Ah… Darkover. After having read eleven Darkover books, reading the next two (Stormqueen! and Hawkmistress! in the omnibus The Ages of Chaos) feels like returning home, albeit to a fantasy home. This was surprising since The Ages of Chaos takes place in early Darkovan chronology, before Darkovans meet with the Terrans. The previous Darkover books I read, with the exception of Darkover Landfall have the underlying theme of the clash of Darkover culture with Terran culture. In The Ages of Chaos, this underlying theme is missing. However, there are still aspects of Darkover culture that are familiar from previous novels (although the setting is an earlier time period). What makes the two novels in The Ages of Chaos stand out is the sacrifices that are being made in order to bred and keep laran (Darkovan psi powers) within the ruling families.
In the first novel of the omnibus, Stormqueen!, the story centers around a young woman (a pre-teen more accurately), Dorilys, with a special type of laran to call forth lightning and storms. Stubborn, willful, and terribly spoiled as the heir to her father’s domain, Dorilys has killed twice already before her father decides he needs more help training and controlling his daughter and her powers. From one of the Towers, a trained monitor is sent to help along with another who has his own laran to fear and to conquer as well as his own personal worries – worries that affect not just him, but the whole of Darkover. The story is told primarily through the viewpoints of the two who are sent to help Dorilys.
In the second novel, Hawkmistress!, the story is told through the main character, Romilly, who eventually runs away from home after being told she must marry a man she finds absolutely repulsive. Fed up with being told what she could and couldn’t do (as a ‘Lady’), she disguises herself as a boy as it is safer than to travel as a young woman alone (she is 14 in the beginning of the story) only to find that she rather enjoys the freedom she has disguised a boy – more freedom than she ever had as a girl. The story is set against the background of a civil war, and Romilly finds herself in the company of exiled men and others who are loyal to the exiled King Carolin. Romilly’s laran is the ability to share minds with hawks and horses (and other animals). As her father’s daughter, she learned to train hawks and horses, but at the age of 14 was being told it was “unseemly” to be doing such things (things she loved to do). Such is the impetus for her leaving her home (even her prospective husband would not let her continue training hawks and horses). Romilly’s only real desire is to be herself and to train hawks and horses. Her laran seems harmless enough, but there are consequences and side effects she hadn’t thought of. As time passes and as she сontinues to use her laran (without Tower training), she finds her powers aren’t really all that simple to deal with and that they could put her own life at risk.
Although I initially thought I wouldn’t enjoy these two stories as much as the previous Darkover stories, I was surprised to find I enjoyed them just as much. Part of this, I think, is how Bradley writes. I find her style engaging. As for the stories, you are hardly bored as something is always happening and the characters are always doing something (unlike other books I could name, but won’t since they are probably mentioned on this blog somewhere already). This makes for good pacing in a story. Need I say that there were a few twists here and there? How could there not be, these two stories are set in the ‘Ages of Chaos’ after all.
Overall, a good read. The omnibus gets 5 out of 5 on my Goodreads account.
P.S. I agree with Jo Walton’s review of Hawkmistress!. “Romilly’s rapport with animals is done brilliantly.”