Winds of Change

by Mercedes Lackey

Cover image

Series: Mage Winds #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: August 1993
ISBN: 0-88677-563-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 475

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Winds of Change is a direct sequel to Winds of Fate. This is a more closely connected trilogy than the previous Valdemar books. It's not the sort of thing you want to read out of order.

The events of Winds of Fate predictably left the multiple protagonists united and with some breathing space, but none of their problems are resolved. The Heartstone is still a mess; in fact, it may be getting worse. Elspeth needs to learn how to wield the magical power she apparently has. And there are a lot of interpersonal tensions, lingering hurt feelings, and (in the case of Elspeth and Darkwind) a truly prodigious quantity of whining that has to be worked through before the protagonists can feel safe and happy.

Winds of Change is the training montage book, and wow did my memory paper over a lot of flaws in this series. This is 475 pages of not much happening, occasionally in very irritating ways. Yes, we do finally meander to a stronger conclusion than the last book, and there is much resolving of old hurts and awkward interactions, as well as a bit of discovery of true love (this is Lackey, after all). But far, far too much of the book is Elspeth and Darkwind sniping at each other, being immature, not communicating, and otherwise being obnoxious while all the people around them try to gently help. Lackey's main characterization flaw for me is that she tends to default into generating characters who badly need to be smacked upside the head, and then does so in ways and for things at odd angles to the reasons why I think they should be smacked. It can make for frustrating reading.

The introduction of Firesong as a character about halfway through this book does not help. Firesong is a flamboyant, amazingly egotistical, and stunningly arrogant show-off who also happens to be a magical super-genius and hence has "earned" his arrogance. This is an intentional character design, not my idiosyncratic reaction to the character, since every other character in the book finds him insufferable as well at first. But he's also a deeply insightful healing Adept by, honestly, authorial fiat, so by the end of the novel he's helped patch up everyone's problems and the other characters have accepted his presentation as a character quirk.

Sigh.

So, okay, one doesn't read popcorn fantasy for its deep characterization or realistic grasp of human subtlety. But this is just way more than I can swallow. Lackey's concept of a healing Adept (which I like a great deal as a bit of world-building) necessarily involves both deep knowledge and deep empathy and connection with other people. Firesong is so utterly full of himself that there's simply no way that he could have the empathy required to do what he is shown to do here. (Lackey does try to explain this away in the book, but the explanation didn't work for me.) Every time he successfully intervenes in other people's emotional lives, he does so with a sudden personality change, some stunning insight that he previously showed no evidence of ability to understand, and somehow only enough arrogance in his presentation to prickle but not to close people's mind to whatever he's trying to say.

That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works. Lackey always treats psychology as a bit of a blunt instrument, and one either learns to tolerate that or gives up on her series, but Firesong is flatly the most unbelievable emotional mentor figure in any of her books I've read. (One of the more satisfying, if slight, bits of this series comes up in the next book, where Firesong runs into someone else who can do the same thing but has actually earned the empathy the hard way, and is a bit taken aback by it.)

My other complaint with this book is that Lackey adds more chapters from the viewpoint of the big bad of the series. These are deeply unpleasant, since he's a deeply unpleasant person, and seem largely unnecessary. It's vaguely interesting to follow the magical maneuverings from both sides, but there are more of these scenes than strictly necessary for that purpose, and the sheer unmitigated evil of Lackey's evil characters is a bit hard to take. Also, he somehow has vast resources of staff and assistants, and much suspension of disbelief is required to believe that anyone would continue working for this person. It's one thing to imagine people being drawn to a charismatic Hitler type; it's quite another when the boss is a brooding, imperious asshole who roams the hallways and tortures random people to death whenever he's bored. Fear and magic only go so far in maintaining a large following when you do that, and he generates dead bodies at a remarkable rate.

The best characters in this series continue to be Nyara, Need, and the gryphons. I'd rather read a book just about them. Need does use a bit too much of Lackey's tough love technique (another recurring theme of this larger series), but from Need that's wholly believable; her gruff and dubious empathy is in line with her character and history and fits a talking sword extremely well. But they, despite having a bit of their own training montage, are a side story here. The climax of the story is moderately satisfying, but the book takes far too long to get to it.

I remember liking this series when I first read it, and I still like some aspects of Lackey's world-building and a few of the characters, but it's much weaker than I had remembered. I can't really recommend it.

Followed by Winds of Fury.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2016-10-01

Last modified and spun 2016-10-03