Review: Dark Horse/Lightning’s Daughter

So during December, I am going to do some “throwback” reviews. Books that have been in my library as long as I’ve had it.  With my recent house purchase I have been unpacking my books. I lost some books. So with renewed access to my full library, I want to go back to some of my earliest inspirations.  For this first set of reviews it will be serials; and I am grouping the books MY way.

Mary H. Herbert is actually a “hometown” writer. I found one of her books in my school library and only later learned I was in the same grade as her daughter – in my school. I remember looking at the book and feeling the “click” that writers didn’t have to be dead white men. Something I loved could come from a living person with people in the real world. So she, as an author, holds a strong place in my life as an inspiration to let me believe that just maybe I could write too.

Dark Horse and Lightning’s Daughter are her first two books in her Dark Horse quintet, and I am going to review them together because they share a protagonist: Gabria.

These books happen while Gabria is a young woman, and although there is a hint of coming-of-age, it isn’t brutally shoved into your face.  This is, in many ways, a great classic “sword and sorcery” but it is set among a nomadic horse-people instead of “castles and wizards.”

Plot: In some senses, I could argue both of these books have some “classic” plot elements, but Herbert does such a good job reframing them that I can’t just say it’s a “classic” villain in either book.  The best part is that in both books, the villains have completely realistic motivations. I never felt like asking “why does this person act like this?!?

Characters: I won’t lie, I have a total soft-spot in my heart for Dark Horse; however, if I’m truly critical I think the characterizations in Lightning’s Daughter tend to be much deeper and fulfilling. There is a larger cast of characters and the entire world gets a little more fleshed out.  In Dark Horse there are about 5 characters I can really name as plot-driving.  In Lightning’s Daughter, it rotates through a wider cast and range; there are 5 characters in the main party. Each one feels unique and full-bodied as well, there is less of a “broad brush” over specific members.

World-building: I already hinted at this, but this is where I give the highest praise to Herbert.  There are some ways in which her world is “classic” fantasy, but at the same time it’s a side-step from most fantasy.  I never felt an anachronism, it tended to be well explained by “magic” and not in a way that shoves my nose in a magical world.

I will admit, I have a huge soft-spot for Mary Herbert. I probably can’t do a true critic’s review of the books because they are so tied to happy memories for me.  However, let it speak to their strength that I go back to them over and over again as “staples” on my reading list. I have never looked at them and wrinkled my nose with, “meh, I don’t want to read that world.”  In fact, I am sad that there are only 5 books set in this world and wish that Mrs. Herbert would return to the Dark Horse world with more stories, characters – explore some of the cultures she hinted at in this series or jump forward a few generations so we can see what happens. It feels like a living world, and one I want to explore more of.