Take Mercedes Lackey out of her Valdemar rut and she can actually tell a good story.
Check out the non-Valdemar Lackey book next to Changes on the library shelf and see if it’s any good.
Is it a step forward or a step back that instead of rewriting her own books over and over Lackey and co-author Rosemary Edghill (who really should know better) have now chosen to file the serial numbers off of J.K. Rowling?
In Conspiracies (sort of like Intrigues, but different), a.k.a. Collegium Chronicles Shadow Grail #2, we have a group of magical kids divided into four subgroups (hmm...) at a secret magical boarding school (hmm...) with dubious heraldry (hmm...) which is led by a kindly old wizard (hmm...) but is slowly being infiltrated by evil faculty members (hmm...) secretly in service to a dark lord (hmm...)
Yeah, that seems familiar, but I can’t quite place it.
Maybe it would help if they added a splash of Camelot: 3000?
Some of the kids are actually reincarnations of good Arthurian characters and some of the evil faculty members are reincarnations of Arthurian bad guys, and the Dark Lord (still offstage, but coming soon!) is actually Mordred. And the kindly old wizard is Doctor Ambrosious. And the school is built around a tree said to be the one in which Merlin was imprisoned. And this is the current reincarnation of a once and current war which will be fought through time until resolved.
No, no, that didn’t help.
Hey, how about changing the color scheme? They could make the entire school gold and brown and cream! I mean everything -- uniforms, decor, custom iPods, etc.
And they could set it in Montana (with a good explanation of how that tree got there), and let the kids have flat-screen TVs in their luxurious private rooms even though watching television isn’t allowed. They could have all the other real-world amenities from an intranet chat channel to candy bars, too, which saves the creative effort of making up an entire cool wizarding world piled full of clever references to myth and folklore!
Also, the bad guys could be from a video game company. And instead of just having scary evil Riders on horses (*cough* Tolkien *cough*) there could be scary evil Riders on snowmobiles too! And the potential villain-in-chief could be...Mark Rider!
The subtlety, it is that of a baseball bat to the head.
They could even make the main viewpoint character different from all the others by having no obvious magic, since one would never speculate that she will turn out to be the most kick-ass of them all once her powers do kick in, which we are assured will happen real soon now.
(I say main viewpoint character because ever so often we hop over to another character for a while, until she delivers a long explanation of the Arthurian thing and then conveniently vanishes. One might think dead, but I’m not buying that until I see a corpse.)
And how about makin one young character GAY, with a tragic past including being bullied and a gay teen suicide. So trendy! (Why do I have a bad feeling he’s going to get fridged? The body count in this book is surprisingly high, though since all of the victims are minor characters who merely aspire to the status of cardboard one is not exactly devastated by the losses.)
I’m not cutting Lackey and Edghill any slack for writing what I think is meant to be YA (Lackey’s books straddle the border between YA and not-YA-but-with-teenage-characters). It’s still important not to, y’know, suck.
I will grant them a few points for catching the reader up nicely on what happened in the first book. That’s about it. Creepy boarding school is creepy. Mysterious enemies appear, kill a few people, then disappear. The heroine is the only one who seems to notice that bad things are happening, and she and that she and her friends will have to step up and save the world. Being hypnotized by a magic tree is not really sufficient explanation for this.
Capital letters are applied more than they really should be, which is a Lackey trademark: Fire Mage, Gift of Cleansing, etc. We would never know those things were, like, magic if they didn’t start with capital letters, would we?
Resolution is not reached, except that they resolve to fight the bad guys even harder in the next book. The climax does not climax.
On the bright side, since I have no nostalgic youthful attachment to the setting, I will not feel compelled to read any more of these.
Could the literary world, as a whole, possibly resolve that the magical kids at boarding school idea has now been done quite effectively by:
(1) Diana Wynne Jones in Witch Week (concentrated awesome)
(2) J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series (extended awesome diluted by several hundred extra words)
(3) Lev Grossman in The Magicians (the depressing cynical-slacker version)
and just STOP now? Pretty please?
Choose one of the following links for your magical-kids-at-boarding-school reading experience: