Monday, October 29, 2012

Monarchy, Idealism, and Psychic Horses

Once again--it seems to happen so often--the two books I'm reading dovetail strangely.  This time, it's causing me some challenges keeping the tone of the two books sorted out.

You've got two pseudo-medieval, very much YA fantasy novels.  Mercedes Lackey's Redoubt is the newest Valdemar novel (if I say psychic horses, I hope that gives you a really good shorthand for this series of books in general).  Princess Academy: Palace of Stone is also a sequel, this one by Shannon Hale.  Both of them are about lowborn folks who end up living and being educated at the palace, getting involved in politics and, to a lesser extent, the personal lives of the royals.

Mags, the hero of Redoubt, is the apprentice spymaster to the King of Valdemar.  By day he's a Herald (which means he has a psychic horse sidekick) and by night he roams the city meeting with sketchy folks and getting the scoop on the underworld happenings.  The Heralds of Valdemar are the arms on the law--they are honest, upright, and true, and they speak for the king and dispense his justice in the same way the Superman speaks for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  Government is all about doing good.

When Miri, the heroine of Palace of Stone, comes out of the highlands of her childhood to spend a year studying (so she can start the first ever school in her hometown, as well as hang out with her friend the Princess), she's entering the world of politics for the first time.  Turns out everyone kind of hates the king, who's been demanding tributes and stomping on the poor.  Or at least, so say the new friends Miri meets at the university and the salons she attends.  Down with monarchy!  The king is a leech upon the people!

Switching back and forth between these books is a head trip.  When I read about Miri's friends discussing the end of monarchy, I keep waiting for Mags to come bursting in with a bunch of Heralds.  The rebel leaders will be revealed to be conniving and tricking the good honest folk into believing that the king is doing less than his best, which is a LIE, of course!  It makes my head swim.

Another layer of this is knowing the Shannon Hale is Mormon.  I don't know enough about her to have any idea how conservative or liberal she is, but this really affects my expectations for where this book is going to go.  Are the rebels going to turn out to be on the side of the good and the downtrodden--as they appear to be right now to the very naive Miri?  Are they going to be duplicitous, a power-grab disguised as freedom-fighting?  Or just misguided communists? 

In my mind, this depends on Hale's politics, which I don't know anything about.  It's frustrating to feel like I'm looking to the real world to guess what's going to happen in a book.  Here's an essay on Hale's website where she talks about creating the religious homemaker character of Becky in the book The Actor and the Housewife (which I disliked for being Hugh Grant fanfic). 

So, how do I feel about the monarchy?  I like idealism, but Lackey gets treacly.  I like freedom, but Hale gets heavy-handed.  Let's see if I get confused or if things just shake out nice and balanced.

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