Reviewed in the United States on December 8, 2018
Basically, this book is "The Heralds Do Romeo & Juliet, & the Bard Loses."
To be very, very fair, Romeo & Juliet is probably the most-adapted, most referenced, & most retold tale in Shakespeare's works. It was only a matter of time before Lackey decided to try it. However, the fit is not a comfortable one, and by keeping many details of the Bard's characters, this story becomes a very, very uncomfortable tale that just does not fit Valdemar at all.
So Mags & Amily are on their way home from the events of the last book, with Mags assuming full status as a Herald Nikolas's assistant & Amily (who develops a very minor Gift of animal-mind-hearing or something like that) with the Herald Chronicler. But a freak accident nearly kills Nikolas, causing Amily to be Chosen as King's Own, Nikolas to get a new Companion. The explanation for this is ok, sort of....but daaaamn, really, Rolan? Were you that eager for a new Herald? He Chooses Amily literally at the same moment that **Mags is reviving Nikolas**.
Considering Talia's tale, where Rolan spends days on the road to Choose a new Queen's Own, Rolan's actions here smack heavily of "Gah, FINALLY free of that guy -- quick, choose someone else before he wakes up!"
Anyway, with Nikolas laid up & in shock over having a new Companion, & Amily trying to fit into her new job, Mags takes over a young gang of thieves & recruits them as messengers & city spies for his & Nikolas's cover in the city. With all THAT going on, two feuding noble families arrive in Haven to find spouses for their kids: the family Raelyn (our Montague-expy) and the Chandlers (the Capulet expy). There are scenes straight from the Bard's play, of the servants of both houses getting into a fight in the streets, the Heir/Prince angrily tearing both family heads a new one....and here we run right into the first major problem.
First, Valdemar is NOT Renaissance Italy/England, nor Medieval Italy/England. It's its own world. I'm getting really tired of authors justifying stupid rules & outdated gender/class roles & various sexual horrors in their worlds with "But It's Historically Accurate!!". It's historically accurate to OUR world, yes. But THEIR world is not OURS. THEIR world is a fantasy world & can have any aspects of culture the author wants.
We've got Valdemar, which has been shown (via the Heralds & the Guard & all the prior books) to be much more egalitarian with regards to women & men's roles in society -- there are pockets (such as the Holderkin, who are basically Amish fundamentalists) that keep strict gender roles, but for the most part, we've been shown over & over & over via the Heralds, Bards, & Healers, women & men are equals.
Yet, somehow, this fails to apply to the noble class of Valdemar, who are shown here to be remarkably backward, despite the constant examples of the Crown -- they've evidently regressed major over the last generation or so. Vanyel's story takes place a couple generations before Mags' stories, with a family & region that's specifically stated to be a backwater nowhere, and we don't see the level of BS that we do in the noble families that are in the capital city & closer to the Crown. We don't see Withen ordering Vanyel to get married or else (which would've been more understandable, given Vanyel being his heir, before Van's Chosen), we don't see Withen ordering Lissa to get married or else or trying to arrange a marriage in Haven -- in fact, he lets Lissa get fostered by a family in hopes of getting a good career in the Guard!
In "Home", though, we get a father who "owns" his daughters & is basically selling them off to the highest marital bidder -- and we get told this is the common attitude that all the noble girls are raised to expect, from the tender age of ****thirteen*** to about mid-20s. Except where it isn't, as we've already been shown in this series quite a lot of noble & upper-class girls who have NOT been raised that way: Lydia's circle of friends (including Dia, which makes it even more enraging when she delivers a vile slut-shaming lecture), Lena, many of the Bard and Herald women, etc.
Thirteen. The nobles expect their daughters to get married & have kids at ***thirteen***. In Talia's tale, shock & horror & outrage are expressed when Talia states that she was about to get married at that age, & it's explicitly stated that it's just because she's from a border area, where they "breed 'em early & often to get the most workhands out of them before they die".
A noble family who comes to the capital city to have all kinds of parties & rub noses with other nobles & to marry their kids into high noble titles does not count as a border-backwater family struggling to survive.
Yes, Juliet in R&J was 13. That's *our* disgraceful history. That's not Valdemar. Valdemar is not Earth. I shouldn't be reading this tale going "EWWWWWWWWW" every couple pages. And I definitely shouldn't be reading this tale and going "EWWWWWWWWW" every couple pages because the Heralds see nothing WRONG with 13-year-old-Violet being made to marry an elderly man. Rolan even uses the BS excuse of "there's others in worse situations" as a reason why Amily should ignore Violet's plight -- which turns the Heralds, who are supposed to be our heroes, into enablers of child abuse & molestation.
AND THE SITUATION DIDN'T NEED TO HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE.
We're told early on that the King is aware of the whole situation, that Violet has a huge crush on Brand -- oh, and the whole nonsense of Violet's letter somehow "shaming" her, and Dia's handling of that situation is even more enraging. Good LORD, you've spent all the other books telling us how much Valdemar & the Heralds are so enlightened & don't care about who sleeps with who, then throw THAT BS at us. That's slut-shaming of the foulest sort, Lackey. Dia is slut-shaming a 13 year old CHILD just over writing a letter, a child who has no experience and doesn't know better -- for something that's considered so immoral, you'd think the kid would have some idea it's wrong before the lecture -- but Dia's BS blindsides the child. Having the characters we're supposed to LIKE agreeing with the slut-shaming? Ripping the child a new one and telling her she's a worthless slut just for writing a letter? That's despicable. All over a letter, all over a young crush, which most young girls go through -- yeah, let's show them that their natural urges & crushes are something to be ashamed over.
Worse, we get told bluntly that the nobles are in & out of each others' beds all the time, despite being married, & no one seems to care -- except in this case. WORSE, we get that old, inaccurate BS of first-time sex being "painful & bloody" & how the hymen is a magic indicator of virginity -- good lord, Lackey, do your research; the hymen is NOT an indicator of ANYTHING. Your world has Healers that should know better; they can do all that advanced surgery & other marvels, yet they have no clue of what the hymen actually is. WRITERS: DO YOUR RESEARCH. THE HYMEN IS NOT A VIRGINITY INDICATOR AT ALL. And a society with magical Healers who know all about human anatomy to the point they can do successful surgery should know that, and should also know that first-time sex isn't painful if folks know what they're doing!!
Anyway, the King knows of Violet's crush. Amily & Mags know of Violet's crush. Amily knows of the various marriage arrangements of Violet's family. and yet...the Prince decides to take the one course of action that punishes Violet & her sisters for the actions of their father & cousin. Never mind that the Prince could've easily ordered Violet to wed Brand (as Brand brings up). He could've easily conferred with Amily & the King & known all that.
But no, let's ruin that young girl's life, then turn a cold shoulder to her misery & situation when you idiots are the ones responsible for putting her into it. Yes, her father is to blame, too, but the Heralds shoulder that blame equally.
Is it clear? I hate this book. It's enraging. It twists everything we've liked about Valdemar & the Heralds around to fit the confines of Shakespeare's play & English society during the Renaissance. Lackey had no problems changing the ending (Romeo-Brand becomes a sociopath out of nowhere, I swear; he's not hinted or shown to be ANYTHING like the monster he is at any point before the ending scenes); there shouldn't have been any problems changing Juliet-Violet to fit the world she's built to this point.
In short, stop using "It's Historically Accurate on Earth!!!" to excuse vile behavior in your *fantasy societies*.