Book Review: The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey

Posted July 4, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey
Series: Valdemar: Family Spies #1
Genres: Fantasy
Published by DAW Books on June 5, 2018
Pages: 360
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Also by this author: Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill, Victories, Blood Red, The House of the Four Winds, Closer to Home, Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar, Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar, Winter Moon, Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar, Elementary: All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters, No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar, From a High Tower, Hunter, Closer to the Heart, Silence, A Study in Sable, Elite, Closer to the Chest, Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar, A Scandal in Battersea, The Bartered Brides, Dragon's Teeth, Eye Spy, Breaking Silence, Pathways, The Case of the Spellbound Child, Jolene, Passages, Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, The Serpent's Shadow, The Oathbound, The White Gryphon, The Silver Gryphon, Beyond

First in the Family Spies subseries that continues on from The Herald Spy and ninth in the Collegium Chronicles, and fifteenth in the Valdemar fantasy universe for Young Adult (and upper-middle-grade) readers with this subseries revolving around a grown-up Mags with his family. The focus is on Perry and his father, Mags.

My Take

Whew, that opening hook certainly caught my attention. ‘Cause, I mean, who the heck is Perry, and why does this sound so much like a way younger Mags? Then I got to wondering how Perry had gotten mixed up into something so horrible…just like his dad.

It’s a time of growing up for Perry, as he discovers his father is not all-knowing and that there is so very much more out in the world that he doesn’t know. His greatest lesson is acquiring patience, to assess a situation, and make a plan instead of rushing in.

Nor is all the adjusting coming from Perry, as Mags has to learn that his son is growing up and accept what will never be.

One of the reasons I adore Lackey’s Valdemar series is the kindness and compassion in the stories. And The Hills Have Spies has some lovely examples from how Mags and company help the village with that garnet mine, the nest and dyheli fawn rescue, how Perry treats the Master’s dogs and right on through those perfect gifts at the end. There’s pragmatism as well with Perry’s reaction at that bitter penultimate ending.

Well, The Hills Have Spies is definitely using third person global subjective point-of-view! With Perry’s as the primary perspective. If Lackey weren’t using this POV, we’d never have been able to hear Dallen, Ryu, Larral, Roya, Mags, and Perry! Nor would we know what happens with other characters.

Yeah. Jesus, yeah, that’s diabolical all right. Learn how to prevent rebellion and how to use fear to gain obedience. Yuck. Parents, this could be a good discussion point for you with your kids. And, okay, this could be a bit gruesome for the more squeamish of kids, but there really are some great lessons in here, including acts of kindness, and how it can pay off big. Let alone making you feel good about yourself.

I was beginning to wonder if Lackey would ever explain that spooky city! It could well be another talking point with the kids about architecture and what is necessary for people to be able to live in them, with others, and how houses and neighborhoods are arranged. Makes ya think.

While the end is quite cozy, Lackey’s approach felt too juvenile for the writing she’d been doing up to this point, dropping it down to more of a lower middle-grade level.

The Story

As a spy Perry must be able to fit in anywhere, anytime, any place, and now he’s learning to be a dog boy from Lady Dia. Good timing, since his impetuous (and young) nature leads him straight into trouble when he and his father, Mags, drive off on an undercover mission as traders.

Notorious for feeblemindedness, dog boys can go anywhere and no one will pay heed.

The Characters

The eager and impatient thirteen-(in two weeks)-year-old Peregrine “Perry” is Mags’ oldest son with a gift for Animal Mindspeech. Pog is the chestnut cob Perry chooses for his mount. Larral is a neuter kyree and a grand-nephew of sorts to Ryu. His father, Mags, is the young slave-boy-miner we’ve followed since Foundation, 1, and now he’s a proud papa and the Herald Spy for Valdemar. His gift is Mindspeech, being able to speak mind-to-mind with anyone. Dallen is his Companion. Mags is married to Amily, the King’s Own Herald (Rolan is her Companion), and they have three children of their own that also includes Abi and Tory. Lily and Daisy are the draught horses who will pull the caravan.

Lord Jorthun is teaching Perry and the Queen’s Handmaidens how to blend, spycraft, and defense. His wife, Lady Dia, breeds dogs and is in charge of the Queen’s Handmaidens, a corps of young women of highborn status but no money who spy for the queen and help ladies of the Queen’s Court in return for a salary and lodgings in the Palace — instead of being drudges for their families. (Closer to the Heart, 6). Alyson and Seris are two of the Handmaidens. Master Leandro is in charge of Jorthun’s armory as well as his Artificer and weaponsmaster. And quite cunning! Teo is a good friend of Mags’ as well as Perry’s kidnapper.

Haven is…

…the capital of Valdemar and is ruled by King Sedric and Queen Lydia (who has been best friends with Amily and Mags for years). They have four children — Crown Prince Trey is the oldest with his too-young Companion Lyspeth (he and Prince Niko are in Trainee Grays), Princess Katiana “Kat”, and Prince Kyril “Kee” is the youngest — who spend a great deal of time with Mags and Amily’s children. Sedric’s father, King Kyril, stepped down in favor of Sedric when Kee was born. Herald Nikolas, Amily’s father, retired from the public parts of his duty at the same time. Darly is an uncle’s Companion.

The Heralds are…
…the ultimate law enforcement in Valdemar and are Chosen by a Companion, a supernatural gift of a horse-like being with a conscience, in a lifelong and telepathic bond. The King’s Own is the king’s confidante and sounding board. Herald Elyn had helped write up a gold contract.

Herald Laurel is the Head of the Heraldic Circle. Herald Rod is her creative husband and serves in the City Courts these days. Herald Alma, one of their firmest friends, teaches practical field skills at the Collegium. They, along with Arville, were known as the Fearsome Foursome.

The Herald’s Collegium is…
…a boarding school that trains Heralds, Bards, and Healers and is based in Haven. It’s new since Mags first showed up in Foundation. (Back in Bastion, 5, Mags was sent out with Herald Jakyr on a two-year-mentorship (how the Heralds used to teach); Bear, Lena, Amily, and Bard Lita went the opposite way in the caravan Mags and Perry are now driving.) Willy is a new and shy Trainee whom Kee helps.

The Pelagir Hills are…

…known for their twisted magic that can irrevocably alter anything and anyone. Eran Jathon wrote a book about the area. The Weary Traveler Inn is HUGE and well down the road from Haven. Slytha are nasty weasley fox-like creatures. The dyheli were created by a human Mage to protect and make war on lesser creatures of evil. Roya is King-Stag of the dyheli who owes Perry a debt. A vrondi appears to be a “soul” or a guardian of the land.

Whithern is…
…a village on the edge of the Pelagir Hills to which Herald Arville, who has a gift for Luck but isn’t much for communication, retired. And Arville is still useful as a haven for those traveling through. His Companion is Pelas, and Arville has also bonded with a kyree, Ryu.

The villagers include Missus Weaver, a neighbor who cooks and cleans for Arville; Berd is her husband. Una Miller is the miller’s wife; Jeffer is the miller and the headman of the village. Ruvus had garnets.

The Master is…
…a paranoid Change-Child altered by the Pelagirs with an INCREDIBLY strong mind-magic who lives in The Big House. Whew, the scenarios that Mags, Perry, and Arville come up with that they have to avoid(!) are terrifying! The captain and the cook take care to never make the Master angry with them.

Bannerites are a harmless, old cult of bachelors and widowers. Kyrees are as highly intelligent as humans, can speak, communicate telepathically, and are as big as a mastiff and somewhat wolfish looking. The Hawkbrothers are something like priests whose task is to cleanse the land of twisted magic; they bond with Bondbirds, such as ravens. Lord Fersson of Crag Keep bought a company of mercenaries in a ten-year contract.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a medieval elaboration in blues, golds, and white as an adult Mags in his Whites is on Dallen, his Companion, and his young son, Perry on Pog, ride in profile across the lower two-thirds of the cover through a dark blues and strange forest, a golden Larral at their side.

Hanging from a simple pole with finials at the top, a deep golden banner the bottom of which ends in an arc of dagger points with holes at the apexes where the daggers meet is the background for a black, debossed gothic font that centers the author’s name and the title, which follows the upward curve of the banner bottom. Two jellyfish-like plants hover on either side of the last name. The subseries information is in white just above Dallen’s head. A tiny bit of white in the lower right corner announces the overall series information.

The title is literally true, for The Hills Have Spies looking over your shoulder, their presence creeping you out.

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