29. The Free Bards by Mercedes Lackey. 712 p. Published May 1997.
This trade volume contains the first three books of The Free Bards series.
In The Lark & The Wren, Lackey expands on a short story she wrote years earlier. Rune’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Her mother, Stara, who was once a maid at The Hungry Bear. But after the innkeeper’s wife passed, she quickly wound her way into his bed and favor. Rune, abused by her mother and the village at large, only had music to keep her together. But after some of the village boys try to force themselves on her, she has had enough. Taking a dare, she marches off to Skull Hill, where a notorious ghost has preyed on travelers for decades. But with the tune in her heart, Rune charms the ancient phantom, winning a pile of gold in return. Packing her meager possession and her beloved violin, Rune flees from the village and makes her way to Nolton, where she receives tutelage and learns to read music and compose. Soon after she makes her way to The King’s Fair to take the Bardic Guild’s entrance exams. Disguised as a boy, Rune amazes the bards with her performance. But when she reveals her true sex, they beet her and toss her on her ear. Rune is found by Talaysen, leader of the Free Bards, and is welcomed into the fold. There she finds love and acceptance and begins to develop a rare gift – the art of magic through music. And just in time, for they have found Kestrel, a fellow musician who is being tracked by assassins. Kestrel’s secret bring the true danger into light, and how Rune and the Free Bards decide to act will determine the future of their group.
The Robin & the Kestrel is the story of Robin and Kestrel, met in the first book. These lovers travel together, pedaling their music. They are approached by friends and asked to go on a mission to Nolton, where troubling rumors have indicated a threat to the Free Bards. There they find that a new charismatic priest has taken leadership of the Church by performing miracles and preaching against the more transient elements of society. Together, Robin and Kestrel must find a way to expose the priest for the fraud he is and save a friend that had been captured and labeled a demon. But through their cunning, the pair have gained an ally that no one expected, The Ghost of Skull Hill, and with his limited aid may find a way to prevail.
The final novel, The Eagle & the Nightingales, focuses on Nightingale, a gypsy and Free Bard. Trouble has been spreading through the Twenty Kingdoms and Nightingale has been sent to Lyonarie, the capital city, to find what troubles the High King. There she finds a job as a bard at Freehold, an interspecies tavern, and uses her position to gather information. While there she meets T’fyrr, a Haspur, who has been attached to the High King as his royal bard. These two bards discover a plot that would mean genocide and slavery for every non-human in the land and must act quickly to aid the High King in regaining control of his own government.
In The Free Bards, Lackey creates a world filled with magic and colorful characters. While the plots are not as developed as some of her later works, Lackey’s ability to create characters carries each novel. I enjoyed Lark& Wren more than the other stories. In the end, The Free Bards is another light fantasy in Lackey’s style. If you like her other works, you’ll enjoy these.
Rating: 3 out of 5