For whatever reason, this year I wanted to do some re-reads of books I had enjoyed from high school. Maybe it’s because it’s a new decade and high school was *gasp* 15 years ago, but I was really feeling the desire to pick these two up.
They both shaped my reading tastes and writing style in different ways, and while I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I did when I was a teen, the magic was still there.
By The Sword by Mercedes Lackey
Kerowyn is the great-granddaughter of the famed sorceress Kethry, although she knows little of her own heritage. When her father is murdered and her brother grievously injured at his wedding party, there is no one left to save the bride except for Kero. Her heroic actions set her on a journey to become a mercenary, and her life will never be the same again.
This was one of my absolute favorite books when I was in high school. I devoured every single book I could read about badass women wielding swords and being fighters that I could, and let’s just say that in the early 2000s, there were not a whole lot of books out there. Katniss Everdeen hadn’t launched the YA strong female character, and Mercedes Lackey was, for me and many other teenage girls, a gateway into adult fantasy.
About five or six years ago, I had intended on picking this up again to see if I still liked it, and I ended up putting it down because it was a little bit too preachy on well…just about everything.
But this year I had been getting strong urges to read the books that had defined me as a teenager, that had kept me warm and whole and going on when everything was falling apart, and so I picked it up again.
It was still a little on the preachy side, but overall enjoyable.
My favorite parts were the training sequences, mainly because Tarma, Kethry and Warrl (okay, mostly Warrl) are my favorite characters in the Valdemar world (the Heralds are all a little much), and Warrl got to shine so much in this book with his sarcastic wit.
When Kerowyn goes off into the world, the narrative became a little choppy and bounced around, as if several novellas were tacked together to create this book (they probably were). And only a couple mentions were left of Tarma and Kethry as Kerowyn got older—she name-drops the Shin’a’in a whole hell of a lot (and girl gets a whole boost up with her nomadic cousins, who literally pull her ass up out of bankruptcy and make her famous) and she also mentions her brother and his family a bunch too when she goes back to visit—which made me super nervous because I wanted closure. I wanted to know if Tarma and Kethry and Warrl finally got their rest, or if they were still happily toddling about the Tower in their old age.
Anywho, because of the narrative choppiness—which goes from super detailed during Kero’s training to jumping forward 5-6 years into her experience as a scout behind enemy lines to another 10 or so years as a very well established mercenary captain—a lot of my emotional connection was lost in the ultimate climax. The climax where before as a teen I was always choking up in tears because her people had me like, oh damn that could have been done a bit better.
And I wanted more nuance than what I got with the Shin’a’in and talks of barbarianism, savagery and other coded terms.
So as a jaded, cynical adult, much of this magic was lost on me, although I still enjoyed the book for what it was, and for what it was for me as a teenager. It was enjoyable, solid and fun, even if it had a few too many miracle coincidences for Kerowyn.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Sunshine is just a baker who makes the best cinnamon rolls in New Arcadia. So when she goes out to the lake and is snatched up by vampires, she doesn’t expect to survive, much less tap into her hidden magical talents and escape. As she tries to recover, she finds the darkness pulling towards her.
Her light self, her deer self, her trees self. Can they outnumber her dark self?
This was a book that I had called my all time favorite for years when I was a teen. I loved it. This was my vampire book, and I loved the unsteady relationship Sunshine and Constantine developed over their time together. The instinctive mistrust and fear working towards understanding and the magic and the baked goods. And Jesse the SOF badass, who I inexplicably had a hardon for. Plus, I loved the lush writing style.
Fast forward probably 15 years or so (I’m pretty certain that I have not read this since high school, although maybe I did a reread in college, which was still some time ago).
The same magic I remembered from my teens was there, but holy exposition this thing needed some heavy editing, particularly towards the end.
The writing is um, lush, yes, but the exposition is a little all over the place and the storyline bounces constantly into flashbacks and segues—even the segues have flashbacks. This is not unlike McKinley, who spends have of The Hero and the Crown in a flashback, but it definitely made the storyline frustrating to follow because just as I got invested—flashback or segue into something I didn’t particularly care for, like the cobblestones of Old Town.
The constant segues wouldn’t have been as annoying had the information not been repeated several times over, like I was reading that information anew each time. And sometimes the information provided in this world that was kiiiiiiinda like ours if it was dark and you were squinting and the colors were all wonky and oh yeah there was magic and vampires and whatnot, although the world-building was weirder and weirder.
Also: vampire dick.
There is a lot of vampire dick in this book.
Which…adult me somehow forgot all about? And I guess teenage me overlooked? How?
Anywho, I enjoyed it this go around, even if it felt like it took forever. This is a book where the journey is what matters, not necessarily the storyline or the dialogue or whatever else.
Sunshine dives into her past and remembers events from her childhood that she had forgotten or thought were fantasies, and starts to bring her past self into her future self—and discovers something anew within her as an adult. She has no fucking clue what she’s doing, because she wasn’t prepared in the new world she finds herself in, and the reader muddles along just as she does.
It’s circular storytelling, it’s kind of a train wreck, but it’s still my most favorite vampire story.
Also, That Distant Dream is written in a very similar style to this—as in, mostly in the MC’s head as she figures herself out—so there is that (although there are no vampires). And now no one will ever want to read anything I write.