With this novel, Lackey starts an examination of the histories and backstories of characters established in previous books. In this case, the characteWith this novel, Lackey starts an examination of the histories and backstories of characters established in previous books. In this case, the character is Skif, first introduced to us in the very first Valdemar novel, Arrows of the Queen. Introduced there as an ex-thief and now-Herald, Take a Thief takes us back in time to Skif's childhood, telling the story of how he became a thief and how he was Chosen in the first place.
The story has Skif established as a somewhat quick-witted child in a neglectful and abusive home, setting him up right away as a sympathetic character. Fortunately Lackey does not go over the top with this, as although Skif's situation is far from enviable, he is, at his core, a survivalist, and manages to get by quite well on his own. Mostly by posing as a page in a wealthy household, sneaking food from plates and taking naps in warm places during the times when he isn't put to work in his uncle's tavern. Sympathetic indeed, but you can't help but admire Skif's audacity and talent at what he does. And when push comes to shove and he begins to steal more than just food and warm sleeping places, occasionally being outright vindictive and cruel in his treatment of the higher classes, much of the sympathy slides away while still keeping the story entertaining. When he's stealing jewellery, there are no illusions that he's still just some starving child trying to make enough money to eat. He knows very well what he's doing, and sees it as getting his own back against the people who trample down the lower classes.
But unsurprisingly, Skif doesn't go from poor orphan child to hardened criminal, because he's still Chosen to be a Herald. This is one of the things I've always liked about Lackey's Valdemar novels. They're wonderfully bright in their ideals but not in their morality, with characters often walking the fine line that involves them doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Need a sneaky thief to break into the house of someone you need information from? No problem, if there's a Herald around who used to be a thief. Between this book and a couple of others, this kind of mentality is really brought to the forefront, showing that while Heralds are fundamentally good and moral people, that doesn't mean they don't engage in some dirty work for the sake of the greater good.
Knowing what we do about Skif later on, it's definitely interesting to see the side of him that was rarely discussed previously. He made no bones about being an ex-thief in previous novels, and even picked the occasional pocket as a prank, but to get a firsthand view of why he developped those skills in the first place, and the circumstances that still led to him being chosen, do wonders to flesh out and expand on an already-interesting character. The book reveals little, plot-wise, that wasn't already established previously, but as a character study was nevertheless fascinating, and well worth taking the time to read.
Ultimately, this is a book that's skippable. I can't deny that. It brings nothing to the Valdemar timeline, and serves more as filler material for the series than a neccesary piece of the puzzle. However, with Lackey's clear talent for characters, I'd still say that it's worth reading. The story moves at a quick and smooth pace, with Lackey's characteristic writing style that leaves me stuck in the pages on the book even when nothing much is actually happening. As supplementary material for fans of the series and for those who enjoy a good character study, I definitely recommend picking this one up and giving it a whirl....more
There are some ups and downs to this book. On the up-side, this book is a bunch of short stories and doesn't pretend to be anything but that, no half-There are some ups and downs to this book. On the up-side, this book is a bunch of short stories and doesn't pretend to be anything but that, no half-hearted attempts to string them all together into something resembling a coherent and continuing plot. It was nice to see a few interesting adventures that Tarma and Kethry have suffered through, particularly the one inspired by Murphy's Law.
Also, I finally got to read the story in which the two main characters met in the first place.
The down side is that about half the book consisted of stories that had been seen in other places, most notably the first book of the Vows and Honor trilogy. This would be fine if it was a standalone book unconnected to another series, but as it was, I'd already read some of what was being presented to me, with few to no changed in the presentation between the original short story and the time it made it to the first book of the trilogy. Rather disappointing, I think, to read what I'd already read, especially when I was expecting new things.
What was interesting, though, was to see the obvious progression of the author's writing talents. From the earlier stories to the later ones, it's easy to see Lackey's style become more solid, more confident as she grows into it. Her sense of humour is evident throughout, though; some things just never change.
Overall, I'm glad I can say that I've finally read this trilogy, which I think means I've read all the Valdemar novels except for one (and that one's in the mail as we speak). I'm equally glad, though, to say that I don't have to read it again; this was definitely my least favourite trilogy in the series. Decent, but not the best....more
**spoiler alert** Lackey continues her foray into character studies with one of the most interesting characters she ever wrote (at least in my opinion**spoiler alert** Lackey continues her foray into character studies with one of the most interesting characters she ever wrote (at least in my opinion): Alberich. He's seen in bits and pieces through other novels along the Valdemar timeline, the Collegium's Weaponsmaster and resident talks-like-Yoda guy, but before this exploration, little was known about him beyond the fact that he's a hard taskmaster and that he was originally from Karse, Valdemar's ancient enemy.
The story starts with Alberich still in Karse, prior to being Chosen, where he's in a good position in the army and struggling to hide Gifts which could get him killed if revealed. And naturally, he's discovered, and put to death by purifying fire. He is rescued, of course, by his Companion Kantor, and whisked across the border to Valdemar, where he is met with a less-than-friendly reception.
The first part of this book is largely a coming-of-age type of story, in which Alberich is not only trying to recover from the burns and injuries sustained at the hands of the people he once fought for, but also coming to grips with the fact that Valdemar and Heralds are not evil as he had been taught all his life. Trying to reconcile that the world is not as he thought, as well as discovering just who and what that makes him, takes up a great deal of the first half of the book. Those who enjoy a good bit of introspection and character development will love this, as it goes into great detail about a man we have only seen glimpses of previously.
The second half of the book has far more action in it. Karse has hired the Tedrel mercenaries, enough soldiers-for-hire to populate a nation, and has sent them after Valdemar. And Alberich is stuck in Haven, unable to fight on the front lines due to accusations of divided loyalty between his new life as a Herald and his old life in Karse. But when push comes to shove, he's sent into battle, along with every other available Herald (including the monarch and heir to the throne) to fight for their lives and freedom. Much of the instrospection is left behind in favour of the grim realities of war.
Though true to Lackey's typical style, things don't get too grim, and while there's a well-deserved sense of tension and urgency, it's still easy enough to step back and understand that what you're reading is almost an idealized version of war. People die, and messily, but it's still somewhat sanitized. The good guys will win because the good guys win. Definitely something to read if you want your spirits bolstered, but to be avoided if what you're looking for is a realistic portrayal of a battlefield.
Like Brightly Burning and Take a Thief, this character study novel is a fascinating one, very fun and swift to read, whether or not you're reading the action of fighting or the circular thoughts of a very confused man. And unlike both of those novels, this one plays a very central role in understanding vital pieces of Valdemaran history. What Brightly Burning did to reveal more details about passing mentions of events, Exile's Honor did better, and it shows in the way that this book grabs you and doesn't let you go. Of all the character study novels that Lackey has written in this world, I wholeheartedly recommend this (and it's sequel, Exile's Valor) to just about anyone. It stands on its own and also provides great detail into a fictional country I have come to know and love so much....more
Over all, this double-decker quality book-sandwich is worth reading, though it’s definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of book. There’s some very disturbing material contained within its pages, but then, that’s entirely the point. Fairy tales were cautionary tales wrapped in entertainment long before they were sanitized “happily ever after” tales that most of us have grown up with, and this brings them back to form with a host of talented women at the wheel. If horror is your thing, then definitely grab a copy of Grimm Mistresses while you can, and be prepared to feel some gut-shaking spine-tingling horror while you read....more
My main complaint is that I wish this story had been longer! But I won't hold the fact that it was a novella and not a novel against it. If you like dark fantasy and haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Frohock’s writing yet, then start with this. It gives you a taste of the magic she can work with words, and will leave you craving more. The Broken Road leaves my hands highly recommended, and more certain than ever that Teresa Frohock is an author worth keeping an eye on....more
I admit that I hadn't read much Pratchett before buying this book, but now that I've finished reading Nation, I want to see more of what this man hasI admit that I hadn't read much Pratchett before buying this book, but now that I've finished reading Nation, I want to see more of what this man has done and can do. (Shame for now I have other more pressing books to get to.)
Nation was an enjoyable read from start to finish. It's a book that presents thinking in an intelligent and wonderful way and messes with the perception of meaning, right, and wrong. It's a culture clash seen from both ends, and by the end you can't help but see both sides as right, wrong, and foolish at the same time. It challenges faith, ignorance, history, culture, and a whole host of other issues in such pleasant ways that you could have spent the last 50 pages being preached at and you'd have enjoyed every word of it!
Now that takes skill!
The final chapter (or epilogue, depending on how you really want to look at it) was quite powerful to me, as it expressed how an entire culture can not only be remade, but made in the first place, by chance encounters, and that the smallest things have the biggest consequences.
I think that if more young people read books like this, they'd enjoy reading more in general. Which is exactly what I'm going to tell my roommate when I pass it off to him to read. ...more