Mags returns to the Collegium, but there are mixed feelings–his included–about him actually remaining there. No one doubts that he is and should be a Herald, but he is afraid that his mere presence is going to incite more danger right in the heart of Valdemar. The heads of the Collegia are afraid that coming back to his known haunt is going to give him less protection than if he went into hiding. Everyone decides that going elsewhere is the solution for now. So since he is going elsewhere–why not return to the place he was found in the first place and look for clues? And those who are closest to him, and might provide secondary targets, are going along. With Herald Jadrek,
Herald Kylan (the Weaponsmaster’s chosen successor), and his friends Bear, Lena, and Amily, they head for the Bastion, the hidden spot in the hills that had once been the headquarters of a powerful band of raiders that had held him and his parents prisoner. But what they find is not what anyone expected.
Bastion, the fifth and possibly final book in the Collegium Chronicles, is an entertaining but ultimately flawed tale that finally offers answers to the main questions of the series arc: Who is Mags, who wants to kidnap him, and why? But those answers don’t come until the last 80 pages of the novel; the majority of the book is a long, elaborate, and episodic set-up designed to put Mags and a previously unknown character — the one with the answers — in the same place at the same time.
Lackey makes this work, in part because of her strengths in storytelling, worldbuilding, and most importantly, getting you to care about her characters. While I’ve never felt as deeply connected to Mags as to some of Lackey’s earlier main characters (Talia, Vanyel, Elspeth, Karal, even Alberich), I do like him. Mags is the classic outsider-who-finds-a-place-to-belong. . . and in this book, the threat to him extends to those around him at Court and Collegia. He’s kind, heroic in an unassuming way, and tenacious, and apart from a thick dialect in the earlier books (mercifully ameliorated by speech lessons in this installment), there’s little to complain about in his character, or indeed in any of the others. It’s sweet to watch Mags and Amily’s relationship grow, and the sniping between Jakyr and Bard Lena is entertaining.
Still, the pacing feels off, with a relatively slow first three quarters followed by a flurry of revelations and a somewhat abrupt ending. The overall premise is also somewhat flawed. Even if Mags and his friends are at risk anywhere, and his presence increases the risk to the King, the court, and the three collegia, does it really make sense to send him off into the hinterland with his three closest friends, with the only experienced fighter being Mags’ mentor? (Incidentally, the book blurb is completely wrong when it comes to “Kylan, the Weaponsmaster’s chosen successor.” Whoever he is, he’s certainly not part of the expedition.) Amily has also made not only a miraculous recovery from her leg surgery, but is suddenly a “natural” fighter, presumably to make it even feasible to take her along. Again, it’s hard to swallow that, or that her father, King’s Own Herald Nikolas, would allow her to go, given his protectiveness in earlier books. I had to remind myself more than once that Lackey was writing about the Collegium in its earliest days, only a generation or two after Vanyel, and I shouldn’t expect the Heralds to think and behave exactly like those of Talia, Elspeth, and Kero’s day.
For all its flaws, I did enjoy Bastion. Lackey’s Valdemar books have been on my auto-buy list for years, and I wasn’t disappointed in this one. Still, I wish she’d return to writing with the depth and edge she brought to earlier books like the Mage Winds trilogy, By the Sword, and Exile’s Honor.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Category: YA fantasy
Series: Collegium Chronicles #5
Release date: Oct. 31, 2013
Book source: public library
About the author: 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, Rosemary Edghill, James Mallory, Eric Flint, David Freer, 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. In addition to her writing, she and Dixon rehabilitate birds of prey before returning them to the wild. Her love of birds extends to parrots, of which she has had several.