Cover Image: Eye Spy

Eye Spy

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It’s nice to read stories about people with Gifts who aren’t Heralds. For the longest time, it seemed like any character that had a Gift in Valdemar was going to be chosen, and for all the author talked in interviews or extra materials about Valdemar that it was most common for Heralds to have no Gifts, we really didn’t get to see much of that actually in the novels themselves. Here, we may not have a Herald with no Gifts, but we do have another characters with Gifts who isn’t a Herald.

Once again we return to Mags’s family, only instead of focusing on Perry, this time the novel focuses on Abi, Mags’s daughter and middle child. Abi is revealed to have a rather unusual Gift, one that allows her to sense, and eventually see, weak points and stresses on constructs, such as buildings or bridges. Not exactly the most useful Gift… unless your job happens to be designing and constructing such things, as Artificers in Valdemar do. Abi studies to become an Artificer, surprising herself with how happy she is with the idea that she’ll be making things that will keep people safe for decades, possibly even centuries. But her story becomes more complex when she’s chosen to travel between a series of villages that are petitioning for entry into Valdemar, and a plot to weaken Valdemar’s reputation is uncovered.

I enjoyed Eye Spy more than I enjoyed The Hills Have Spies. There was far less tension and adventure, but also more insight into how certain under-explored aspects of Valdemaran society worked. Abi’s life may be comfortable but it will never be glamourous, and much of what she did in Eye Spy was almost secondary to her Gift. Her Gift may have gotten her a place to study as an Artificer, but she really only used it a few times through the novel, replying instead on common sense and what she learned about engineering and construction in the tasks placed before her. It was kind of nice to see somebody who had the ability to just say, “No, my magic power says this won’t work,” but who, if she did so, would back that up with the math and science to prove it. Abi’s story could well have been told without her Gift, if she just happened to have a natural aptitude for building and math, and honestly, that’s rather nice to see in a fantasy novel.

Allow me a moment to explain. Sometimes it feels very much like there are two kind of fantasy protagonist. The first is someone who has a particular gift or talent, like magic, or telepathy, or weaponswork, or something of the sort, and they go out and do a job that only they can do. Not necessarily in the sense of being a Chosen One, but in the sense of, “This big thing is happening and it would be great if we had someone who could be there but also quickly relay information back to us, oh hey, look at this guy with strong telepathy!”

The second kind of character is the one who has absolutely nothing extraordinary about them whatsoever, and yet who ends up embroiled in all sorts of adventures because for some reason nobody will leave them alone, or they stumble and fall into something weird.

With Abi, she has a particular talent, but in a practical sense, she needed to back up everything that talent told her with calculations, which required her to learn all the same calculations someone without that talent would learn. She could do a few things more easily than others might, such as finding secret passages built into walls, but most of what she did in Eye Spy wasn’t of that bent. But neither was she a Farm Boy type of character, because she was born to knowledge and privilege and deliberately sought out ways to use what she could do to help people. Her life wasn’t one filled with adventure, or a great calling, but it was useful and full of hard mundane work that was no less important than any other Artificer in the kingdom.

I mentioned in my review of The Hills Have Spies that Lackey has developed this habit of inserting real-world issues into Valdemar novels, not just in ways that are allegories for broader issues, but more in the sense of specific groups or people that she’s sort of porting into Valdemar so that she can have characters comment on them. In one of her previous novels, she had a thing or two to say about the Quiverfull movement. Here, she inserts a character who is described as:

    He had a perfectly square face, a shock of blond hair, small eyes, a pouty mouth, and oddly small hands.

Oddly small hands? I… seriously? Is this going where I think it’s going?

He’s later quoted as saying:

    “When you’re rich, you can do anything, and they just let you.”

The character’s name is Dudley Remp.

That’s not even close to a subtle way to insert Trump into your fantasy novel.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disapprove of taking verbal potshots at a certain president. But this presentation isn’t the sort to make much impact. It’s there for a bit of, “Holy crap, did she really write that?!”, and less there to have readers reflecting on, say, what happens when a person like that comes to power. Remp does try for a power grab toward the end of the novel, by working a plot to destabilize foreign trust in Valdemar’s governance, but that’s as far as his threat goes. He’s thrown out of Haven, his father is jailed for crimes, and he later tries to get revenge by… making people in a few border villages think twice about joining Valdemar?

Which those villages didn’t do anyway, because that would mean kicking out the Mages they’ve grown accustomed to. (True magic doesn’t work within Valdemar’s borders.)

Remp isn’t remotely a threat to Valdemar, not the way his real-world analogue is here. And there the allegory fails, because the two just can’t be compared. There’s part of me that wonders if this entire novel was written around the idea of having Remp as an antagonist, and I very much hope I’m wrong, because he’s not much of one. I was far more interested in Abi’s journey of self-improvement than I was about how somebody might work against a country in a way that couldn’t possibly succeed.

Long-time readers of the Valdemar novels will understand what I mean when I say that Lord Orthallen was a much better antagonist, if destabilizing Valdemar was the intent. He was subtle, he had connections, and he had the mind to work things so that everything he did seemed perfectly normal and above-board. Remp couldn’t hold a candle to the threat that was Orthallen, which again, downplays the threat that his real-world counterpart actually embodies.

I do want to take a moment to comment on Abi’s sexuality. I’m going to assume she’s asexual, since that seems to be what things were leading toward, but again, it was never just outright stated. Just sort of danced around. Establishing that neither men nor women have ever made her particular interested is fine, but similar to the issues I had with Felicity in The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, asexuality is a legitimate orientation in its own right, and it would be kind of nice for people to acknowledge it in ways beyond, “Oh, I guess I just never really thought about it.” That sort of presentation connects asexuality with a kind of naiveté that doesn’t do ace folk any favours.

Though I will give Lackey credit where it’s due, because unlike Lee’s writing of Felicity in The Lady’s Guide, at least Abi wasn’t presented as being “too busy” for relationships and that’s why she wasn’t attracted to people. Abi had her passions and interests, but no more than any other character, regardless of sexuality.

Though there were some sticking points for me in this book, on the whole, I still feel like Eye Spy was a decent Valdemar novel. Far from essential reading if you’re a fan of the series, but it scratched an itch for stories that weren’t just about Heralds. Abi was surprisingly interesting for a character who was so entrenched in many mundane aspects of life, and I was more compelled to read about her than I was about Perry in The Hills Have Spies, despite the comparative lack of action here. Hopefully the final (?) book of the Family Spies novels will be just as interesting.
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Eye Spy is the second book in the Family Spies series of interrelated stories set in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar. Released 9th Aug 2019 by Penguin on their DAW imprint, it's 336 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

These are nice stories, set in a world with a magic system and mythology rich in history developed over several decades (the first book set in Valdemar came out in 1994, I believe). They're mostly aimed at teen/tween readers and have a reassuring tone of inclusivity, anti-bullying, good role models and families.

Abi is the young daughter of  Mags and Amili from book 1 and tie-ins, who discovers a natural talent with engineering and structure integrity when she feels a bridge is about to collapse and prevents any deaths. The later book covers more of her adventures and conflict resolution as she goes on missions and finds her place in the hierarchy of Valdemar.

I have always liked the inclusiveness and positive messages in these books. The characters are varied and generally well written. I confess that sometimes, the sheer number of books in this universe has left me feeling as though some of them are becoming somewhat repetitious. In the search for an upbeat happy ending, this one felt just a little tacked on and rushed.

I did enjoy this book very much and it's always a red-letter day when I find a new Valdemar book, and this one was no exception.

Four stars.
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Second in the series this one features Abby as she finds her gift.  There is danger and action as one character shows how very bad he can be.  Nice addition to a fun series.  The reading is easy and the plot flows in a interesting direction.
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This time out, the story revolves around Mags' daughter Abi, who doesn't precisely know what she wants to do.  After an incident involving a bridge, she discovers she she can see faults in objects. Abi then starts training with the Artificers.  It's nice to see the training from a different viewpoint, normally we only see the Herald training, now we see what else is offered and how.  Overall nice read and looking forward to more in the series.
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The latest follows another one of Mags kids that turns out to have a unique talent for finding stresses in buildings. She joins the Artificer students and has a run in with a rich kid and that kid gets kicked out of the school. The only reason this comes into play later on there are more run ins with the family to get revenge on her for having the boy kicked out under truth spell.  There is a small mystery at the end of the book but the overall story feels more geared to a YA audience instead of an adult one.  
Digital review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley
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Those gifts keep morphing!

A new gift! Queen's spymaster Mag's daughter, Abi, finds herself with a different gift, seeing and feeling abnormal stresses in constructions. A bridge is about to collapse and Abi is able to save the day.
Off to School of Artificers, for her, with training in construction and with a talented healer. Stresses in bones and illnesses being likened to stresses in architecture.
Of course there's a conflict with a snotty nosed highborn but given her background, Abi has more than a few tricks up her sleeve.
Then events take Abi beyond the Valdemar border and face to face with some nasty mages.
The ending was a bit flat, and really, although I quite enjoyed aspects of the story it was just not all that different from previous tales.

A Berkley Group ARC via NetGalley
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This was a fabulous second book in the Family Spies series about the children of Mags and Amily.  The first book, The Hills Have Spies was about the oldest child in the family, Perry.  This second book is about the middle child Abi.  Abi thinks that she is ungifted until the incident on the bridge that reveals her Gift, which allows her to sense the physical strain in inanimate objects.  She begins training with the Artificers and the Healers.  Just as she is completing her training she has to leave on a special journey to help Valdemar’s neighbors.  
This most recent installment in the series does not disappoint.  I enjoyed finding out more about Abi and was delighted by the inclusion of an asexual character in the Valdemar universe.  Representation matters!  Whether you’re a fan of Valdemar or not you will want to add Eye Spy to your collection.
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Mercedes Lackey continues her Family Spies chapter in her long running Valdemar series.  Fantastic fantasy series with well drawn consistent characters.  Abidela, daughter of Mags, is well trained in self defence and the family's spying skill on behalf of the royal family of Valdemar. Then she discovers her new talent can feel weaknesses in structures when she saves people from a bridge collapse.  Abi is immersed in architectural/building trades but still keeps up her service to the royal family.  What can go wrong?
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It's been years since I'd read a fantasy novel by Mercedes Lackey, so it was a treat to rediscover her work. Eye Spy is the second novel in the Valdemar Family Spies series.  

If you're new to the world of Valdemar like I was, it is easy to dive into Eye Spy and fall in love with the characters and that world.  The lead is a young woman who was not Chosen to be a Herald but instead shows a rare gift and great promise. Abi is the daughter of Mags (the Spymaster & Herald) and Amily (the King's Own Herald) and she's learned that she can see flaws in things. Her gift comes out dramatically - when she learns that a  bridge is about to collapse after hundreds of years of use.  Abi has been helping her father Mags in his spycraft and initially decides to study building and materials to provide herself with a "cover identity" but Abi learns that she loves learning and thinking about buildings.  She decides to try to rebuild the bridge using old ideas repurposed.  Her gift for seeing flaws and her skill and thinking spatially leads her to a unique project and the respect of Master Builders all over the country.

Abi is asked to join a task force to help nearby communities assess their public works and help fix or rebuild as needed.  This small team encounters sabotage from old enemies and Abi must use all her talents and strengths to fight back, to protect their team and the local inhabitants and to find a way back home.

Eye Spy was a delight and had got me to dive into the other Valdemar novels.  I've devoured six books and am enjoying going through the long backlist.  Mercedes Lackey is a gift to readers everywhere!
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I really enjoyed this story. Following the character's father through his own story and having it continue to his children has been wonderful and very well done. The author managed to create distinct people instead of children simply following in their parents footsteps. The main character of this story was interesting and easy to like. Some aspects of her personality were done perfectly as with great care. I look forward to having it in our store.
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I really liked this book, although it was less character-driven than most. It was nice to see a character treated as a full adult, in spite of the fact that the parents were also characters in the story. It was also nice to see this as somewhat more of a mystery with a problem to be solved, rather than an adventure story with someone to be rescued. Not that there isn't adventure! There is plenty of action, but the action never overtakes the plot. Highly recommended.
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Eye Spy is Abi’s story. Her older brother has had an adventure and is working closely with Mags. Abi still doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life when she senses a bridge about to fail. Now she has to train her gift and figure out how to turn it into something useful.  I loved watching Abi grow into her own skin and realize that she is special just being herself. I really liked Abi and was rooting for her throughout the story.  Action and adventure aplenty this is a terrific addition to the series.
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I enjoyed this book having just finished book #1. I look forward to reading about the other kids in the family to see what their talent / adventure will be. This is book 2 in this series. however, it is set in the Valdemar universe and there are a lot of books set in that world. So after reading this book, you'll have lots more to read!

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my eARC in exchange for an honest review. - I hope for many more Valdemar books!
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I really enjoyed this book! Valdemar is one of my favorite universes, and the Family Spies series is awesome! Abi's book is filled with intrigue, action, great dialog and writing, and wonderful characters! I can't wait to see what happens in the next book! Mercedes has hit a home run with this book and I highly recommend checking it out! I would start with the Collegium series and read the series in chronological order. It's very worth the read!
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Abi is the daughter of Herald spymaster Mags and his wife Amily who is the King's Own Herald. She has grown up with the children of the king and queen. She has been trained by her father to be dangerous, to be another layer of protection for the royal children. She has also been trained to be observant. She sometimes wonders if that will be enough for her to be a help to her father and her kingdom since she seems to lack any magical gift.

One day, while on an errand with her best friend Princess Kat, Abi gets a bad feeling about a bridge they have to cross. She knows that the bridge is in immediate danger of collapse. She and Kat manage to save all the people on the bridge before it does collapse. Now, she has a unique Gift to learn to use: she can feel the stress in non-living things. 

Abi is sent to be trained as an Artificer which causes all sorts of resentment from some of the other students who feel that she took the place of a more worthy candidate just because of who her parents are. Especially resentful is Dudley Remp, a first class bully who feels entitled to whatever he wants because his father is rich. When he attempts to assault her after class with the help of a couple of his sycophants, she breaks his finger. When his father comes to demand that she be beaten and expelled because she hurt his son, her father casts a Truth Spell which quickly shows what happened and leads to his being expelled instead. However, she has made an enemy who isn't just going to go away.

At the end of her training, Abi has to come up with a Master Work to prove her accomplishments and she chooses to rebuild the bridge that had collapsed some years earlier. To do so, she needs to reinvent a technique for supporting bridges that she learned from a ruin in the city. Before her bridge is finished, though, she is asked to accompany a small group of Masters as they travel to a land bordering Valdemar that is thinking about becoming part of Valdemar. 

This journey gives Abi a chance to explore more of Valdemar and learn more about things that Master Artificers do. She is traveling with three other Masters, a Herald who is one of her father's agents, and three mercenaries who have been hired to guide them. Things go well at the beginning but quickly go downhill when they come to a town that had a previous visit from "Valdemaran Artificers" who caused a part of the city wall to collapse. They learn that the group has Mages and they believe that they are Karsites who want to ruin any relationship with Valdemar and who can control demons.

They need to find a way to restore Valdemar's reputation and get rid of the Karsite spies. The story was exciting. I liked the Abi grew and changed through the story and identified a path for her life that will make her happy and fulfilled. This was truly a coming of age story.
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"Eye Spy" is a fantasy novel for tweens and teens. While the story works as a stand alone novel, you'll better understand some of the references made in the story if you've read more of the Valdemar series. Frankly, this story felt fragmented--like it was several short stories about Abidela put into one book. She's confronted with a bully but immediately took care of that threat because she's smart and talented. She needed to learn to use her Gift, yet that's more summarized than seen, so not much suspense built up there. Then she helped her dad briefly by working as a spy. So a series of short adventures, and most didn't contain a notable challenge because she's so talented and smart.

The usual underdog fight against dangerous evil people didn't start until the last quarter of the book, so there wasn't a lot of time to develop the conflict, and the ending felt rushed. It was an enjoyable story, there just wasn't a lot of suspense since the problems were resolved so quickly. There was no sex. There was some bad language (including b**ch).
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