High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
by: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Collegium Chronicles
In Mercedes Lackey’s latest release from DAW, we return to the land of Valdemar that made Lackey famous. In Mags’ fifth adventure, we finally get some answers to the questions that have been haunting him since book one. However, this ultimately is just a little too light, fluffy, and convenient for my taste.
Mags returns to the Collegium, but there are mixed feelings--his included--about him actually remaining there. No one doubts that he is and should be a Herald, but he is afraid that his mere presence is going to incite more danger right in the heart of Valdemar. The heads of the Collegia are afraid that coming back to his known haunt is going to give him less protection than if he went into hiding. Everyone decides that going elsewhere is the solution for now. So since he is going elsewhere--why not return to the place he was found in the first place and look for clues? And those who are closest to him, and might provide secondary targets, are going along. With Herald Jadrek, Herald Kylan (the Weaponsmaster's chosen successor), and his friends Bear, Lena, and Amily, they head for the Bastion, the hidden spot in the hills that had once been the headquarters of a powerful band of raiders that had held him and his parents prisoner. But what they find is not what anyone expected.
Unlike the rest of the Valdemar books, Bastion and the rest of the Collegium Chronicles are not a duology or a trilogy. Bastion is book five in the cycle, and does not appear to be the last. In addition to being the fifth book in a series, Lackey has thirty other Valdemar books; if you haven’t read any of the Valdemar Saga before, do not start with this one. (I do highly recommend that you at least read The Last Herald Mage Trilogy.) I will also say that Bastion, and the Collegium Chronicles in general, are not representative of the body of Lackey’s work.
The Collegium Chronicles overall have been a bit of a letdown for me. Lackey has a number of fantastic books in print, and some of her best are set in Valdemar. Over the past few years, however, her publication pace has dramatically increased and the quality of her writing has suffered. However, I will say that Bastion is a marked improvement over Redoubt.
All of the Collegium Chronicles follow Mags, an abused and neglected boy who is chosen by the Companion Dallen to be a Herald. (If this requires further explanation for you, pick up The Last Herald Mage Trilogy.) During his time at the newly founded Herald’s Collegium, Mags accidentally discovers he has ties to a mysterious group of assassins and spies. In Bastion, we finally get answers to all of our questions about this group of people who have been causing Mags and the Kingdom in general no end of grief. That being said, there is a lot of this book that does not advance the overall plot. We see Mags getting some training, we actually get to see a regular Herald on circuit (a first, I think), but these things don’t get Mags closer to solving the riddle of the Sleepgivers. The final half of the book finally addresses these things, but by this point there’s only time for convenience rather than a drawn out conflict with a hard earned victory at the end. Not that Mags and company don’t have to work for their happy ending, they just have a touch of deus ex machina to draw on. As a reader, I don’t find convenience as satisfying as a struggle.
There is also very little character development in this book. Mags doesn’t really grow or change, Bear and Lena might as well not be there, and Amily only shows the changes that have happened over previous books. The only character in whom we see some change is Jakyr; as he’s not a character who had a lot of characterization done previously, any characterization at all was an improvement. That’s not to say that Lackey is a bad writer. Her signature descriptions, worldview, and dialogue that pop the page are all present here. But I think she’s spent almost too much time having fun in this book to really make a comprehensive and effective story.
In the end, I’d recommend Bastion only for people who already love Valdemar and Lackey’s work in general. It’s a fun, entertaining read that weighs in on the light side in more ways than one.