Years ago, in my freshman year of high school, I was in the school library reading a book when it suddenly dawned on me that someone had paid that author to write that book. In a very real way it was the beginning of my endeavor in writing fantasy, and without that book I would absolutely not be where I am right now. That book was Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey. I voraciously devoured everything by Ms. Lackey that I could get my hands on after that first book, and to this day I return to Valdemar every once in a while like returning to a familiar and beloved space.
Her first collaborations with James Mallory are another fond memory of high school—that one of my schoolmates never returned my copy of To Light a Candle somewhat less fond. But, as so often happens when a series is still being written as its readers begin fall in love with it, I never finished reading Lackey and Mallory’s Obsidian Trilogy. It remains on my list of “Books To Read,” but now that they’ve written and published seven books together, the prospect of catching up is a little more daunting. The House of the Four Winds is the first in the One Dozen Daughters series by these two authors.
“The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.
Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.
Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.
Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.”
I often find that there are two types of stories: the one that leaves clues for both the reader and the characters as they race to solve whatever problem they might be grappling with, and the one that allows both the reader and the characters into the problem and the solution at the same pace. As both a writer and a reader I prefer the latter. The first one can be more complicated to write, I think, since it either requires the writer to know everything from the beginning or to go back after they’ve written everything and seed those clues into what they’ve already done. It also runs the risk of making things too obvious for the reader. I prefer to read about characters that are at least as smart as I am, so when I guess Who Dunnit way before the protagonist, I just feel disappointed in them.
But the second sort of story is like walking through the cars of a train: the reader and the protagonist—usually the main point of view character—experience each new development as it occurs and deal with each one as they happen. A lot of this has to do with that point of view character I just mentioned. That first type of story often keeps its distance, allowing the reader to watch the character without getting too deep into their head. The second type of story perches itself right on the character’s shoulder, it sees everything they see and nothing they do not, and it allows the reader to hear the character’s thoughts. (Writers will recognize this thing I’m trying to turn into a metaphor as third person limited and third person omniscient.)
I love this second type of story. It allows the reader to be surprised when the protagonist is surprised, to feel their sorrow and their joy as they feel it, and all those great and complicated emotions in between. It’s what draws me into most of the Urban Fantasy I read, and it’s some of the most “escapist” sort of writing I can think of.
The House of the Four Winds is this second type of story and at times it seems like Clarice might even know this. Rarely does she go seeking out answers, content instead to let them—and the problems that proceed them—come to her. Part of this has to do with the fact that the plot doesn’t actually rely on Clarice herself. Instead, our main character is incidental: a young woman who finds herself smack dab in the middle of a sea of problems without any of them relating to her personally.
I found that I liked this particular aspect of Clarice’s story—as well as the fact that she’s highly competent in everything she does. Even though none of the problems that crop up are a result of anything she does particularly, she is able to put her skills to good use in the solving of those problems. And I just loved that about her. She has certain skills and she sets about using them as best she can.
One of my favorite things about this new series is the world that Mallory and Lackey have created. It’s the same world readers are already (hopefully) familiar with, but with a slightly magical twist. It’s somewhat similar to Jacqueline Carey’s reimagining of Europe for her Kushiel series, or Kate Elliott’s reimagining of Europe, Africa, and parts of North and South America in her Spiritwalker Trilogy, and readers of those authors’ books will be familiar with the technique. Lackey and Mallory overlay a scrim on our own world, using new names, a new history, and enough magic to intrigue the readers. The result is a delightful world that readers are comfortable in, but is still unfamiliar enough to explore.
This isn’t a traditional sort of review, I know. Partially that’s because I don’t know the first thing about writing those even having read them, and partially that’s because my personal history with Mercedes Lackey is likely to cloud my judgement just a little bit. I had fun reading this book, and I’m excited to follow the next oldest of Clarice’s eleven sisters on their own adventures in the next installments in this series.