I received this book for free from NetGalley, the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Closer to the Chest by Mercedes LackeyCloser to the Chest by Mercedes Lackey
Series: The Herald Spy #3
Published by DAW Books on October 4, 2016
Genres: High Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
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four-half-stars
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 ravings.

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 and thwart whatever plans have been set in motion, and quickly—before terror turns to murder.

Any release of an all-new book set in Valdemar is cause for celebration in my book, and Closer to the Chest, book 3 in the Herald Spy series, is no exception. Valdemar is Mercedes Lackey’s fantasy kingdom where spirit-horses called Companions pair up with humans, called Heralds, and together not only ensure the safety and supremacy of the government and their overarching law (“There is no one true way”) but preserve the integrity of the nation.

In this book, newlywed Heralds Mags and Amily find themselves facing an altogether different sort of intrigue. Rather than the game of preemption and prevention they’re used to–especially given that both Mags and Amily’s father are spies–they must investigate a set of crimes and attempt to stop the perpetrator (or perpetrators) before they can escalate from mayhem to murder.

I relished the challenges put to the characters in this volume of the Herald Spy series because Mags and Amily found they had to employ a new way of thinking, focus on playing detective rather than spy, even as they worked to adjust to their newly married state.

This second aspect of the challenge they faced was a bit subtle but I liked how, because they were married now, their relationship problems stemmed from trying to find ways to make each other happy or at least avoid making each other unhappy rather than from working to stay together despite everything that might keep them apart. They ARE together, as is plain to see, and that brings an entirely new set of challenges in the love department. Of course, our heroes hurdle them beautifully.

As far as the big mystery goes, I think I would’ve liked a teensy bit more intrigue, but that’s just because I enjoy it when a book keeps me guessing. Apart from this point, though, I don’t have much to complain about.

In fact, one thing I really enjoyed was how relevant the story was to this day and age, so if I had a child in elementary or middle school I would put this book into their hands immediately, just because the way the book tackles the issues of women’s rights, bullying, and victim-shaming are something that could stir open and critical thinking in people who are still forming their ideas about the world and their place in it.

Closer to the Chest was another win for Mercedes Lackey, reinforcing my fandom and leaving me wishing I didn’t have to wait another several months for the next installation in this series.

 

Feel Factor Rating

fan-factor5

intrigue-factor3

swoon-factor2

adrenaline-factor1

 

Reading Order: (Mags’ Story)

1. The Collegium Chronicles: Foundation
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2. The Collegium Chronicles: Intrigues
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3. The Collegium Chronicles: Changes
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4. The Collegium Chronicles: Redoubt
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5. The Collegium Chronicles: Bastion
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1. The Herald Spy: Closer to Home
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2. The Herald Spy: Closer to the Heart
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 3. The Herald Spy: Closer to the Chest
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About Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes entered this world on June 24, 1950, in Chicago, had a normal childhood and graduated from Purdue University in 1972. During the late 70's she worked as an artist's model and then went into the computer programming field, ending up with American Airlines in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition to her fantasy writing, she has written lyrics for and recorded nearly fifty songs for Firebird Arts & Music, a small recording company specializing in science fiction folk music.

"I'm a storyteller; that's what I see as 'my job'. My stories come out of my characters; how those characters would react to the given situation. Maybe that's why I get letters from readers as young as thirteen and as old as sixty-odd. One of the reasons I write song lyrics is because I see songs as a kind of 'story pill' -- they reduce a story to the barest essentials or encapsulate a particular crucial moment in time. I frequently will write a lyric when I am attempting to get to the heart of a crucial scene; I find that when I have done so, the scene has become absolutely clear in my mind, and I can write exactly what I wanted to say. Another reason is because of the kind of novels I am writing: that is, fantasy, set in an other-world semi-medieval atmosphere. Music is very important to medieval peoples; bards are the chief newsbringers. When I write the 'folk music' of these peoples, I am enriching my whole world, whether I actually use the song in the text or not.

"I began writing out of boredom; I continue out of addiction. I can't 'not' write, and as a result I have no social life! I began writing fantasy because I love it, but I try to construct my fantasy worlds with all the care of a 'high-tech' science fiction writer. I apply the principle of TANSTAAFL ['There ain't no such thing as free lunch', credited to Robert Heinlein) to magic, for instance; in my worlds, magic is paid for, and the cost to the magician is frequently a high one. I try to keep my world as solid and real as possible; people deal with stubborn pumps, bugs in the porridge, and love-lives that refuse to become untangled, right along with invading armies and evil magicians. And I try to make all of my characters, even the 'evil magicians,' something more than flat stereotypes. Even evil magicians get up in the night and look for cookies, sometimes.

"I suppose that in everything I write I try to expound the creed I gave my character Diana Tregarde in Burning Water:

"There's no such thing as 'one, true way'; the only answers worth having are the ones you find for yourself; leave the world better than you found it. Love, freedom, and the chance to do some good -- they're the things worth living and dying for, and if you aren't willing to die for the things worth living for, you might as well turn in your membership in the human race."

*Image and bio from Goodreads