“Closer to the Chest” by Mercedes Lackey provides a glimpse of Mags and Amily’s relationship and the way they have become integrated in their roles as Heralds with special duties. It is an interesting glimpse of the insidious effects of bullying and misogyny and various ways to combat it. I thought the story moved a little slowly at first, although it gave more details about the Palace, Collegium, and Haven than I recall from previous books. The action intensified during the course of the story, and various religious orders and elements of the infrastructure of the Palace are highlighted and provide more insight into the workings of Haven. I think it is possible to read this tale without having read all of the Valdemar books, but it is advisable to read the other books in the ‘Herald Spy’ series in order to understand everything that has brought Mags to keeping his network of spies useful while Amily deals with the challenge of being the King’s Own while her father is still on site.
I love that current topics are explored using a fantastical and well-built world that I always enjoy visiting. My longstanding love affair with Valdemar is enhanced by the wondrous connection that humans have with their equine Companions, who have such a dry wit and intense loyalty. It is heartwarming to see how far both Mags and Amily have come and I hope that future tomes will give glimpses of some of their other friends who have moved out into the world. This continues to be an impressive fantasy series and I look forward to reading many more stories about the denizens of Valdemar.
This fantasy story continues to follow Heralds Mags and Amily as they adapt to the ever-changing environment that allows Valdemar to function as a thriving kingdom. An insidious evil is striking throughout the Collegium and beyond and it takes determined sleuthing and a willingness to embrace change before enough clues can be found to ascertain the pervasiveness of the threat. Each will have to think outside of the box to combat the increasing danger, but fortunately, there are plenty of allies who are willing to work together and keep the fabric of society together.
Herald Mags, the King of Valdemar’s Herald-Spy, has been developing a clandestine network of young informants who operate not only on the streets of the capital city of Haven, but also in the Great Halls and kitchens of the wealthy and highborn. In his own established alternate personas, Mags observes the Court and the alleys alike, quietly gathering information to keep Haven and the Kingdom safe.
His wife Amily, is growing into her position as the King’s Own Herald, though she is irritated to encounter many who still consider her father, Herald Nikolas, to be the real King’s Own. Nonetheless, she finds it increasingly useful to be underestimated, for there are dark things stirring in the shadows of Haven and up on the Hill. Someone has discovered many secrets of the women of the Court and the Collegia—and is using those secrets to terrorize and bully them. Someone is targeting the religious houses of women, too, leaving behind destruction and obscene ravings.
But who? Someone at the Court? A disgruntled Palace servant? One of the members of the Collegia? Someone in the patriarchal sect of the god Sethor? Could the villain be a woman? And what is this person hoping to achieve? It isn’t blackmail, for the letters demand nothing; the aim seems to be the victims’ panic and despair. But why?
Mags and Amily take steps to minimize the damage while using both magic and wits to find the evildoer. But just as they appear to be on the verge of success, the letter-writer, tires of terror and is now out for blood.
Mags and Amily will have to track down someone who leaves few clues behind and thwart whatever plans have been set in motion, and quickly—before terror turns to murder.