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zhai'helleva bitches

May 2008

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Ryan-thinking Deep Thoughts

joyfulseeker in companionz

Arrows of the Queen Discussion: Chapters 1 through 6

For our inaugural post, to get us in the spirit of the thing I bring you this poster:

From here
Too true



I have to say, cracking open the spine on this book was a trip. Sort of like going back to an old school after you've grown up--everything was familiar, but weird. Our story opens with Talia, the young Holderkin girl, reading innocently under a tree. The narrative takes pains to point out how unusual she is because she reads, we start learning about her world through her fantasy about helping Herald Vanyel, and within fifteen pages I'm left thinking that no wonder I loved these books so deeply when I was a kid, because there's no way I could not. Talia was a stand-in for every bookish girl who wanted to read instead of go outside, who dreamed about doing something exciting but still had to clean her room instead of going adventuring. Check this out, after Talia has been called away from her book by the Firstwife, Keldar:

Keldar noted the signs of rebellion Talia displayed despite her obvious effort to hide them. The signs were plain enough for anyone with the Firstwife's experience in dealing with littles; the slightly dragging feet, the sullen eyes.

That could have described me in any of my childhood years when my mom shouted down the stairs at me to come upstairs when I was in the middle of an exciting chapter. Often, that exciting chapter was a Mercedes Lackey book. Talia's an engaging intro character for young girls, in my opinion, because she's so perfectly easy to relate to. She is us, how we were. She doesn't know anything about the world she's going into after she's chosen by her Companion, Rolan, and we don't know either, so she gets to ask all the questions we need to know the answers to in order to understand this new world. It's a decent way to get around that problem, and the funny thing is, I can remember reading these books without any idea of the world-building and exposition going on behind the scenes.

I have to say, rereading this, that we're a little sparse on the descriptions. There are very few original turns of phrases. It's all a little Fantasy 2.0, a little cliched. When I was a kid, that was just great--nothing boring to slow down the scenes, and I had no problem picturing that fancy Collegium palace. Now, though, I find myself wishing for a little more richness. I think that gets better, though, as Lackey gets more writing experience under her belt. I seem to remember that changing. Or maybe my mind embroidered richness in the spaces in between, where there was room. Just goes to show, I think I've always been a fanficcer. It was just waiting to come out.

Words I Didn't Know the Definition Of When I Was Eight, and So Just Made Up
saternine-this one means something completely different and way less sexy than I thought it did as a little child!
homely-I was pretty sure this wasn't anything fantastic, but I still thought it might be good. Like. Something home-like! That sounds nice! What's so bad about that? Little did I know it meant unattractive and inelegant!
blanched-yeah, I'm pretty sure I went years without knowing that this meant "to pale." Though I was pretty sure it wasn't anything good.

So! What did everyone else think? Remember, we'll be reading chapters 7 through 12 (the end of the book) over the weekend and discussing them on Monday in an entry hosted by the lovely callsigns.

Comments

that graphic is PERFECT

I had almost entirely forgotten the way Talia's fantasy at the beginning was absolute self-insert fanfic. What girl in her position wouldn't rather be totally cool and hanging out with their hero? When I was reading the books for the first time, I was damn well thinking about where I'd fit in. It would be so much more awesome than middle school! Of course, Lackey ended up pretty blatantly inserting herself into the books in later years, so if the author can't help herself there's no reason the reader should even try. :D

It was really weird reading some of the world-building details here. You're totally right about the Fantasy 2.0 language. Sometimes it gets a little grating. (Also the way Valdemar is Founded On Ideals and Special and Made of Tolerance.) I remember reading the Arrows books for the first time and being kind of bored with some of the explanations, and annoyed that some things didn't quite mesh with what I already knew. I already knew the entire background of the Vanyel story, for example. And all about the way the Gifts worked. Which is what happens when you decide to read in chronological order by timeline instead of publication date. (This was entirely feasible when I was twelve, although a few years later Brightly Burning and Take a Thief came out, so.)

Sometimes it's hard not to feel really protective of Talia. Part of it is definitely how relatable she is, because Talia is just as confused with this whole new world as the reader, but doing her best not to let it all be totally overwhelmed. She's got a core of sensibility and determination that's pretty great. I just don't feel as much with Talia as for Talia now, though. It's odd seeing the character from this side of thirteen. I think the last time I read the Arrows books I was maybe sixteen tops, so right now Talia's just a baby! I know she ends the trilogy as actually almost my age now, but at the moment . . . I can remember a little what it felt like to be thirteen, and empathize. It's just that I feel far more like the adults and older students around her. Talia is That Teenager. You know, the one who is actually pretty cool and mature for her age. You want to make sure she actually gets the chance to grow up, because this kid is going to be awesome. (Of course, most of Those Teenagers don't have magical horses or people who want to kill them, but that's real life for you.)

Re: that graphic is PERFECT

Oh, man, it was totally self-insertion fanfic! I didn't even think of it that way, but you're totally right. And, argh, I have to admit, Lackey's self-insertion, let's not speak of it. It hurts me.

I agree with you about Talia, though part of me is wondering if she's a little too perfect, this girl who's so sweet and smart and knows how to deal with kids! We'll see how I feel about that as I continue reading.

Re: that graphic is PERFECT

The Lackey self-insertion pains me as well. Luckily, I stopped reading about the time it got more painful, so I think I missed some of the worst of it. Talia's is far more excusable, being as she is an oppressed thirteen-year-old. And, like. Daydreaming. There's nothing wrong with daydreaming. *looks shifty*

I think sometimes Talia suffers a bit from being Lackey's first Major Character. Tarma and Kethry weren't in anything particularly long, plus they work together, so there's more of a balance. Whereas all the hopes and dreams get shoved into Talia. She evolves enough not to be too perfect, but sometimes it is a very near thing.
I know we're supposed to be pacing ourselves through these books, but once I got started I couldn't stop reading and I've already finished this trilogy again. It's probably been 15-20 years since I read these the first time and I still love them. I was in/just out of college then and still finding my way in the world. I'm pretty settled in now, but rereading Talia's story sure brought back a lot of memories and I can still feel the connection I had with the scared, little outsider that Talia was in the beginning. I think the last commenter raised a good point though when she talks about how she now feels "for" Talia instead of like her. I can also see the points about how the writing is pretty simple, but I don't think that detracts from the story. Instead of having to focus on the details and intricacies of the society - I can just focus on the emotions of the story and there are few plot lines I like better than one that gets me attached, makes me cry, and then puts me back together at the end. The first half of this book definitely got me attached and put me on that emotional roller-coaster that I love!
Aw, yay for enthusiasm! I reread the Vanyel trilogy on a regular basis, but I haven't read any of the others in a good ten years or so.

I think the last commenter raised a good point though when she talks about how she now feels "for" Talia instead of like her.

Definitely! Perspective's so interesting, huh.
Like I said, this book was a real nostalgia trip for me. It's funny how emotions and memories get tied to objects, you know?

I agree, I think the writing is serviceable, and it certainly worked for me when I was younger, though now I find myself more attracted to a different aesthetic. It makes me think about an argument I once read about how modern slash builds on past fandoms (for instance, we no longer need to explore in gory detail how someone might be gay in private but straight in public etc. etc.), and comparing that to how all modern fantasy nowadays are basically fanfiction of Lord of the Rings in terms of setting, so there's very little effort to describe the small villages Talia passes through on her way to the capital except in very simple terms. We know all about these small fantasy-land villages! Next!
Holy Mary Sue Lackey! No wonder this trilogy appealed so much to me! Man, every instance of Talia being teased, being a brave little toaster, being rescued by caring people, I remember that just singing to my lonely 14 year old heart!

I definitely agree, when I read these books in middle school I had no appreciation for the handy exposition, which of course feels heavy-handed now, but how else was she going to do it, I suppose?

Ahaha, the servant Medren? Isn't that Vanyel's nephew's name too?
See, exactly. I remember so TOTALLY feeling for her, out in this scary world.

Thinking back, a lot of fantasy novels do that, have an inexperienced person as their entry-point into their world. I mean, hell, I even did it myself with A Common Understanding (albeit a little inadvertently), because it allows you to manipulate your readers a little bit, respond to their confusion or skepticism about your plot more directly than if you're having your readers play catch up, I think.

Ahahaha, I think you're right! Maybe it's an old and honorable name by that point?
I don't think I really have anything original to say. I remember connecting so much to Talia, for all the reasons already mentioned.

I remember for me, one of the more potent connections was the fantasy of being recognized as 'special'. It's such the perfect adolescent fantasy that someone will notice how amazing I am. I can sit here and someone will come up and recognize who and what I am. Maybe that's because I was such a passive-aggressive teenager in terms of craving recognition, but that fantasy was always very big for me.