Titan Books are soon to be releasing a fantasy trilogy by New York Times best-selling author Mercedes Lackey (written in collaboration with her husband, Larry Dixon) called The Mage Wars and I was lucky enough to be offered a sneak peek!
This is a trilogy comprised of three well-loved books by Lackey & Dixon, the first series of Valdemar novels: The Black Gryphon, The White Gryphon and The Silver Gryphon. For those familiar with the Valdemar series, The Mage Wars trilogy is set several thousand years before those events and explores the ancient history of Velgarth. The story centres around a gryphon named Skandranon and a human healer named Amberdrake.
Simply put, The Mage Wars is a fantasy tale that, for once, doesn’t solely focus on epic battles. More interestingly, Lackey gives a civilian perspective on the war happening around the characters. Though deceptively titled, The Mage Wars is less about the war itself (the mages are very rarely a focal point of the narrative) and more about life in a time of war. This gives Lackey the opportunity to create relatable characters and present them in unique ways and settings.
However, Lackey’s strength is undoubtedly in world building. She creates a thorough and detailed world for the reader to absorb themselves in, and immerses them in a strong sense of place helped along by a multiple character switching narrative we’ve come to expect from other fantasy writers such as George R R Martin. The Mage Wars is a prequel, introductory to the Valdemar world, but it could be argued that it was written for existing fans of her Valdemar series, leaving new readers a little lost in the world until they get to grips with the new landscape and societal rules. At times, I wondered if I was missing references to the main Valdemar series that, if I was already a fan, I’d be thrilled to find.
Nevertheless, The Mage Wars is a fun read. It mainly follows what could be described as a bromance between Amberdrake and Skandranon (AKA Skan) but includes subplots romantic and otherwise, that keep you invested in the world as a whole without overshadowing the main drama.
It’s a feel-good story, not necessarily traditional, epic fantasy, but something that draws you in and keeps your attention. The characterisation sometimes shows its age (the original books being published in ’94, ’95 & ’96 respectively) particularly through the stifled and often one-dimensional female characters. I would have loved to have seen them come into their own and stand up as fully fleshed characters. The sociopolitical commentary too can show its age and become a little awkward at times, but this feels like a series where you don’t have to overthink the big issues and just enjoy the story as it unfolds.
Lackey seems to shift genre with every books, moving from a pure fantasy in The Black Gryphon, to a murder-mystery vibe in The White Gryphon and finally shifting to a survivalist plot in The Silver Gryphon. The final book is a real change of pace in particular as the perspective moves from Amberdrake and Skan (just as you start you feel to know them personally) to that of their children – Tadrith & Silverblade, which means when the narrative moves back to Amerdrake and Skan you feel this welcome familiarity.
It’s not perfect, being very of its time, but it’s a really fun read that doesn’t require you to think too hard and sets you up for the full Valdemar series. I think that if you’re already a Lackey or a Valdemar fan, you’ll really love the trilogy as it’ll give you an extra layer to that world, but the trilogy can stand by itself for first time readers too.
It’s certainly convinced me to add more of Lackey’s writing to my reading list, and you should too!