It still surprises me that I’ve never written up a review for Arrow’s Fall (Fantasy 319 pages) by Mercedes Lackey, as this is the third book in the Queen’s Own trilogy, a series I read a minimum of every year or two.
“With Elspeth, the heir to the throne of Valdemar, come of marriageable age, Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald returns to court to find Queen and heir beset by diplomatic intrigue as various forces vie for control of Elspeth’s future. But just as Talia is about to uncover the traitor behind all these intrigues, she is sent off on a mission to the neighboring kingdom, chosen by the Queen to investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from Prince Ancar. And, to her horror, Talia soon discovers there is far more going on at Prince Ancar’s court than just preparation for a hoped-for royal wedding. For a different magic than that of the Heralds is loose in Ancar’s realm – an evil and ancient sorcery that may destroy all of Valdemar unless Talia can send warning to her Queen in time!”
I actually finished reading this book several days ago but some personal issues came up and I didn’t feel quite right about typing up a review when my emotional state was likely to impact my review. Oddly, the personal issues are strongly related to the book and my reading of it, so I’m going to include some of those thoughts here.
I bought The Complete Arrows Trilogy and sent it out to one of my friends and fellow writers as the only Christmas present I purchased and sent to someone this year. This series has had a positive and lasting impact on my life for well over a decade, if not closer to two decades. It’s my go-to series when I need to read a story with clear-cut lines of good and evil, where the characters demonstrate that hard work and perseverance are rewarded with success, and where doing what’s morally and ethically correct is also doing what’s legally encouraged. It’s a series I read when I feel as though the evils of the world in which I live are outweighing the good I know people are capable of because in this trilogy, doing the right thing is always the right answer.
So because this trilogy means so much to me, I sent it as the only Christmas present I purchased for anyone this year and we read all three books at the same time, often discussing the novels with each other when we finished them. This was the first time reading this series for the recipient of this trilogy but I don’t even know how many times I’ve read this story by now. When I noticed that a review for GoodReads had been posted, I clicked on the link and scrolled through some of the reviews. There was one in particular that made me stop. Someone in their comments had said that they didn’t think anyone under the age of 15 should ever read this series because it promotes homosexuality and pre-marital sex.
That one comment bothered me a lot more than I think it should have and I’m going to try and articulate my reaction as clearly as possible. I think this series is a great representation of diversity and healthy relationships. In Arrows of the Queen, Talia and Skif attempt to have an intimate, physical relationship, but their schedules and training are subjected to a great deal of bad timing and they eventually swear blood-brotherhood instead, which is a closer relationship in my mind. Talia also learns about how to be responsible with her “moon days” by using a powder to manage her ability to become pregnant as well as the schedule of her “moon days” which means that Talia doesn’t blindly engage in physical, intimate relationships on a whim. She understands the consequences of her actions and makes responsible decisions about her own body. In Arrow’s Flight, Talia learns about sex from Kris, a man with whom she respects and trusts. Kris is respectful of Talia’s pleasure and treats her as an equal partner instead of just doing what would make him happy or give him pleasure. He listens to her and respects her judgment and never forces himself on her, all of which are signs of an extremely healthy and well-balanced relationship. While everyone at the Collegium wants to know all the juicy details about Kris and Talia’s relationship status, neither of them provide any details, nor do they continue their relationship once they return to populated areas. All of this clearly demonstrates Talia is the one in charge of her own body and that she makes responsible decisions concerning her own body. If anything, I think that’s a strong case for ensuring that this trilogy is fully available to anyone of any age who wants to read it because of the themes of women being able to make their own decisions about their own bodies at any age and providing them with the healthy resources for those decisions.
As for this series promoting homosexuality, there are definitely same-sex pairings in this trilogy and I am firmly of the opinion that those relationships are realistic and loving. Keren and Sherill are a life-bonded pair and even when Keren talks about her relationship with Ylsa, she describes in detail how they discussed their relationship, waited until they had both finished their training, and worked to make sure it was something that they both felt and both wanted. There were no rash decisions and all three women conducted themselves as responsible adults, in charge of their own lives and bodies. Keren and Sherill also don’t flaunt their relationship, they are fully respectful of relationships different than their own, and all of their interactions are natural and unforced. Keren and Sherill are also Talia’s true friends and that’s one of the most important aspects of the relationships of all types portrayed in this series. Talia does have a life-bond, but that life-bond doesn’t mean she doesn’t have hobbies and friends outside her life-bond and eventual husband. Talia has real friends who want nothing sexual to do with her, but who are also of different genders, or even those who are attracted to her gender and not physically attracted to her. She has true friends who are supportive of her and her decisions and help her make reasonable choices about her life. She has an entire social network of people who love her and support her just as she is, without wanting anything more from her than friendship.
The one section that I always mark in this book, no matter how many times I read it, is on page 210 where Elspeth is asking Dirk what evil is and this is his response: “It seems to me that evil is a kind of ultimate greed, a greed that is so all-encompassing that it can’t ever see anything lovely, rare, or precious without wanting to possess it. A greed so total that if it can’t possess these things, it will destroy them rather than chance that someone else might have them. And a greed so intense that even having these things never causes it to lessen one iota – the lovely, the rare and the precious never affect it except to make it want them.” This passage has stuck with me as one of the best definitions of evil I’ve seen, either in the real world or in any fictional setting. That’s what makes speculative fiction so important to the real world and society in general – the ability to use interesting stories and imaginative world-building to present readers with a mirror to their souls.
What do I mean by that? One has only to look at the world around us to see that something isn’t right. Greed seems to have taken a strong foothold in the lives of good people and that same greed is being used to strip the good from people. Rights are being removed from marginalized populations and those in power are stealing money, goods, and services from a population without those resources to spare. I am of the opinion that it’s going to take a lot of people believing in good and conducting good lives to start pushing out the evil and greed which has invaded every part of our world.
And that’s why I enjoy this series so much. While evil does gain a lot in this book, in the end, goodness, love, and duty triumph over greed, ambition, and those who derive pleasure from the pain of others.
Overall, Arrow’s Fall is my favorite book in this trilogy. There are true life-or-death stakes with the entire kingdom at risk from an unsuspected enemy. The characters have true character arcs with realistic reactions to horrible situations. This book is easily a five on my rating scale. I own several copies of this book (one set is my travel set I take with me for my extended research trips and one is a nice hardback that lives in my home library) and am absolutely glad that I own it. I reread the entire series probably every year or two and will likely continue this trend of rereading for some time to come.
Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Arrow’s Fall. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1988.