Lackey, Mercedes. 1998. Oathblood. New York: DAW.

Reviewed 01 July 1998

Oathblood (15th Annual Collection) (cover) Although this book is remarkably unambitious, it's also reasonably well written, reasonably well plotted, and reasonably character-based. It's not quite cotton candy--more like a candy bar, in that it's relatively compact (as opposed to fluffy) and doesn't leave one sticky for hours thereafter.

The book is a collection of short-to-medium stories about Tarma and Kethry, including several previously unavailable in book form and the original story ("Sword-Sworn") from Sword and Sorceress III. As light entertainment, they're quite good. The main characters are more than caricatures. When the entire book is done, though, one looks back and wishes for opposition with a two-digit IQ, let alone normal intelligence.

If there is a weakness in this branch of the Valdemar mythos, it is the pitiful antagonists. Ms. Lackey does well drawing sympathetic "good guys," and even "bad guys" who will change sides. Her "bad guys" nonetheless tend towards extreme arrogance and stupidity; this book is not immune. The villains in "Sword-Sworn" are among the worst. When the bandit chief starts losing men at an alarming rate, does he pull his remaining forces back, assess the situation, and get immediate reinforcements? No, he waits longer while Tarma and Kethry arrange more "accidents" for his men. Neither does he buy off town residents for information (and, given the amount of time Tarma and Kethry take, rumors would start). Nor does he start executing townsfolk in reprisal. It's pretty clear that Macchiavelli is not on the bandit chief's reading list. Other villains need to read the Evil Overlord's list of mistakes.

But, as I remarked above, this book has few ambitions other than light entertainment. Lackey's point, as she remarks in her introduction, was to participate in the "'coming of age'" of heroic fantasy in the mid-1980s by writing about "at least one token heterosexual female hero." At this, she succeeded--but only because the heroic fantasy that "came of age" in the mid-1980s reflected a time that embraced Cheers as high-concept comedy, spawned such stunningly original musical acts as Madonna and Bryan Adams, and elected a president who claimed that trees cause pollution. I wish Ms. Lackey would set a higher target; her writing skills have developed enough to reach it.

As an aside, the cover is not up to the standard of the contents. Warrl is much too small; Tarma appears to be holding Need; Tarma's dagger--aside from being a ridiculous weapon for a warrior--is being held in an amateur's grip; and all three figures have "Bambi eyes" (those oversized eyes familiar from cartoons that are supposed to make baby animals look cute). While this style of cover is not to my taste, the artist is experienced enough to avoid silly mistakes like these.

Overall rating: 2 stars
Almost good.
It's only light entertainment, but, like a favorite candy bar, it does provide some short-term satisfaction.


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