The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey – 5/5 Stars

THERE ARE MINOR SPOILERS. THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE OATHBOUND ONLY AND NOT OF THE SUBSEQUENT TITLES IN THE OMNIBUS: OATHBREAKERS AND OATHBLOOD.

It’s a sword-and-sorcery about two female partners bonded together under an oath. Tarma is great with a sword and used to the rugged way of life, living from the land and communing with forest spirits. She’s the less attractive or typically feminine of the two, which is the easiest way I can describe her difference to Kethry, the innocent, beautiful, blonde White Winds sorceress who is extremely talented, almost adept, with magic and able to work her feminine charms with success on any man. I think the bond between both of them was romantic as well, and that their planned need for men where romance was concerned was only for reproductive purposes. That was what I understood.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

Anyway, through the story they go through a series of adventures, righting wrongs unto women in a world of medieval male soldiery where women struggle to make it through most days without being abused, physically or sexually. Kethry’s enchanted sword Need not only alerts her to the ‘need’ of women who are in danger, but defends her from physical confrontation. In much a similar way, Tarma develops a bond with a magical beast that complements her abilities and can speak to her telepathically. Some of the adventures involve mercenary work to attack bandits, or they involve solving crimes with a combination of their strengths, listening to locals, and following up on leads. They are on the road because they hope to establish a school where Tarma can teach swords skills and Kethry sorcery, but they also harbour a hope of returning to Tarma’s clan, where they can raise a family and a new clan because we are told Tarma’s old clan was viciously wiped out in prior events.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

Honestly, the entire story was fascinating from start to finish. It’s sword-and-sorcery fantasy of the highest calibre. When the theme of demon summoning was introduced, I almost groaned and Indiana Jones came to mind, but I was wrong: the idea was written about in such a way that brought out the individual evil of the demon Thalhkarsh, who is an unusual demon having left the Abyssal Plans and is intent on maintaining human form to seduce women with his enchanting trickery. His enchantments confused women into enjoying the pleasures he bestowed on them, and he created a cult to boost his power. There were other interesting methods he could use to create cults, involving death or pain too. The illusion tricks of the demon gave me a funny feeling, when they occur to one of the main characters. It made me shudder.

The Oathbound was published in 1988 I think but I recently bought a 2017 published copy that includes an omnibus of three stories including The Oathbound, Oathbreakers, and Oathblood because my old one was falling apart. I’ve already started the sequel Oathbreakers, I was that impressed.

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

Mercedes Lackey’s Amazon Author Page

 

Catalyst Moon: Incursion by Lauren L Garcia – 1/5 Stars

catalyst-moon-incursion-by-lauren-l-garciaIn a world where supposedly dangerous mages are held prisoner in bastions by trained sentinels, Kali a crippled mage has to be escorted to a healer in Whitewater City. Unfortunately, on the way the sentinels guarding the mage carriage Kali was being transported in are viciously attacked by a wild group of Canderi who fight like no Canderi they have ever seen, and no Canderi the reader has ever seen either…

I’ll start with the positive. Despite my criticism below, the dynamics between Kali and Stonewall, sentinel who is left alive after the attack, are introduced well in chapter three, sketching Kali as curious and contrasting it with Stonewall’s resolve and sense of duty. These characteristics were certainly not original, but were interesting to read. There were several clean well-written passages that proved the author could write well when she wanted (Page 73 and 74 come to mind). The progression of some story arcs and how the character’s relationships changed, as with Milo and Flint, meant Catalyst Moon wasn’t completely nonsensical.

Let’s tackle the first chapter. It didn’t pull me into the story at all. How the reader was introduced to who was who was an issue: ‘Male Sentinel’ is ‘Stonewall’, and ‘Kali’ is ‘Mage Halcyon’ from another character’s perspective. It might make sense after you’ve read the first chapter. ‘Mage Halcyon’ sounded like a reverential name, and throughout the remainder it’s clear sentinels do not revere mages whatsoever – they fear them and look down upon them like dirt. The main scene of monstrous bandits attacking the mage carriage that should have really grabbed my attention and shown what the author could really deliver utterly fell on its arse. In other words, it did not deliver with the import it needed to be, and set a rather disappointing tone for the remainder, which did fail to pick up in meaning and pace. I mean, how did the characters feel when they were being attacked by the bandits? How were they going to get out of the struggle? If it wasn’t an important part of the plot, and it is according to the book description, then why include it in the first chapter?

  • Problem two is the sheer number of character or place names, which only confused the writing and made it nonsensical.
  • Chapter one – chapter five characters: Gray, Kali, Stonewall, Ganister, Pinion, Milo, Beacon, Flint, Rook, Gideon Echina, Sadira, Hornfel, Cobalt, Eris Echina.
  • Place names: Whitewater City, Starwatch, Ea’s realm, Aredia, Silverwood Province.
  • There was apparently a magic power that could send two people and a horse leagues and leagues across the countryside, three days’ journey (really?).
  • Cliches: ‘A chill crept across his skin, one that had little to do with the cold and damp’, and ‘the one has entrusted you with great power, so you must always use it wisely’.
  • Inconsistent vertical spacing between the text was painfully apparent in the interior of the paperback.
  • The spine was the wrong way round so the title and author name was upside down, though this could have been a printing error.
  • Difficult to find and remember the dialogue as it was embedded in the narrative text, as to make it invisible. To make matters worse, sometimes the answer to a question would be several paragraphs down, which stole away the dialogue’s impact.
  • Subplots crowded themselves in between scenes, and insignificant characters cropped up and distracted from the tale.
  • Inconsequential character would spend a chapter discussing scenes that had already occurred or that more important characters had experienced. Which do you think is more important?

Half way through reading it, I was struggling to relate to the circumstances the characters found themselves in. Events repeated those that had already occurred: Kali healing somebody or a Canderi attack on characters I couldn’t empathise with. There were rumours repeated about the Canderi, all the time, which didn’t show me anything new. Kali kept asking Stonewall to take off her cuffs on their journey, but why would she have expected him to agree and free her when she was a prisoner mage?

Conclusion? Meshed between irrelevant writing and subplots, there is a story of a romance between a sentinel and a mage in Catalyst Moon: Incursion and examples of writing that can engage. Unfortunately, it’s not in a structure and format that makes it pleasurable for readers, at this time of writing. It was impenetrable for the discerning reader, and I believe all writing should be there for a reason. I know the author has had both many positive and negative reviews, and I don’t mean to be patronising in the following comments but I feel I should offer my advice anyway for the sake of my own reading experience. Lauren L Garcia needs to either further develop Stonewall and Kali’s plotline or create one or two dynamic characters that can hold the reader’s interest and whose experiences better complement Stonewall and Kali’s plotline. The author shouldn’t be too hard on herself. Her writing isn’t the problem, it’s her story! I understand this may be her first published book, so you can expect some weaknesses, but I hope this critical review can help her identify and improve on them. Catalyst Moon: Incursion was the worst reading experience I’ve had in living memory, in terms of the structure, plot, and delivery.

Lauren L Garcia’s website