentice. That’s part of the problem, of course: no one really sees her as herself — and Keisha doesn’t know what to do about her growing need for quiet and distance from other people.
Don’t get me wrong; Keisha isn’t a whiner, though like most of us, she occasionally feels a little sorry for herself. Many of her feelings will be familiar to anyone who is or has been an adolescent, which makes her the more relatable of the two main characters. I really like her, with her practicality, her sense of humor, her caring heart, and her strong-mindedness.
The book is told in third-person limited POV, and focuses alternately on Keisha and Darian. It’s not until halfway through the book that their stories converge, when the Tayledras group returns to the region of Errold’s Grove to set up their Vale/embassy. That brings Keisha and Darian together, though not in the romantic sense. It also gives Keisha relief in the form of a Healer who can teach her to use her Gift rather than be used by it.
The story to that point is rich in the details of daily life in both Errold’s Grove and k’Vala and k’Valdemar Vales – interesting, but not particularly action-filled. It’s not until nearly two-thirds of the way through the book that the pace really picks up and tensions rise, as another Northern “barbarian” clan is spotted making its way south into Valdemaran lands. (See Owlflight for what happened the last time – it wasn’t pretty.) This group, though, is bringing women and children, making their purpose – invasion or immigration – much less clear. The tension swiftly rises to a climax that requires the skills and quick thinking of both Keisha and Darian to resolve.
Despite the uneven pacing, Owlsight is entertaining reading both for its engaging protagonists and for the insight into rural Valdemaran life (something we haven’t really seen much of before) and the culture of a healthy Tayledras Vale. Fans of Valdemar will also enjoy the chance to catch up with some old friends when they appear. There are a few hints of a future romance for Darian and Keisha, but mostly this is a coming-of-age novel and a bridge between Owlflight and Owlknight – enjoyable, but best read as part of the trilogy.