Redoubt (The Collegium Chronicles #4)
by Mercedes Lackey
First published in 2012
So. Four books into a series. Far more books into this world. A few dozen published books under her belt. You would think that Lackey would have this whole plot thing figured out but. . . Maybe not? Maybe she was just phoning this one in because she had something like four books come out in 2012 and that’s a lot of typing to get done in one year. I don’t know. But of all the Collegium Chronicles, with all their flaws, Redoubt frustrated me the most.
Let’s get into it.
Okay. So the book opens with a great big royal wedding. The Valdemaran prince is marrying one of his subjects (instead of a princess from a neighboring kingdom to help seal an alliance or something, the way royals normally would do in an era like this, but never mind all that.). There’s a grand ceremony, feasts, parties, and somehow the Valdemaran crown thought it would be a grand idea so drop a crazy amount of money to buy everyone in the Bardic, Healing, and Heraldic collegia brand new velvet uniforms to wear for a night or two. Because he Valdemaran treasury is apparently infinite. In addition to the grand spectacle of a royal wedding, there’s a Kirball exhibition game. So we get to read about Kirball for awhile, and then we get to read about Mags talking about Kirball for a while, and then everyone celebrates for a few days and everything is grand.
Enter Bear and Lena, who, after the passage of three whole books, still have not fully addressed their familial situations and so they’re still having trouble with all that until Mags comes up with a helpful solution with Bear and Lena take advantage of. This causes Bear’s overbearing (ha) father to show up in a rage and nearly get himself arrested for treason, and then Bear makes a Declaration and the guards send his father packing.
Problem solved. In a flash. After three and a half books of angst over it.
So that’s about the first half of the book.
Then it’s back to Mags being a sneaky sort, spending his nights undercover in the poor sections of Haven tracking down criminals and listening for rumors of plots. But Lo! Someone is watching him! Is it a ghost? We don’t know, unfortunately, because there are no Mediums about.
What’s a Medium, you ask? Good question! A Medium is someone with the Gift of talking to ghosts, and there isn’t currently a Medium in Valdemar, and there hasn’t been one for quite some time, and now I want to read about a Heraldic Medium who teams up with Haven’s CSI unit (as seen in an earlier book) and goes around solving crimes. It want it to be crime noir, because why not? One of the investigators can have sunglasses that he pulls off in a dramatic fashion.
But anyway. No one can figure out who or what is watching Mags, so Mags just has to sort of deal with it, and wow doesn’t that suck?
Then we suddenly enter a drugged-out collection of nightmares, wherein Mags relives various awful periods of his life, but smushed together with people and events of his new life in Haven, and eventually Mags starts to wake up and realizes he’s been kidnapped and drugged, and that he can’t Mindspeak his Companion Dallen anymore. And he has no clue where he is or who has him or what they want with him. Nor does he figure that out until a long time later, because he doesn’t speak his captors’ language.
Problems compound for poor Mags, who finds himself being hauled off to Karse, the land of Valdemar’s bitterest enemies.
Fortunately, a storm provides Mags a chance at escape. He finds himself alone, with no resources and his telepathy gone while he has to avoid both of Karsite patrols (who will kill him on the spot if they find him) and his captors, whose motives are still unknown.
Alas that the survival plot makes up only the second half of the book. It is by far the most interesting part of the book, and Lackey makes you wade through parties, the nobility’s gossiping, Bear’s family troubles, and endless Kirball before you get to something that actually advances the plot of the entire series– and even then, that plot advancement is treated lightly, and toward the very end of the book, as though Lackey thought this was an afterthought.
I wonder about the quality of the other books Lackey published in 2012. Did she phone those in, too, or did she put more effort into them? I’m not opposed to finding out what happens next (especially since I go through these books so quickly), but there are a lot of pages devoted to things that don’t seem to matter– at all– to the actual story. Do we need these many, many Kirball scenes throughout? No. Did Bear and Lena need to have three and a half books’ worth of family drama, only to have it solved (and not by them), basically overnight. It’s frustrating. Lackey has written trilogies before and had drama and sidebars throughout, but overall those things had an affect on the overarching plot. I can’t imagine how Kirball is supposed to affect the overall events of the story.
Will I continue reading these books? Yes. Yes, I will. Because 1) they’re quick reads, 2) I still like the characters, and 3) I want to see what Mags finds out about his mysterious background.
But was I frustrated by Redoubt? Yes, I absolutely was. It felt, overall, like a half-hearted attempt at another installment of a series that Lackey didn’t plan out from the beginning. The first half felt like filler, while the second half was the interesting part, but with a rushed ending.
Will the last book in this series prove a worthy ending, or will it be another phoned-in performance from Lackey? I don’t know, but we’ll find out next month.