Storm Rising (Mage Storms #2)
by Mercedes Lackey
First published in 1995 by DAW
In the second installment of Mercedes Lackey’s Mage Storms trilogy, Karal discovers that being a full Sun-priest and ambassador isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With his youth and apparent inexperience working against him, the majority of the Council doesn’t take him seriously. And without his mentor by his side, Karal feels even more alone in this strange land.
Meanwhile, An’desha has learned to accept his own strangeness, and that his past experience in having being possessed by an evil spirit doesn’t have to define his future. He is coming into his own as a human being and learning that his own culture– which once frightened him– could be the most comforting thing of all.
An’desha’s lover, Firesong, on the other hand, is not dealing well with An’desha’s new independence. As they grow farther apart, Firesong becomes more obsessed with finding a lifemate so he will never be alone again. But this obsession leads him into dark places.
There is very little action on the surface of Storm Rising. We move from council meetings to conversations in private rooms to meetings with the mages and engineers who are trying to find a solution for the continuing magic storms. It’s a lot of talking, a lot of walking, and not a whole lot seems to be happening. On the surface, at least. Storm Rising deals more with internal journeys than external action. How do we deal with duties that seem greater than we can bear? How do we learn to accept help without feeling like it makes us weak? How do we solve a problem when the majority believes it’s not a problem at all?
In Storm Rising, we have a lot of character growth. Karal is dealing with a new position and the stress of it nearly breaks him. His near collapse may seem like it comes from out of the blue, but it’s something that has been building for quite some time. He may seem like he’s got everything under control, but underneath he’s barely holding it together and has been like that almost since he arrived in Valdemar. Back then, he had his mentor, Ulrich, to help him but now that Ulrich is gone, even his friendship with An’desha and his nascent romance with Natoli isn’t enough to keep him from cracking. But Karal does finally show that he is both strong and sensible enough to accept help when it is offered.
It’s a good thing he does accept help, because his actions are critical to solving the problems affecting all the lands of the Alliance. Notice I said ‘actions’, because Karal doesn’t have all the answers. He can’t intuit a magical solution any more than he build a machine to stop the storms, but he understands people and he knows that he has to put aside his own petty desires if he wants to help everyone else. I find it telling that nearly everyone around Karal finds it difficult to believe that he, a priest, doesn’t want vengeance or any kind of retribution when it comes to the Alliance’s enemies. Karal’s selflessness is almost foreign to them, in spite of his religious garb and title.
Despite the realistic character work, though, Storm Warning can lag a bit here and there, thanks to all the council meetings where little seems to get done. I understand the process. The people of Valdemar, peasant and noble alike, think that because the breakwaters are in place, that the threat of the mage storms is over and they can go back to their normal lives. Getting people to act on a problem that they don’t believe in is like trying to push a truck up a hill by yourself. Fortunately, Karal and An’desha have become such engaging characters that I could read scene after scene of them taking walks around the fields and be perfectly content.
If there were two things I could change about Storm Warning, it would be Firesong and Natoli. I have never found Firesong to be a particularly engaging character and his scenes are my least favorite of the book. And I would like to see more of Natoli. Though she is a side character, she is one of my favorite of Lackey’s female characters. She is smart and thoroughly rational, and understands that because of his position, she doesn’t always get to have as much time with Karal as she would like. Instead of sulking about this, she makes the most of the time she does have with him. And later in the story, when Karal and the others need to leave the city of Haven to try to stop the mage storms, Natoli can’t go with them. While Karal frets about leaving her just then, Natoli sits him down and says that just as he doesn’t expect her to ignore her responsibilities for his sake, so she doesn’t expect him to ignore his duties for her sake. And she means this. She’s not just saying it to look like a strong young woman. She says it because she is a strong young woman.
Can we have more characters like Natoli, please?
So while Storm Rising is not an action-packed tale of magical adventures, I still find it an engaging and enjoyable book. The characters alone make it a worthwhile story, and I look forward to the third and final installment, Storm Breaking.