[Ruth and her sister Sarah (one of our regular guest reviewers) both read Trio of Sorcery and finished within nine minutes of each other. This review consists of their email conversation about Trio of Sorcery. We edited it for clarity and removed their sisterly in-jokes.]
RUTH: I have to admit that when I got this ARC in the mail and turned it over to read the back cover, I squealed like a fan girl when I saw that there was a new Diana Tregarde story (the first in almost 20 years), a new Jennifer Talldeer story (the first in almost 15 years), and then there was a third story starring a new character, a techno-shaman named Ellen McBridge. Jennifer Talldeer was one of my favorite characters ever written by Mercedes Lackey, and I had always been sad that she had never gone back to that world. The Diana Tregarde books, about a Guardian who battles the forces of modern day evil, were among the precursors to the current boom in urban fantasy. She stopped writing the series because they were so well done and realistic that people thought Lackey was writing about her real life experiences. They started stalking her, either to convince her to give them training in magical arts, or to kill her, because she was either a) giving away magical secrets, or b) evil and needed to be destroyed for dabbling in the dark arts.
So, Sarah, which of the stories in the new Trio was your favorite?
SARAH: I was so excited to see a new Tregarde story, and it turned out to be my favorite. It was a prequel to the books she had written 20 years ago. The story of her getting called in by the police to debunk a psychic that was interfering with a kidnapping case only to find out that the psychic is real and into some really bad stuff was well done. I thought it was lighter than her novels featuring Diana, much more in keeping with today’s trends in urban fantasy. I loved getting a chance to meet the gang from her college days that Diana mentions only briefly in the novels. I think Zaak shows up in Jinx High, doesn’t he? The Scooby Doo references really amused me. ‘Since there isn’t an amusement park, it must be the abandoned farmhouse’ had me snorting. I’d love to see more stories like this one, just not sure if she could/should modernize her.
Which was your favorite? Did the Talldeer one live up to your expectations?
RUTH: The Talldeer story did live up to my expectations. I was kind of disappointed in the Tregarde story just because the tone felt so different from what I was expecting. Those books used to terrify me, and this one did feel like a Scooby Doo episode, down to the gender makeup of the gang — we only needed a dog to show up. Also, in one of her anthologies Lackey did a Valdemar story that was a Scooby episode, complete with a carriage painted to look like the van, and “I would have gotten away with it too” references, so I felt like she was borrowing from herself a bit too much.
The Talldeer story was wonderful, focusing on Jennifer Talldeer having to deal with a vengeful ghost that is determined to come back to life and get a happy ending to his story this time. I enjoy Lackey’s take on Native American mythology, and she did a really good job making the final dance scene pop off the page with her description. This is a world I wish she would spend more time in, because it’s an area that I think is Lacke-ing (hahaha, I crack myself up.) If she went back to the Tregarde books, I think she would sort of blend in — female magical buttkicker with a vampire boyfriend — but there aren’t a lot of Native American urban fantasy heroines, at least not that I have seen. I tend to avoid a lot of urban fantasy these days because it is so formulaic, so maybe I’ve missed them. You read more urban fantasy than I do, Sarah — which of these three heroines would be the biggest hit for a new novel?
My favorite was actually the third story, of a boss mob in a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game — think World of Warcraft or Everquest) who is gaining powers his code shouldn’t allow, and is trying to break out of the game and in to reality. As someone who was a member of a raiding guild in WoW, I can say that she did her research. Some of the terminology is different — we called them tanks, not bricks — but the final battle scene, and the description of how the boss was feeding off the belief and energy of the players was spot on. I was having flashbacks to the first time my guild took down the final boss in Karazhan. I’m wondering what someone who isn’t a gamer thought of the story. Was it like reading a foreign language?
SARAH: I understand what you’re saying about the Tregarde story. The novels were very dark, on the horror side of fantasy. I like Diana, but I don’t like horror, so I appreciated the lighter tone of this novella. I hadn’t read the other short story you referenced, so I was amused with the Scooby references in this one. At least no one said ‘Jinkies’ or offered anyone a Scooby Snack.
The Talldeer story was well done. I too would like to see more of these characters. I can’t come up with a Native American Urban Fantasy series, my knowledge of the genre is Lacke-ing :). Oh wait, C.E. Murphy has a series that has a Native American protagonist. Lackey’s description did make me want to actually see the dancing. I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces on TV.
As far as the third story went, I liked it more than I thought I would. I was afraid it was going to be a DNF because I am not a gamer, and the techie vocabulary was a bit like reading a foreign language. There are still things I’m not sure I ‘got’, NPC? Non-Player Character? But within the boundaries of the story I understood the gist of it. I’ve at least seen some MMORPG played and had even more described to me in detail, so I knew a little bit about what was happening. Mom was a little more lost, but she finished it. Did you get any TRON and Avatar moments like I did? I’d like to see more of these characters and the ending left me believing there will be more in the future.
I think — modernization aside — Diana and Jennifer would both need the ‘Nancy Drew’ makeover to update their cars and accessories — they would work in today’s urban fantasy market. My biggest concern would be Ellen’s ability to carry a series. It would require her to move out of gamer land into other areas of tech. It’s do-able, I’m just not sure if the level of excitement/interest would be there. I’ve seen it done in mysteries without the paranormal. So, I’m sure it could be an interesting urban fantasy if done right.
RUTH: There would have to be the Nancy Drew makeover to make her modern, unless you want to leave them set in their time frame. How far back do you have to go before things become historical fantasy? Do the seventies count? It could be the start of a whole new sub-sub-genre — historical urban fantasy.
I’m glad to know you weren’t completely lost with the gamer story. (And yes, NPC stands for “non-player character.” They are the ones that are game code — they hand out quests and advance the story line — as opposed to the PCs, or “player characters,” that are run by the players.) I wasn’t getting the Avatar moments — because I’ve tried to block that movie from my memory — but there definitely was a little bit of TRON. Lackey dealt with the obvious Matrix parallels quite well, addressing how this was different. Having played World of Warcraft, I kept having Shadowmoon Valley flashbacks. She did mention in the story that she had done work for the Department of Defense — exorcising a stealth fighter — so I think she could move the story outside of video games. The spook squad for the government has been done with varying degrees of success — X-Files, Hellboy, Nick Pollotta’s Bureau 13 series, etc. It would be interesting to see what Lackey would do with it.
Charles de Lint has dealt with this idea of code waking up and gaining self-awareness in some of his stories, most notably in his novel Spirits in the Wires, and I found it fascinating there too. It seems to be the new frontier for the migration of myth. The elves came to America. They interacted with the native mythological characters, now where do they go? Into the virtual world. I think this could piggyback off the growing popularity of steampunk with its blend of fantasy and technology — there seems to be a desire for a way to make room for the racial memories/collective subconscious/mythic archetypes in our new surroundings. And everybody has encountered enough weird computer errors to give belief to the idea that there are computer gremlins. Just like most people believe there is a sock-eating gnome in the dryer and some mysterious force that misplaces library books the day they are due. If you really do have to believe in fairies in order for them to exist, what has been conjured into existence with our belief in the powers of technology?
Final thoughts and star rating?
SARAH: I’m not sure about the sub-sub genre thing. I would try these just because they are continuing characters. Don’t know if it would appeal to me otherwise. I think historical is in the eye/age of the beholder. My idea of history isn’t the same as my daughters’. They think I’m old because I remember when the only video game for TV was Pong.
I just finished reading Poltergeist by Kat Richardson a couple months ago. She deals with the belief bringing myth to life oeuvre (is that the word I want?) in that story. As for fairies/elves integrating, do you remember Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series? Those were good.
Overall final thoughts — I enjoyed all three stories for different reasons. Getting some back story and a lighter version of Diana — I think lighter, because it was early in her Guardian career before things got so dark for her. Finally getting another Jennifer Talldeer story with the hopes that maybe there will be more. And, getting to see a brand-new set of characters from Mercedes Lackey with the Ellen McBridge story was also good. It felt like Lackey enjoyed writing all three of these stories. I haven’t read a lot of her later stuff, but this felt like Lackey at the top of her writing game. I’m glad she took the chance to go back and write about some of her older characters.
I’m thinking 4 to 4.5 stars just because I enjoyed them all. What about you? Any final thoughts? Are you hoping for new novels from any of these characters?
RUTH: I’m thinking 4 to 4.5 as well. The Diana Tregarde story was a bit derivative of her earlier work, but I thought both the Jennifer Talldeer and the Ellen McBridge stories were excellent. I think I’m over my Diana Tregarde phase, she’s just too similar to what everyone else is doing now to truly stand out. But, I’d love to see either Talldeer or McBride get novels of their own. That said, let’s give Lackey a 4.5 for Trio of Sorcery, and welcome her back to the top of her game. These stories reminded me of why I first started reading fantasy, and why, even after some yawners in recent years, I’m always excited to crack open a new Lackey novel and see what adventures await.