Friday, July 9, 2021

Eye Spy

Eye Spy
by Mercedes Lackey
Recommended Ages: 13+

Abidela, Abi to her friends and family, is the daughter of King's Herald Amily and King's Spy Mags. Her brother is the very Perry (short for Peregrine) who used his Gift of Animal Speech to bring down an evil, cannibalistic blood mage in a previous adventure, and is now in line to be the next King's Spy. Her best friend, a royal princess named Kat, has been Chosen by a Companion – sort of a superintelligent horse with telepathic abilities – and is on her way toward becoming a Herald. Abi might well feel a bit left out: unchosen, with no gifts to speak of other than a well-drilled knack for combat. She seems destined to be either an intelligence asset for her father and brother, or a companion (with defensive benefits) to the princess.

Then, one day as Abi and Kat are crossing an old stone bridge, Abi's general dread of that particular bridge hits her like a fist in the stomach. Kat knows, from the look on her face, that the bridge is about to collapse and with only a moment's discussion, they evacuate the bridge just in time for it to collapse into the raging river below. Then it becomes apparent that Abi has a unique Gift: she can sense the stress in a human-made structure, and can predict how and maybe when it will fail. The folks in charge of managing Gifts in the kingdom of Valdemar set her on a new course: to become an Artificer, or basically, an architect.

At first, Abi has to strain to master the mathematics, while at the same time learning to control her Gift. She also has to clear some social hurdles, such as fending off a bully on her first day at the academy and getting a few good friends on her side. But then she realizes that becoming an Artificer is going to mean so much more to her than just inspecting bridges and detecting invisible signs of structural failure. Indeed, she really falls in love with the idea of designing something herself, and eventually makes a replacement for that fallen bridge her Master's work. Meantime, her background as a bodyguard and intelligence asset come in handy on a couple of side missions – one, to help an impoverished lady find her lost family fortune; the other, a mission of architectural diplomacy to a group of independent villages and cities thinking about joining Valdemar.

It is during this last mission that Abi's story really becomes a story. Accompanied by three other Artificers, a Herald and three mercenaries, Abi travels outside the boundaries of the kingdom, outside its protections against magic (the kind done by Mages, that is). Their party soon becomes the target of a group of impostors trying to sour the reputation of Valdemar by sabogating public works along their route. While Abi's fellow Artificers concentrate on undoing the damage, she joins the Herald Stev, mercenary Jicks and a half-starved, local Mage named Korlak in pursuit of a group of enemy Mages who are willing to unleash demons – which means, eventually, there will be blood. Nasty, terrifying rivers of it.

It is easy to become absorbed in the world of Valdemar, and meanwhile, to root for good-hearted Abi, who realizes that the communities across the border depend on the help of their benign Mages, who in turn, depend on their communities. This puts her values in conflict with her mission, because she knows that as soon as Valdemar extends its borders over the region, the kindom's protection against magic will extend as well – meaning exile or madness for those Mages. Where her duty really lies becomes a bit of a dilemma for her, though its importance lags behind surviving a hairraising encounter with evil Mages and their demon familiars. Her heroism, while not without its actiony thrills, is of a different kind from many in the fantasy quest biz. It has an emotional truth that I think readers will appreciate.

This is the second novel in the Family Spies trilogy, between The Hills Have Spies and Spy, Spy Again. This trilogy is, in turn, the umpteenth set of books in Mercedes Lackey's ongoing series of Valedmar novels, the most closely related of which (I believe) are the Collegium Chronicles (Foundation, Intrigues, Changes, Redoubt and Bastion) and the Herald Spy trilogy (Closer to Home, Closer to the Heart, Closer to the Chest). Lackey has authored, co-authored or contributed to, like, hundreds of books. So, color me intimidated; I'm just dipping my toe in them, here.

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