Hello! Welcome to the first edition of “The League of Books” book club. For our first novel, we picked an epic fantasy novel by Mercedes Lackey, “Arrows of the Queen”. This novel was first published in 1987 and is the beginning of the Valdemar series of books. We know that it is a fan favorite, so we had to check it out. Neither Ben nor I (Mystie) had read it before, though Ben had read other books by Lackey. We broke “Arrows of the Queen” into three sections (4 chapters each) in order to give a more comprehensive overview of the book instead of simply focusing on our reaction to the ending of the book.
Part 1 (Chapters 1-4)
Talia is a young 13 year female in a very drab and serious household- we enter the story as she is carding wool and reading a tale about Heralds and their Companions- a world to which she desperately wants to belong. It seems that Talia does not fit into her family’s idea of how a woman should behave, which includes illiteracy, submissiveness and obedience. She, at 13, is to be married off. Talia escapes while the mothers are arguing and hides out in a small cavern she has found on the side of a hill. During this time, she daydreams about being found by a Herald and a Companion and then hears hoof beats, falls out of the hole and is found by a Companion. This seems a little too easy and a little quick to me as a reader, that Talia doesn’t have any sort of struggle or challenge that we read about before her life is swept into this magical tale. I am also not a huge fan, most of the time, of knowing major plot points that the main character is unaware of and knowing the entire ride to the Collegium that Talia was to be a Herald and having her continually wonder what was happening to her was a little overdone for my tastes, but I very much enjoyed the descriptions of the towns that she visited and the people that she met. Having Talia afraid of men, due to her authoritarian patriarchal upbringing, was a very interesting and much needed psychological element that elevated the story, to me. Talia, as a small and abused 13-year old would have emotional baggage, and I was very glad that it was included-though it does not remain consistent.
Talia and the Companion travel together and despite all of the evidence in front of her face, Talia stubbornly clings to the idea that she is “returning” the Companion and that he is not as smart and capable as she is making him out to be. In this chapter we see a lot of “it seems that this is too good to be true” thinking from Talia and outright refusal that she could be Chosen and that this Companion could be having her accompany him for a reason. We also start to learn about the Kingdom that Talia is a part of and it seems that everyone lives a much happier and more colorful existence than the “Holderkin”- they wear bright colors and are very loud and expressive people. The juxtaposition between Talia’s home life and the life that she sees in the kingdom polarizes the two worlds- one seems good and the other “evil”.
While traveling, Talia encounters a female guard and she is very taken aback, but accepts it fairly readily, after all “there were women as Heralds who held equal position as men”. One of my reservations about this is that Talia accepts things that go against everything she has ever learned very easily and quickly and seems to have no difficulty changing her mindset. The guard takes Talia into hand very quickly and understands exactly what she needs and what she won’t say, gets her fed and cleaned up and back on her way- this seems almost too easy. Once Talia enters the Collegium (taken there by Rolan) she is sent into a waiting room and approached by a very young girl. Almost out of place with her shy and scared character, Talia immediately puts this “little” in her place and treats her very firmly, even after learning that this young girl is the heir to the throne- though Talia’s reaction to this may be explained by information learned later in the book. Talia is fetched by the Dean of the Collegium, who is extremely perceptive and can tell immediately that Talia is very uncomfortable with men and adjusts her schedule and teachers in his mind as they walk. However, as mentioned above, we get the following reaction from Talia, “the wary unease she usually felt around men evaporated when she saw him”.
I absolutely agree with a lot that has been said about the first section of the book. There is a lot that I really enjoyed reading, mostly the sections that Talia was alone and traveling with just her new, and unknown, companion. She gets a chance to leave the borderlands and starts to see a whole new world opening up before her eyes, meeting several people along the road who serve as a stark contrast to the type of people she is used to. It also doesn’t really setup any sort of “save the world” scenario at first, it is focused on real problems that Talia is personally going through as a person, which is really where I think the strengths of the novel were. However, like you say, a lot of this is simply too convenient or “easy” for her. We get hardly a hint of what her life is like amongst her family (it is pretty poor), and honestly I could have used more setup here before she finds her companion Rolan. For example, where is it that she learned to read and fell in love with books and reading, something that was heavily discouraged by the rest of her family?
This ease at which she transitions carries through into her journey and on to the collegium. We get this entirely stark difference between the holders and the rest of the country, and even in the collegium, we find that she somehow innately knows to trust many of the men she meets even though it has been expressed that she had once been extremely uncomfortable around men and even people in general. Her initial encounter with the heir also stuck in my mind as rather odd, as she seems to be able to deal very well with a small girl demanding her to kneel as she is royalty (something she is sure to never have encountered before). Is this a sign of budding powers and her connection to her companion? Maybe, but again it is almost an instantaneous change that she comes upon, with very little difficulty, which I found less than convincing. I do very much enjoy the tale that Lackey is telling here, Talia and the people she is meeting are all very compelling, but things just seem to be falling into place too neatly.
Part 2 (Chapters 5-8)
The middle section of this book was my favorite of the entire book overall. We see Talia start to settle into her new life, meet new classmates and teachers, and even gain some friends. I think the characters that Lackey has created are definitely one of the strengths of the novel, and especially their relationships to Talia are all intriguing and fun, and I found myself wishing that there had been more focus on her actual education. I was especially fond of the bond she forms with aging herald Jadus, during the holidays as the rest of the students have left, as the two almost come to each other’s rescue and each goes through a major turning point, with Talia losing some of her previous inhibitions and Jadus regaining his desire to rejoin society and his peers at the collegium.
This middle section is also where we start to get an idea of some of the darker aspects of life in the capital and the threats facing the Queen. These include the “blue” students, highborn pupils who didn’t fit into any of the colleges but are brought in basically on their bloodlines, and are suspects in the murder of the herald who held Talia’s position prior to her choosing. A group of these students begin to pick on, and even attempt to murder, Talia. Again, my only issue with this seems to be a common one; the line between good and evil in the book is extremely clear, as characters seem to either be the nicest person imaginable, or the cruelest, willing to do anything to further themselves. I would not mind a little more “grey.” Faults aside, I still found myself blazing through this section very quickly, and Lackey seems to be at her strongest when we are exploring Talia’s day-to-day life, schooling, and relationships. It falls a little flatter with some of the grand schemes and plots, but still a very enjoyable read to this point.
Again, a lot of agreement between us on the major points. However, I think it bothered me more that we never learn anything about the larger plots going on in the Kingdom. We are given hints and nudges, but it is never actually explained why the Prince wanted the throne and why the plot is continuing after he was dealt with. I intensely agree that we seem to split the world into black and white and if they are evil, then that is the reason that they do bad things. It does seem to be a stretch that these children (as they are teens from the Blues) are so willing to murder a young girl who has done nothing to them and seem to do so only because they are told to by people we never see or know anything about.
However, Lackey does excel at building the small relationships between her characters and the interactions between Talia and Jadus, the servants and her fellow Heralds. She befriends and immediately puts at ease everyone that she meets.
Third Section (Chapter 9 – End)
What I enjoyed most about this section is that Talia started to really take control of her own actions and be the protagonist in her own story. She starts to find plots and begins to unravel them, with the aid of her friend Skif. We also see that her powers, that we were led to believe were part of her being the Queen’s Own, are actually part of her “Gift”. She has a strong sense of empathy- which leads her to seek out and aid people who are having a lot of emotional trouble. I really enjoy that we are fleshing out Talia’s character and giving her these abilities- but occasionally it seems that Talia can do no wrong. She is a great friend to everyone and fixes all of these problems and takes care of the Heir and turns her into a respectable child and … and … and. I feel that Talia doesn’t have a major flaw and I worry about the reader being able to relate to her.
At the beginning of Chapter 11, it has been three years. With the strength of Lackey’s writing on the day to day life of Talia’s training, I would have liked to have more of this fleshed out. I feel that, though three years have passed, the relationships between Talia and the rest of the characters have not moved forward much, if at all. She has had no problems with any plots for her life and there have been no additions to her close friend circle. Despite this, chapters 11 and 12 are extremely interesting and I think the final conflict in the book is perhaps my favorite part, despite the darkness and death of a close friend. It really stretches the story and makes the hazards of being a Herald much more realistic and believable- up until this point it has seemed that being a Herald is all easy and wonderful, at least for Talia.
All in all, this was a fun and quick read. I will definitely pick up the sequels and give those a read. After all, I have to figure out whether Ben or I are right about the love interest. 3.5/5 stars.
I’m a bit split on the last 4 chapters of the book. The last two chapters were great, as Mystie said we really start to see Talia start coming into her abilities and we start to get an idea of where the series as a whole is going to go. I thought the final conflict, and what came immediately after, was fantastic, it really raised the stakes for all of the characters while also really pulling in the reader to the story and plight of the heralds and Queen. I definitely agree that up to this point it almost seemed too safe, considering how much time Lackey spends telling us what a dangerous profession being a herald is.
I was not a big fan of the two chapters preceding this section though. It almost felt like an extended epilogue, as it wrapped up several plotlines from earlier, and basically rushed through several years of Talia’s training and life at the collegium. I think it really threw the pacing off, and I wish a lot of what she rushed through could have been a bit more fleshed out here, and that is just too bad considering how good the last two chapters were.
I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next books in the series, all faults aside, because this really was a fun read. And I am obviously right about the inevitable love interest. Obviously. However, I do agree with Mystie on the overall score, 3.5/5.
Let us know what you thought in the comments below!