Bewildering Stories

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory,
The Outstretched Shadow

Book One of the Obsidian Trilogy

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Outstretched Shadow cover
The Outstretched Shadow
Author: Mercedes Lackey
and James Mallory
Publisher: Tor
Hardcover: 2003
Length: 604 pp.
ISBN: 0-765-30219-5
Price: $7.95

I have a sneaking respect for writers who are able to collaborate successfully with other writers. In my own short writing career, I tried only one collaborative effort. I suppose it did not get off to a good start when my Swedish friend and I went around and around arguing about the very topic of our planned joint short story. In desperation I just wrote something, to be honest nearly the story complete, and sent it to him. My sputtering indignation when I got it back, my characters changed beyond recognition and all sorts of illogical stuff (to me) inserted, startled even me. I suppose it was not good form to then tell my friend he had simply ruined the story and obviously didn’t get it at all.

Alas! We finished the story, neither of us liked it, and though (in guilty conscience) I offered to try another collaboration to see if we could do that one better, for some reason, my friend stopped replying to my emails around that point. Pasi! I suppose it’s too late now to apologize.

Mercedes Lackey, however, obviously does collaborations well. I am trying to remember whether I have ever read any story that is only written by her; most I remember are joint-authored. Her style comes through clearly, however, in almost all of them, so she must be a dominant partner in most of her collaborations.

I cannot imagine writing 604 pages in peaceful harmony. If I ever manage to meet the woman face to face, I shall ask her what her secret is. And if I ever meet Andre Norton, a famous name in science fiction and one of the dear treasured writers I discovered so long ago, I shall ask her to stop co-authoring books. She does not do them well. Or, judging from what I’ve read to date, do them at all, even with the help of Mercedes Lackey, and I wish she would stop cheating those loyal fans of her early wonderful adventures.

The Outstretched Shadow is part of a new trilogy by Lackey and her co-author Mallory. Young Kellen is the son of the Arch-Mage Lycaelon, ruler of the frozen, static, microscopically managed city of Armethalieh. Kellen’s father is the prime example of the smug, petty, bloodless, rigid Mages (none of the Mages are depicted as anything other than one-dimensional prudes, bigots, and chauvinists, so excuse all the adjectives).

For some inexplicable reason (we cannot imagine why, given the way his character is portrayed in the story), Lycaelon married a Mountain Trader who later, predictably, deserted him and their boy and girl. The free ways of the lost mother’s bad blood are passed on to Kellen, who hates the dry rigor of his training in his father’s High Magic and his unloved existence in his father’s austere mansion.

One day three outlawed magic books find their way — magically — to Kellen. He begins to read about the forbidden Wild Magic. Worse yet, he begins to practice it. And surprise — it’s something he finds natural, and something he likes.

But of course Kellen is caught. The vicious Arch-Mage banishes his own son to the wild lands Outside and turns the Outlaw Hunt upon him. Young Kellen escapes with the aid of the Wild Magic and a new friend, and once outside, meets the older sister he never knew he had.

Kellen at last understands his father’s lies. But he still has one deep worry. Lycaelon warned him that those who practice the Wild Magic would turn to Demons. To Kellen’s horror, outside the protective bounds of the Mage’s city of Armethalieh, Demons prove to be very real...

The Outstretched Shadow exhibits many of both the good and bad qualities of Lackey’s writing. She does adolescence very well in most of her stories, and young Kellen is portrayed lovingly. Plot and action sequences are well handled. If the story uses the same old tired stock characters that Tolkien, in his innocence, unleashed upon the literary world forever after — elves, dragons, mages, and so forth — they are competently done, all the same.

But though Lackey does well with her protagonist, as always, she should really try to give her villains more depth. The Mages are just... well, trite chauvinistic pucker-mouthed windbags. The Demons, the other villains, are just as one-dimensional in their evil. There’s nothing there but Bad with a capital “B”: torture, incest, cannibalism, tax-collecting (oops, sorry, that’s the Mages), classic red hides and horns, obviously all the really nasty stuff the authors could think of. I’m sure this was intended to be horrific, but it was so thick it had an unintentionally comic effect on this reader — I laughed. Well, at least it makes choices simple for our hero, and for the reader too. There’s not much doubt which side should wear the White Hat in this story!

Still, The Outstretched Shadow is a good adventure, even if far too long at 604 pages. The rest of the trilogy hasn’t yet reached my tiny local library, but when it does, I’ll consider it worth finishing. As usual, Lackey’s a competent storyteller and her new collaboration is a good reading choice for any hot mindless summer day. Enjoy!

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