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Review: ‘Exile’s Honor’ by Mercedes Lackey

October 26, 2010

Religious fanaticism and doctrine define Alberich’s life.  The Sunpriests of his land rule cruelly and absolutely, burning heretics in the cleansing fires for speaking against the priesthood, committing blasphemy, or for having ‘witch-powers’.  Alberich, a recently-promoted captain in the Sunsguard, has a witch-power.  But his life doesn’t end in the fires.

From the fire he is saved by his horse, a Companion–a legendary creature from the land of Alberich’s enemy, Valdemar.  And Alberich, a loyal Karsite, taught to believe in the demonic nature of all Valdemarans and especially the Valdemaran Heralds and Companions–he was now a Herald, and the “horse” underneath him was a Companion.

Alberich is saved and taken to the land of his enemy, and there he must learn to stay.  Having been branded a heretic, he can never go back to Karse while the Sunpriests rule.  Resolving the conflict of his enemy now being his friend and only home is one of Alberich’s continuing and central struggles.  His Companion, Kantor, helps him to adjust as much as he can, and Alberich meets many new people who become cherished friends and even a new family.

Mercedes Lackey is incredibly gifted at getting into a character’s head and making him talk.  Alberich’s struggles to adjust not only to the new land but also the new customs, language, people, traditions, and government.  Valdemar is not ruled by a theocracy, but a monarchy, and Alberich continually compares the two against each other.  Although he doesn’t want to admit it, he comes to like Valdemar and her people, though Karse is still his home.

Alberich is a complex character that nevertheless is also very simple to understand.  His actions are mainly motivated by one thing and one thing only: his sense of honor.  Every action is dictated by what he considers to be honorable.  It is his sense of honor that eventually convinces him to stay in Valdemar, as well as the realization that he is truly needed in that land.  The reader gets an immediate sense of Alberich’s personality from the very start of the book, as Lackey details some of what his job as an army captain entails and how Alberich reconciles those actions/orders with honor.  The first chapter details exactly why Alberich feels the way he does without explicitly telling the reader.

One of the main debates of Alberich’s life seems to be that of fate versus choice, a divine plan versus free will, and even the will of the One God Alberich serves comes into question in Alberich’s life.  It makes for a very interesting and thought-provoking read.

The story is written in third person, but there are first-person thoughts sprinkled throughout.  In the prologue much of the tale is moved along only by Alberich’s thoughts.  Very little actual dialogue is given until near the end of the prologue, but this is no hindrance to character development or the tale.  The thoughts tend to be more like unobtrusive insertions.

Other characters do, of course, exist in this story.  Kantor, Alberich’s Companion, is often the comic relief.  He has a great sense of humor that is very funny and gives a break from the seriousness of Alberich’s situation.  Father Henrick, a priest of the Sunlord living in Valdemar, is brusque, almost brutally honest, but also kind.  He and his acolyte, Gerichen, are likable characters who will play larger roles later in the story.  Herald Myste is wonderful yet honest in her comic relief–her clumsiness is funny, but she makes no bones about it that her ineptitude with weapons is a hindrance to a Herald.

The seriousness of the varying situations of the story is tempered with humor and episodes of lightheartedness.  This, I think, is a trait of Lackey’s writing, one that works out well overall and keeps the book from being too serious.  Alberich’s first day on the job is thoroughly enjoyable–hilarious without being malicious.

I loved this book.  I couldn’t put it down and stayed up very late for two nights to read it.  I think Alberich is a very real character that despite the fantastical nature of the story is still very relatable.  His struggles are not so unrelated to this world that we can’t understand what it is he goes through.  I will absolutely read this book again, and also its sequel, Exile’s Valor.  Alberich is probably one of my favorite characters in Lackey’s Valdemar series because he is so conflicted yet tries his best to live according to what he deems to be the most important principle: honor.

Buy on Amazon * Author’s Website * GoodReads

Book info: 431 pages, published 2002, ISBN 0756401135

Copy is from personal library

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