Arrow's Flight

by Mercedes Lackey

Cover image

Series: Heralds of Valdemar #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: September 1987
ISBN: 0-88677-222-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 318

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the second book of the first series set in Mercedes Lackey's long-running Valdemar world. It's a direct sequel to Arrows of the Queen, which is also a considerably better book, so don't start here. Only consider Arrow's Flight if you've read the first of the series and really want to read more about Talia.

Arrow's Flight opens with some additional stories about life in the Collegium and the duties of the Queen's Own, which are about as episodic as the end of Arrows of the Queen and hence feel somewhat random. We do get a very significant event for Elspeth, but it's one left largely unexplained here and for some time to come. It's moderately interesting to readers of the whole Valdemar series, since it foreshadows significant revelations in one of the later series, but it's just cryptic to new readers of the world and never further explored in this series.

Most of this book, though, is the story of Talia's internship riding rounds through part of the kingdom, which is by turns mildly interesting and jaw-clenchingly annoying. The mildly interesting part is that Lackey dives far further into how mental powers works in her universe, and also expands the discussion and challenges of telepathic ethics (which are harder for the ability of empathy). This is rather mechanics-heavy, so your enjoyment of this is going to depend somewhat on how much you like seeing the working-out of a detailed power system, but I've always liked that sort of thing. It reads much more awkwardly than it did when I first read this book many years ago, but I still like Lackey's take on training and telepathic control. One of the features of this series is that the characters aren't afraid to apply both scientific study and techniques of physical training to mental powers. It makes the world feel more realistic; if such things existed, I could believe characters would work out their theory and practice like this.

The jaw-clenchingly annoying part, however, is that much of the plot of this book is built on the characters refusing to communicate with each other. Yes, this is part of the plot, and yes, it's somewhat justified by in-story reasons. I still found it infuriating, and in the "I'd rather read something else" way rather than in a way that adds to the story. Talia has some legitimate justification to be a poor communicator, but not enough. Going through much of a book with a desire to thwap both characters upside the head is not conducive to an enjoyable reading experience.

The other problem with this book, and indeed with all of this initial Heralds of Valdemar series, is that Lackey is a little bit too in love with her world background and didn't yet have the maturity of writing technique to present it smoothly. There's a lot of infodumping here. It's infodumping of a fairly deep world, and it has some merits, but usually one feels like one is going to school with Talia. It doesn't flow; the world background thuds awkwardly into the story. This was true of Arrows of the Queen as well, particularly towards the end, but there were enough emotional highs to cloak it. The emotion in Arrow's Flight is primarily annoying and frustrating, which doesn't smooth out the infodumping.

I'm not going to say a lot of good things about this book. I think it's clearly the worst of the initial trilogy. But the one bit of praise I want to give it is that Lackey's world-building and character reactions show a warmth and engagement with their world that I often find missing. Lackey doesn't strive for the typical sort of epic fantasy realism, where the reader feels the grit of the road dirt. Instead, she focuses more on the delight and joy that the characters find in their worlds. Her books, including this one, are full of little details, like neat discoveries about animal behavior and private welcoming parties for Heralds. It's this focus that makes the character bonds feel so strong and the Collegium feel so much like a family. A lot of realistic fantasy tends towards depression and darkness, and while Lackey's contrasting tone can make the books feel a bit too fluffy, that sense of delight can also make them a warm pleasure to read.

Unfortunately, though, I think the flaws of Arrow's Flight overwhelm the positives. The primary plot driver is highly irritating and drags out far longer than it should, and even after its primary resolution, I have some very serious problems with the end of the book. I think Lackey, in retrospect, did too, since the action at the very end of the book seems to be blatantly retconned at the start of Arrow's Fall into something much less problematic. I can see a vague argument that the action described there could match the action described in this book, but it seems like a huge stretch to me given the frankly nasty tone of the ending here.

But, worse in some ways, Arrow's Flight is just forgettable. Talia works through some of her emotional problems, but the process was annoying enough that I don't enjoy reading it. The rest of the story has very little real significance; one could skip ahead to Arrow's Fall without missing much, and even skip both books in favor of moving on to the rest of Valdemar (which is generally better written).

I've read this book a couple of times, maybe three, now, so it isn't horribly bad, but I mostly read it because I'm a completionist. It's possibly worth reading if you are enjoying Lackey's world and want to get every story and fragment of it you can find. Otherwise, I recommend giving it a pass.

Followed by Arrow's Fall.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-03-28

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