Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey
Winds of Fate (1991) is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s MAGE WINDS trilogy which is, in terms of internal chronology, an early trilogy in her VALDEMAR series. The VALDEMAR universe currently contains dozens of novels and short stories. So far I have read only six of them, but I own several more which I’m planning to review for our readers here at FanLit.
The VALDEMAR books are best suited for readers who enjoy classic high fantasy. They’re filled with mages, orphans, princesses, magic swords, animal familiars, and flashy magic spells. In my middle-age, and with decades of fantasy reading behind me, I’m a little tired of these elements, so please keep that in mind when reading my reviews. It’s pretty hard for stories like these to surprise me with something new, but when I find one that’s beautifully written or contains characters that I fall in love with, I will certainly enjoy the book.
As you’ve probably already guessed by my rating, Winds of Fate didn’t impress me too much, but it is an average fantasy read that will probably appeal to readers who either haven’t read a lot of speculative fiction, who are less demanding than I am, or who perhaps can identify with its characters.
There are two main storylines in Winds of Fate. One follows Elspeth, a plucky princess of Valdemar who is also a Herald. Concerned that magic has been lost in Valdemar, while the country’s enemies do have magic capabilities, Elspeth goes on a quest to find a mage who can either come help her country, or teach her how to be a mage. As a protector, she takes along a Herald named Skif who happens to be in love with Elspeth. She also takes possession of a magic sword that has an interesting history and a mind (and even a quest) of its own.
The second storyline follows a Tayledras named Darkwind whose clan has been suffering since the breaking of their hearthstone and the accidental exile of half the clan to an unknown location. Darkwind, who used to be somewhat of a mage, feels responsible for this tragedy and has given up his magic. An additional heartbreak for Darkwind is that his father, one of the clan’s elders, has become greedy for power and their relationship has been severely damaged. Darkwind’s best friends now are a pair of griffins. Meanwhile, an evil wizard who lives somewhere near the Tayledras lands hopes to use any means possible to gain more power and is trying to infiltrate the Tayledras clan.
It will come as no surprise that eventually these storylines converge as Elspeth escapes the confines of her family’s castle, travels around for a while, and finally ends up with Darkwind’s clan. Presumably the next book, Winds of Change, will show Elspeth being taught to be a mage and I feel certain, due to some pretty obvious foreshadowing, that there will be at least one new romance introduced.
Fans of VALDEMAR will be happy to learn more about the Heralds and Companions, the Tayledras and their related clans, as well as how magic works in Lackey’s world. I suspect that many will agree with me that Skif’s tragic little crush on Elspeth, and the protective way he starts treating her, will not ring quite true. I felt like Skif’s and Elspeth’s (and perhaps other characters’) personalities and motives shifted throughout the story just to generate some tension and give Elspeth an excuse to lecture about feminism.
Other criticisms are that the sadistic villain is hilariously clichéd and that, as often happens in epic fantasy, it’s too easy for people to be healed with magic. One last thing is that there was, what seems to me, an easy and safe way to dispatch the evil villain, but they rigged up a dangerous complicated plot instead. (If you’ve read the book and you’re interested in reading my simple solution, highlight the following text: The evil mage was hunting for the magic sword. The magic sword contains the consciousness of a woman who hates men and wants to protect women by killing evil men. So, how about leaving the sword somewhere where the mage or his minions will find it and then the sword, which has the ability to take over the body of its wielder, could kill the mage without any of the good guys having to come near him.)
I listened to the audio book version of Winds of Fate which was published by Audible Studios and is 18.5 hours long. Karen White has a pretty voice, but I have a feeling that fans of the VALDEMAR books will not be happy with some of the decisions she made for voicing each character. She used different reginal accents from our world to distinguish them (I really dislike this technique) with seemingly little regard for their age or personalities. I thought her voice for Skif was particularly off. Because of her performance, I had imagined him as kind of a skinny little street urchin, but later found out that he is older and fairly large and muscular. There were other characters who I had misjudged based on White’s voices, but later realized it when Lackey’s narrative made the character more clear. Also, White’s pace was too slow and I had to speed it up significantly.
I first read the Valdemar series(es) when I was in middle school and high school. That is, I feel, the best age at which to read the series; the sword & sorcery setting is still new, and tropes that Lackey likes deconstructing (Glorious Destinies, Glorious Wars, True Love, etc) haven’t yet been disabused.
(I will say, though, that I don’t feel that your proposed solution would have worked. The ability that you are counting on isn’t automatically successful – it would become a contest of wills between the two of them, and one that I don’t think the heroes would win. That’s before you take into account any mental shields Falconsbane has to defend himself, and the fact that his gender may prevent the ability from working at all.)
Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! I agree that readers of middle or high school age would appreciate the Valdemar books more than I do, but this particular trilogy has quite a bit of sex and an evil sadistic sexual predator, too, so I can’t recommend it for that age. There’s this tension between it FEELING like YA but not being TARGETED at a YA audience that doesn’t serve it well.
I’m not convinced that my idea about the sword wouldn’t work. Maybe you’re right, but I think the heroes should have at least considered using the sword against Falconsbane. It seemed like an obvious thing to at least consider.
Which is your favorite Valdemar trilogy?
You have a point about the sexual content – the Mage Winds trilogy is probably the most sexually explicit Valdemar series among the ones I read. I will admit that that was one of its appeals when I was a teenager. :D
My favorite Valdemar books are probably the Mage Storms trilogy (which directly follows Mage Winds), and Brightly Burning, a standalone set several decades (or possibly more?) in the past. In the case of Mage Storms that’s probably at least in part because of the prominent role that engineers and engineering plays in solving the problems, but it also probably helps that those were the first ones I read.
I agree, these are not great books for adults or teens.