Mercedes Lackey – Intrigues

You would think that everything would have settled down for Mags at the Collegium. After all, he had been there for half a year, and by now things should have sorted out into a routine.

But nothing is ever simple where the Collegia are concerned. Bear’s parents want him to “stop wasting the Healers’ Collegium’s time” and demand he return home. Lena’s father Bard Marchand, turns up, and sends her into a tailspin. The Foreseers have had a vision of the King covered in blood, and all the signs point to Mags being involved! He finally uncovers some scant information about his parents, and they are not what he thought they were. And old enemies have not given up….
(description taken from the author’s website)

Intrigues is book two of the Collegium Chronicles, in which we return to Mags, Lena and Bear. Where the prior book in this sequence, Foundation, was a classic coming-of-age story, this book continues Mags’ story of growing up, but mixes it up with a little mystery. This mystery, a vision – shared by priests of several different temples and some Foresighted Heralds implicating Mags in an attempt on the King’s life – is at the heart of the novel; much of the action deals with what the vision means and how Mags is involved. It’s also the catalyst for the increasing isolation Mags finds himself in, another large theme in the book. Lackey shows that isolation is a two-way street; it’s not just outsiders, other Heralds and at one point even his friends who shun Mags, but it is also Mags retreating into a safe shell containing just him and Dallen, avoiding contact with anyone else outside of classes and other required interactions.

Intrigues also clearly shows the downside of Gifts – they’re not always very clear or reliable – and, in addition, that having a Gift doesn’t mean you can’t be an idiot. One of the central tenets of the Heraldic Circle is that Companions are innately trustworthy and that by and large their judgement can always be trusted. This gets swept aside with talk of black Heralds and Companions and the old saw of Gala’s repudiating her Herald after he does something unspeakable as proof that Heralds can go rogue. You’d think that with such Mind Gifts as Mindspeaking and Empathy and the Truth Spell, it would easier to just check Mags over and clear him of any ill intent. Unfortunately, stubbornness and the ethics of using their Gifts keeps the Heralds from doing so, landing Mags deeper and deeper in the pit of isolation he’s found himself in. It leads him to take desperate steps, even going as far as to mirror Gala and giving up on his bond with Dallen, convinced that the Companion can just choose someone more worthy of the honour.

The one thing that keeps Mags from being totally isolated for a while is his Kirball team. Kirball is a new game the teachers have invented to give the Trainees more realistic battle practice and lessons in strategy, so they won’t have to send them out into hazardous situations without any experience. It’s a combination of polo and capture the flag and it’s really cool. the Kirball team provides a safe unit for Mags when the rumours first start and it’s nice to see his team mates sticking up for him and not letting him hide himself away in his room. The one problem I had with the Kirball plot line was that it reminded me fiercely of the Hurlee game from Exile’s Valor, which was a sort of Companion-backed (ice) hockey. Their functions are largely similar –  giving the youngsters some battle training in a less dangerous environment than the battlefield – and their plot functions are wildly different, but still it niggled me.

One of my favourite elements from Foundation, the glimpses of Trainee life at the other Collegia, are again in clear evidence in Intrigues. I really enjoyed these and maybe we’ll see even more of these in the future. I also liked that both Lena’s and Bear’s stories feature problems with their families, as we usually haven’t seen these before in these coming-of-age tales as, apart from Vanyel (Last Herald Mage Trilogy) and Lavan Firestorm (Brightly Burning), they mostly feature orphans. Or, in the case of Elspeth (The Mage Winds Trilogy) and Blade and Tad (The Silver Gryphon), they feature royal (or near enough) offspring struggling to step out of their parents’ shadow and choosing their own path. So it’s nice to see such an integral part of growing up – standing on your own two feet and making your own choices, despite what your family thinks – as part of the narrative. More proof that they’re growing up is the fact that they start pairing off; not wanting to give anything away, I’ll leave you to find out the parings yourself, but for… yay Amily!

I loved that elements of Foundation returned to feature again in Intrigues, such as the mysterious foreigners and the mystery of Mags’ parentage. I also enjoyed the fact that Mags’ Gift becomes more important and it’s not about his ignorance as much any more. I think if it his ignorance would have been as important as it was in the first book, it would have become wearing, especially as Mags’ learning ability and adaptability keep getting praise from the adults so often. In all, Intrigues was a good second outing in the Collegium Chronicles, which I very much enjoyed. This series is very suitable to new readers of Valdemar novels, as it doesn’t require loads of background knowledge, but at the same time there are some easter eggs hidden in the story for hardcore fans – the physical description of the King, for example – which is fun when you discover them. I can’t wait to get my hands on Changes, once the paperback version of that hits the shelves later this year!