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Review: ‘Foundation’, Book 1 of The Collegium Chronicles, by Mercedes Lackey

February 26, 2013

Foundation by Mercedes LackeySummary: The mine was all he knew, and was all he had ever known.  Mags toiled in the shafts every day, all day in order to retrieve sparkling gemstones for his masters.  The other children slaved beside him as well.  An empty stomach and never enough clothes or blankets defined Mags’ life.

Until one day, a strange white horse appears at the mine.  Then a man on a similar white horse, and this time he demands Mags leave with him.  Mags’ cruel master allows him to leave with the man, whose name is Herald Jakyr.  And Mags is placed on the back of Dallen–his Companion.

Soon Mags is thrust into an entirely new and foreign world, one so completely different from the mine that had been his life that he doesn’t know how to behave or where to go next.  Dallen is a comfort in adjusting to this new life, and soon Mags makes two new friends: Lena, a Bard, and Bear, an unusual Healer.  Once he ventures down to the city of Haven for Midwinter, he meets even more friends, Amily, the daughter of the King’s Own Herald, and Lydia among them.

Mags’ unique qualities and abilities bring him to the attention of the King’s Own Herald, Nikolas, who is looking for someone just like Mags to help him.  Not everyone embraces the idea of the new Collegium, preferring the old manner of training new Trainees that has stood for so many years.  And a group of foreign diplomats and their bodyguards have everyone’s hackles raised, including Mags’.  Nikolas asks Mags for his help, and Mags agrees.  But how much trouble will that bring for Mags?  And how will he solve the problems while getting through his Trainee years?

My Thoughts: I hate to start out a review with negative thoughts, but . . . this is not one of my favorite Lackey books.  At all.  It comes off as very formulaic, as if Lackey sticks to the tried-and-true method of having a main character from low or unusual circumstances rise to the level of a Herald and do something amazing with their life.  This has worked in so many of her other books that it does make sense to stick with it–but at the same time, couldn’t it be more exciting than this?

The characters are wonderful.  I like Mags and his friends, and Dallen is an awesome Companion.  I think the characters are developed well throughout, and Mags progresses from a painfully shy young man to someone who has friends and is somewhat more sociable, if still quiet.  That’s perfectly fine, and I liked that he didn’t become some kind of social butterfly once he got to training, as that would have seemed very out of character.

There is a relatively large cast of characters in this one (not nearly as large as Game of Thrones, for instance, but large in terms of Lackey’s world).  A lot of young people are introduced, as well as a number of Guards and Heralds. However, many are very minor characters and don’t appear more than a handful of times.  The ones who are side characters and play a larger role, we get a sense of their personalities, but it’s clear they are tangential in this book.  I hope we see more of them and learn more about them in the next book.  This story is so focused on Mags as the main character that at times I think it feels like the other characters are inserted only for Mags’ benefit to learn and grow, but may not help advance the plot, if that makes sense.  I assume these other characters, such as Amily, Lena, and Bear, will be further fleshed out in the sequel.

What I have the most problem with is the plot and the pacing of the story.  Most of the action takes place in the last few chapters.  The majority of the story is about Mags’ feelings and circumstances, and how he copes with becoming a Herald-Trainee.  This is interesting, but not very exciting, especially for a reader who has read all of the previous Valdemar books and knows well how the system works and what Valdemar is like.  It is important that we see how Mags feels about certain things, but I feel that in this case, it was overdone and overwhelmed by descriptions of Valdemar, the scenergy, the new Collegium, his schedule, etc.  I feel Lackey spent too much time describing the customs of Valdemar than she did in moving forward an interesting plot.

Because of this, the book felt slow to me.  As I said before, the majority of the action takes place in the last few chapters.  Even Mags’ rescue from the mine (I feel like I’m not spoiling much of anything telling you this–it’s sort of a given that he has to get out somehow) takes place in a few pages.  The middle of the book is the slowest part, when Mags is establishing himself in his new role and learning about Haven.  This is the part when I feel Lackey loses a lot of returning readers, whereas readers new to Valdemar might be engrossed.

In addition, nothing really gets wrapped up in this book.  It’s all left to hang, and the story ends rather abruptly.  I feel like we could have at least gotten the punishment of Cole Pieters wrapped up in this book to give the reader some satisfation in wrapping up a plot line.  It’s not the most satisfying ending.

Devout fans of Lackey’s Valdemar series may be disappointed in this installment.  There appear to be a number of inconsistencies between this book and the rest of the overall series.  Unless I have missed something, which is entirely possible, then this book takes place not that long after the death of Vanyel in Magic’s Price.  Stefen died about 60 years after Vanyel.  Assuming Vanyel dies in 798 (using the timeline given in the front of the book), then Stef dies around 858–meaning he should have died just before the events of Foundation in 860.  But Stefan is spoken of as if he’s ancient history, and the chronology Lena gives when speaking about Stefan is shaky. It just doesn’t make sense.  Also, the technology in this book is a little surprising–mechanical log-splitters?  In a medieval setting?  To my knowledge, mechanics like that didn’t come around until the 1700s or so, and that might be a bit early.  It’s as if Lackey forgot what period she was working in and what she had created in her other books.

I give this book 2 stars.  I think it’s just OK.  I liked it, but only because it’s another Herald book set in Valdemar, and Valdemar books have almost always been a great source of pleasure for me as a reader.

2 stars. It's just an OK read.

Book info: published 2009, 432 pages, ISBN 9780756405762

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Copy is a personal copy

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