Welcome, gentle reader, to the world of Valdemar. Home of Heralds, Horses, Hertasi, Hawkbrothers and other things that do actually start with letters other then H. It’s time to take a look at the first in a new series of books by Mercedes Lackey – The Hills Have Spies, book one of the Family Spies series.
This novel continues the story of Mags and Amily from the Collegium Chronicles, but this time the focus has shifted to be more about their kids, which is frankly a good thing. No offence to Mercedes, but Mags simply wasn’t a very interesting character and his Companion Dallen – was just kind of there? He lacked any of the personality of Companions from previous novels like Yfandes or Sayvil.
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Mags is the “Herald Spy” of Valdemar while his wife Amily is the “King’s Own”, a sort of companion/counselor for the monarch. This story focuses on the eldest of their three children, Peregrine (Perry) who has the gift of Animal Mindspeech, he can literally talk telepathically with animals. Insert Doctor Doolittle reference here. Rumours reach the capital of travellers going missing out near the borders of Valdemar and Mags decides to not only go to investigate, but to take Perry along with him to continue his training and give him what they think will be a fairly easy introduction to being outside of the relative safety of the capital city.
Of course, if everything went according to plan this would likely be a terribly boring story so, perhaps predictably, everything goes sideways and it falls to Mags, Perry and some not-entirely-human allies to take care of this new threat before it grows too powerful to be stopped.
It’s always a pleasure to dip back into the world of Valdemar, and it’s even more of a pleasure to be able to say that this first book is a vast improvement over the Collegium Chronicles. Perry is the one who drives the story forward, and he is a well-written, rounded character. By turns competent and headstrong, foolhardy and determined, he walks that fine line of being not quite a child but not quite an adult very well.
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Mags is tolerable in this story in part because he isn’t directly involved in the latter half of the book, relegated instead to the role of the wise mentor supplying advice and this seems to suit him. The next book in the series is Eye Spy and yes, the puns are strong with this one. This next novel will feature the next of their children, Abidela, and her own rather interesting gift.
All in all, The Hills Have Spies is very much classic Lackey, and that’s meant in a good way. The characters are interesting and vibrant, the lore is rich, even the side characters are interesting and our villain feels like a genuine threat. Is it a good jumping off point for those new to Valdemar and these characters in particular? That’s a bit of a harder sell. While time is taken to introduce who everyone is, those who haven’t met these characters before will likely feel that there’s a lot of story they’re missing out on. Definitely best read by those who have read the previous series. A solid start from Mercedes Lackey; hopefully the next book keeps that trend going.
Eye Spy, the second book in the Family Spies series, is out now from Titan Books.