Flashback Fridays: To see a fine lady upon a white horse . . .

You’re a girl who’s been a misfit her whole life, raised in a strict community where only hard work and obedience are valued.  You love to read and dream of something more, even when it lands you in trouble.  On your thirteenth birthday it’s decided that it’s time for you to marry–something you have no desire to do.  So you run away and wind up finding a riderless white horse.  A remarkable horse with blue eyes . . .

Do you remember

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey (DAW, 1987)

If you look for this title today, you won’t typically find it in the children’s section as I did back in my youth.  It’s just on the cusp of being a young adult novel rather than a children’s book–and since everything else written by Mercedes Lackey is either adult or young adult, this gets shelved there too.  By the time I picked up this book I’d been reading Tamora Pierce already and knew women could be warriors and main characters in a fantasy novel.  But Arrows of the Queen gave me a heroine who wasn’t particularly strong, or athletic, or ready to be a sword-wielding warrior.  Instead it was about a girl who’d felt out of place her whole life.  Someone smart and practical and a little more ordinary in a lot of ways.  Someone a bit more like the “me” reading the book, a tween who was hungry to find magic in her world and value in her own style of personality.

In this story Talia is a Holderkin girl living in an oppressive society that allows very little hope, imagination, or freedom–especially for the women.  She resists the society she’s raised in, desperate to find something better in life than simply being married off to a man with several wives already.  She runs away from home in a last, desperate bid for something better–even though she knows it could mean her expulsion from her home.  But Talia is about to find out some dreams can come true.  She encounters a beautiful white horse decked out in bridle and saddle , but with no rider. In fact, it’s clear from the blue eyes that this isn’t just a horse, it’s one of the fabled Companions from the Capital–a creature that’s no mere horse, but a partner with Valdemar’s Heralds–mythical heroes with special abilities who she knows only from stories.  Talia decides to take the Companion back to the capital in hopes she can find some way to support herself once she gets there.  When Talia arrives at the palace with the Companion,  she discovers than rather her bringing a lost Companion back home, she has been brought to the palace by the Companion–chosen to be trained as a Herald.

Things aren’t suddenly magically wonderful–there are bullies to deal with, and super-spoiled princesses who need to be disciplined and plots against the Crown uncovered.  But it’s a new life for Talia that gives her the chance to be something remarkable, rather than a misfit.  In the end, it’s her own special gifts that will provide the key when no one else can.

Can I tell you how many times I’ve read this book? Probably not.  My copy wore out and broke, my second copy is seriously worn.  This was the story as a tween  that I needed so much to hear.  Because Talia seemed so much like my introvert self in so many ways–I could identify with her in so many ways, and put myself into the adventure.  Would I have liked this as much had I not read it as a tween?  Hmm  maybe not.  It’s the kind of story that isn’t as easy to buy as an adult.  There’s a heck of a lot of wish fulfillment and convenience in the Companion coming along at just the right time. Likewise, there isn’t a lot of ambivalence in the characters–those who are good are clearly good, even when they’re former street thieves.  Those who are bad are clearly bad even if we don’t know completely why they are bad yet, or why others trust them.

But this is the book that got me jumping into young adult and adult fantasy almost immediately.  Hungry for more to read and having exhausted the titles of Tamora Pierce and the younger teen Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, I was thrilled with a new author and a new world to explore.  Especially one with magical “horses” and psychic powers and political intrigue.  To this day, I’d have to say that Talia is one of the fantasy characters that lies closest to my own personality type–there are a few others, but introverted, bookish heroines with a strong reliance on their emotional intuition are few.  Much of the time they just don’t cater to action in a plot well enough to remain the focal protagonist and get relegated to a secondary role.

There are two more books in this particular Arrows of the Queen trilogy (although there are dozens of Valdemar titles) both of them are firmly young adult in a way that this first book is not.   This first book continues to be my favorite, though it’s worth following the entire trilogy story line if you find you enjoy the writing.

Mercedes Lackey is a prolific author with over 100 titles to her name.  While none of these books are truly middle grade stories, they’re a nice graduation point for readers looking for slightly more mature fare in epic fantasy, but who are most interested in character development and relationships rather than setting or plot construction.  While many of these stories cover epic events and huge battles, the focus always remains on the individual and the growth or change of that character through the story.

Any other fans of Mercedes Lackey?  Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 12, 2014, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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