Spoilers ahead. Read on anyway.
Whoops, I just spoiled you for the ending.
But is revealing a lack of resolution the same as revealing resolution? You still don't know what it was all about, which puts you in the exact same place you would be if you were just starting the book. Or, um, just finishing the book.
Maybe not that sorry.
Other than the ending, this one does perk up a bit. A small bit. It still doesn't really address the interesting idea that originally drew me to the trilogy, which is the problems involved in the shift of an education system from an apprenticeship model to a formal schooling model, which really seems like it would've been neat to think about in a fantasy context. The closest Lackey ever touches on this are the conflicts between the young secondary characters, Bear and Lena, and various annoying family members. After much angst, these problems are diagnosed as the family members being jealous, insecure, controlling, not as clever as our young heroes, etc. There's no genuine conflict here other than the internal one of the two of them learning to stand up to their families. Standard coming of age story fare, yes. But...yawnsies. This is all so predictable. The family members such paper-thin constructs that it's hard to get too worked up about their nastiness.
It does have some amusing games of Quidditch Kirball, which provide Jody Lee the chance to portray a Herald and Companion (horse-shaped magical being) on the cover with red costuming instead of the standard white (for the human) and blue (for the Companion). There is something very peculiar going on with the knotted(?) ropes in that illo, too. Am I reading too much into the fact that Lee's cover art has now shrunk to about a quarter of the cover, sort of like the story has now shrunk to about a quarter of the freshness this series had once upon a time?
Adding Quidditch Kirball is a bit of a problem continuity-wise, though. This trilogy takes place a ways back in time from most of the others. What's the retcon explaining what happened to Kirball that it died out when it shows all the signs of becoming the NCAA football of Valdemar?
I wondered at the end whether there would be a fourth book or, gah, another trilogy in which they would actually address who the mysterious dead bad guys were sent by. Usually Lackey wraps these things up within a trilogy, but perhaps this time the story overflowed. I am not motivated enough to try to find out. But regardless, I will make two predictions:
(1) The crippled daughter of the King's Own Herald whose leg is being rebroken and repaired at the end of the book, and has notably not attracted a Companion, despite being the child of a Herald, is actually going to be the next King's Own, and therefore will not bond with a Companion until her father dies, at which point she will bond with his Companion, Rolan. This situation came up before in one of the previous trilogies, as did most of the rest of the situations in the entire Collegium Chronicles.
(2) There is still a major war brewing because foreign assassin-spies are rarely attempting complex government-undermining blackmail plots purely as an intellectual exercise. This situation came up in the very first trilogy and book three had the war. Where is my war? My angst-filled major character death? My emotional catharsis; what happened to it? Nothing here made me cry!
I really need to find something new to serve as anti-stress fluff reading, don't I?
On the bright side: library book. Didn't spend money. But in case you want to: