Closer to the Chest (Mercedes Lackey)

November 30, 2018 Book Reviews 7 ★★★½

Closer to the Chest (Mercedes Lackey)Closer to the Chest by Mercedes Lackey
Series: Herald Spy #3
Published by DAW Books on Oct. 4, 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 381
Format: eARC, Hardcover
Source: the library, the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Audible
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Also in this series: Closer to Home, Closer to the Heart
Also by this author: The Serpent's Shadow, 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, Closer to the Heart, Take a Thief, A Study in Sable, Beyond, Gryphon in Light

Herald Mags, the King of Valdemar’s Herald Spy, has been developing a clandestine network of young informants who operate not only on the streets of the capital city of Haven, but also in the Great Halls and kitchens of the wealthy and highborn. In his own established alternate personas, Mags observes the Court and the alleys alike, quietly gathering information to keep Haven and the Kingdom safe.

His wife Amily is growing into her position as the King’s Own Herald, though she is irritated to encounter many who still consider her father, Herald Nikolas, to be the real King’s Own. Nonetheless, she finds it increasingly useful to be underestimated, for there are dark things stirring in the shadows of Haven and up on the Hill. Someone has discovered many secrets of the women of the Court and the Collegia— and is using those secrets to terrorize and bully them. Someone is targeting the religious houses of women, too, leaving behind destruction and obscene letters.

But who? Someone at the Court? A disgruntled Palace servant? One of the members of the Collegia? Someone in the patriarchal sect of the god Sethor? Could the villain be a woman? And what is this person hoping to achieve? It isn’t blackmail, for the letters demand nothing; the aim seems to be the victims’ panic and despair. But why?

Mags and Amily take steps to minimize the damage while using both magic and wits to find the evildoer. But just as they appear to be on the verge of success, the letter writer tires of terror and is now out for blood.

Mags and Amily will have to track down someone who leaves few clues behind. They must thwart whatever plans have been set in motion, and quickly—before terror turns to murder.

I received a review copy of this book from the library, the publisher.


Closer to the Chest continues Lackey’s Herald Spy series, and it left me with mixed feelings. On the positive side, I enjoyed spending more time with Mags and Amily, and seeing Amily take an increasingly active role as a Herald. And Lackey is a pretty good storyteller, balancing action with details that immerse you into the world and the characters’ experiences.

But the negatives almost outweighed the positives for me. For one thing, the book delivers a timely but heavy-handed message about patriarchy, mysogyny, the misuse of religion, and the role of women. I agree with her in large part, though I lack her cynicism about religion, but it’s not necessary to practically bludgeon your reader with your point.

The other thing that really bothered me is the story’s internal logic is questionable. An inordinate number of people are let into the secret that Mags is both a Herald and a spy… this despite several explicit reiterations of the adage “two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.” If just one of them chose to betray him, or were captured and tortured, Mags’s undercover identity would be compromised and his life could be in danger, yet he doesn’t hesitate to trust quite a few people with the knowledge.

Finally, the book, or rather this trilogy, introduces a major series inconsistency. Rolan, the Companion to the Monarch’s Own, can mindspeak to Amily, who doesn’t have human-to-human mindspeech. Her Gift (animal mindspeech) isn’t as strong as Talia’s empathic Gift in the Arrows of the Queen trilogy. Yet somehow Rolan can mindspeak to Amily when he is bonded to her, but not to Talia when, centuries later, he Talia’s Companion? That’s the sort of inconsistency that drives me nuts as a reader. I realize it’s hard to keep things consistent in a series written over several decades, but Talia’s inability to hear Rolan’s thoughts is pretty significant in the Talia series (which was written first), so it’s irritating to see that Lackey breaks with her own canon here.

I haven’t given up on Lackey, and I enjoyed this third book in the trilogy almost as much as I did the second book (and more than the first one.) But I do miss the earlier Lackey, whose books had a bit more meat and depth and (I suspect) better editing than I’ve seen in the last 10 years or so.



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.)

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7 Responses to “Closer to the Chest (Mercedes Lackey)”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Yes, the inconsistencies and heavyhanded preachiness nearly turned me off to the book, but there are also some wonderful moments as well. I’ve been a Lackey fan since the mid-80s, so I’m willing to cut her a little slack in order to spend time in her worlds.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Lackey’s books in recent years haven’t been as consistently good as in her heyday, but still entertaining. I’ll pop over and see how you liked The Christmas Sisters; I was debating reading that one. Oops, just realized it was your good review that had me thinking about reading it! I can remember reviews, but not always which blog I read them on. 🙂

  1. sjhigbee

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her writing in the past, but those kinds of inconsistencies are so easy to commit and really put readers off – because it breaks that vital bond of trust between reader and writer… Great review!

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I think it highlights the need to keep a detailed notebook of worldbuilding details, from place-names and character descriptions to how the magic system works (and doesn’t.) But consistency of that sort is tricky to maintain in any really long-running series. Lackey isn’t the only one I’ve come across with that problem; Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books are also inconsistent, and Todd McCaffrey’s Pern books aren’t consistent with his mother Anne’s books—to the extent that I’ve nearly given up on his for now.

  2. Nicole @ BookWyrmKnits

    I’ve pretty much decided I’m done with Lackey’s newer work, and partly for the editing issue you mention. I also understand that it can be hard to remember everything that happened in a series, even when you wrote it, but she should have better editors / beta readers who can catch things like that for her. Oh well, she has a huge backlog so I can at least still enjoy her earlier work that I love.
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