Review: CLOSER TO THE HEART by Mercedes Lackey

Closer to the Heart / Book 2 of the Herald Spy by Mercedes Lackey ~ DAW, October 2015 ~ 5 Stars

Blurb: 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: A former child slave who worked as a miner, Mags has grown up since being chosen by Dallen, a charming, but slightly arrogant white horse or Companion. Mags attended school, the Collegium, with other new student Heralds, made friends, became a champion in the athletic, but brutal game of Kirball, fell in love with Amily and now works as a Herald-Spy to protect the realm of Valdemar. His adventures fill several books, yet each can also stand alone, a tribute to Lackey’s skill as a writer, but where is the fun in that?

By this point in the series, new engaged Mags and Amily are committed to each other. What they want to do is get married and have some time together. However with a civil war brewing in an adjacent country, Mags must continue spying for the Crown and Amily must perfect her skills as a newly chosen advisor to the King. Readers familiar with Lackey’s work will recognize that it may seem odd to have a young woman barely out of her teens tell an authority figure what to do, but this is a frequent occurrence in the the series. What does seem odd to me is the reappearance of Rolan, the Companion who chose Amily. Yes, he’s immortal, so why doesn’t he avoid mistakes?

Perhaps, it could have been made clearer that he is at the start of his career as the Companion to the ‘King’s Own’ and will learn more before he appears in later stories. It felt a bit contrived that he accepted the apparent accidental death of the former advisor, Amily’s father so quickly in the previous book, Closer to Home. Rolan chose Amily to succeed him. It seemed as if Rolan should at least discover if the man was truly doomed. Yes, for the purposes of the plot, it worked – but why not have a different Companion choose Amily? It still isn’t clear why she must be the most trusted advisor to the King, but perhaps it will become clearer as this series progresses. One of the joys in Valdemar is the fact that while Companions may look like beautiful, telepathic white horses, they don’t suffer from the everyday problems that equines do in the ‘real’ world such as colic and after spending a week nursing a sick pony back to health, it is wonderful to escape to such a fantastic place. Add in the fact that there is very little stall mucking and more horse owners would undoubtedly join me there.

Despite this weakness, the story works. Mags and Amily both build networks of spies since each knows that knowledge is power. These two likeable, smart, strong characters will engage readers as long as the series does, especially when they head off to find the traitor fomenting a war in their homeland. The ensemble cast is so well depicted that readers will want to see them as heroes and heroines of their own tales, not simply supporting characters. The same goes for the setting. Lackey describes the city and country well enough that long time followers will recognize familiar landmarks, yet newcomers will also feel at home.

Mags and Amily’s adventures don’t end on the last page of the book. Of course, there are hints of more to come, but this was an enjoyable visit to a beloved world.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the November 2015 edition of The Book Breeze.

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