Book Review: Closer to the Heart by Mercedes LackeyCloser to the Heart by Mercedes Lackey
Series: The Herald Spy #2
Published by DAW Books on October 6, 2015
Genres: High Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
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four-stars
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.

Let me start out by describing a little of what goes on in Closer to the Heart, which is book 2 in Mercedes Lackey’s Herald Spy series, since the blurb says more about the series and virtually nothing about what goes on in this installment.

Newly engaged couple Herald Mags and King’s Own Herald Amily have found their wedding plans hijacked by the Crown, which fully intends to capitalize on it and turn it into so much political and diplomatic fanfare. But things must be postponed as a plot is uncovered that could potentially bring Valdemar into war with its politically unstable neighbor, Hardorn. While Amily must do her best to diffuse the situation from the capital, Mags is sent out to mine country—the first time he’s returned here since being rescued from child slavery—to ferret out possible conspirators.

There are many things I like about this book. The first was that I believe it’s the first novel of Valdemar that tracks a Heraldic couple from both points of view. Sure, we’ve seen couples in the past, notably Herald-Princess Elspeth and her Hawkbrother mate Darkwind, but most of their story didn’t take place in Valdemar itself, and Darkwind is not a Herald, and while there’s also the couple made up by Queen’s Own Herald Talia and Herald Dirk, their love story comes quite late in their dedicated series. So I was keen on seeing the rhythm Amily and Mags would find as a couple, with the weight of their duties resting so heavily on both their shoulders.

The second is that this brought Mags back to Valdemar’s mine country, which he hadn’t really visited since he was rescued child from slavery at a mine in the very first book of the Collegium Chronicles, Foundation. Here, I think, is a bit of a reward for fans. If you’ve followed these books from the beginning as I have, you’ll appreciate the difference between the mine Mags was saved from and the one he visits in this story, and while I felt like Lackey may have underwritten the emotional impact of these contrasts, I also felt like I could gather a lot about what she didn’t say. It also made me curious as to how it would affect Mags’ outlook once all the current stresses were over and done with.

The third is learning more about the spy network in Valdemar. I really enjoyed how this was treated in the two books about arms master Herald Alberich as well as in the earlier books on Mags’ life, but this volume really gets into the nitty gritty of it, which I liked. And there was a return to that favored warsport, Kirball! In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t share details, but if you enjoyed the way Lackey wrote about the games in the Collegium Chronicles, you’ll enjoy this one.

I guess the only thing that kept me from giving this read a five-star rating is that it didn’t seem quite as action-packed as the previous novel. Not that it felt like an unnecessary series filler—don’t get me wrong on this point. It very much felt like Lackey was establishing some of the calm before the storm, so while I wasn’t quite as engaged as I have been in some of her other books, I can see how it would work in the rhythm of a four- or five-book series, which I’m hoping this will be. I’m also looking forward to seeing how she amps up the action and the intrigue in the novels to come. So while Closer to the Heart isn’t a full five stars, it’s definitely very solidly a four.

 

Feel Factor Rating:

fan-factor5

intrigue-factor4

adrenaline-factor3

 

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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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