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cover Mary Sue? Is That You?
Exile's Valor
Mercedes Lackey
OVERALL CONCLUSION: Not at all a bad book as Lackey's volumes go, but with structural problems and some minor errors of real-world fact.[1] Worth buying if you're already a fan, but i'd recommend, say, "Arrows of the Queen" or "By the Sword" as a first experience with Lackey's work.

REVIEW: There are a number of problems in writing a long series of books set in a common history but out of order -- and one of the biggest is that you may find yourself handcuffed by something that seemed like a good idea when you mentioned it in passing twenty-odd (some of them very odd) years ago. In the intervening time, unfortunately, your own perception of your setting and characters may have changed significantly, or you may find youself stuck with having to actually write events that you merely alluded to in the earlier work.

In this book, Lackey finds herself stuck with having to relate the story of the unfortunate (to say the least) first marriage of Queen Selenay of Valdemar, alluded to way back in her first book, "Arrows of the Queen" and in later books in the series.

While she was merely alluding to te marriage and summarising some of its aspects to set up plots in other books, all was well.

Now she has to actually write about the marriage, and convince the reader that Selenay could be so deceived and taken in by an out-and-out bounder who is a tool of a plot to sieze power; the probelm here is that, for me and others with whom i have discussed the book, she simply doesn't make it.

Granted, Selenay, having recently lost her father in war, has ascended the throne while in her teens and has to deal with a Council which, in pushing her to marry and produce an heir, is producing numerous Totally Unacceptable (to her) possible grooms.

To justify what a total doofus the Demon Lover who sweeps Selenay off her feet is after their marriage, contrasted to his suave and polished approach and courtship, Lackey literally has him following a written script prepared for him by a skilled seducer, and has Selenay fall for it, big time.

Even ten or so years younger, the Selenay presented here is just not the Selenay of the earlier books.

That's a problem.

Also, the chronology of the marriage doesn't match the chronology established in earlier volumes.

A not-quite-a-problem but nonetheless a bit jarring, is alluded to in this review's title -- "Mary Sue" is a term coined originally in "Star Trek" fandom to describe a fan fiction story in which a shy, unassuming minor character -- who just happens to closely resemble the author -- is the Only One Who Can Save The Day, and in the process, earns the undying gratitude (if not love) of The Dashing Captain (or perhaps The Vulcan Science Officer).

Lo and be held, in this book we have the reappearance of Herald-Chronicler Myste, who, it turns out, takes an interest in Weaponsmaster Herald Alberich that goes beyond their mutual intelligence work together. "Myste"? Hmmm.[2]

That said, the teamwork of Alberich and Myste, and their gradual discovery of the plot against the Queen and Valdemar itself, is the primary focus of the book, and is well-enough told that i feel justified in awarding the three stars that i have, as opposed to the one or two that the "Selanay's seduction" and "Mary Sue"-ish elements ought to rate.

{Another possible name coincidence i like is that the actor who specialises in athletic roles in which he uses extravagant and mostly-bogus fighting styles is named "Norris"...} ====================================================

[1]  The punishment of a couple of students who break an incredibly-expensive full length mirror in the salle is being sent to pump bellows and so on for some months at the glassmakers' guild's main manufactory until the replacement mirror can be made.

In the course of setting this up, Lackey has the Master Glassmaker repeat the widely-held belief that glass slowly flows and that older panes of glass are thicker at the bottom than at the top because of this.

That just isn't true -- a quick websearch led me to this page, which thoroughly debunks this myth -- and also, in a quick mention, leads me to the second "everybody knows" about glass that Lackey mentions:

That cheap "bullseye" glass panes (thicker in the center than at the edges, distorting anything seen through them), used in windows in poorer dwellings or taverns, are made in a mold. Well, this may well be true for reproduction bullseye panes made nowadays -- but, if you were makng glass for windows in a mold, wouldn't you try to have it of more or less uniform thickness, without circular ridges that distort vision?

In fact, bullseye panes were/are made by spinning a glob of molten glass to cause it to flatten out in a disc shape (thus explaining the extra-thick center and the circular patterning around it), a technique discovered by the Romans about 100AD, as detailed here[Click Here to Return to Text]

[2]  At least they aren't lifemates yet; Lackey [as also Miller and Lee in their "Liaden" stories (q.v.)] is fond of telling us how rare true lifemate bondings are, but it seems as if, in her writings, all it takes is for two characters of romantically-compatible gender to shake hands and they're lifemated...  [Click Here to Return to Text]