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Closer to the Chest
Book Three of The Herald Spy
by Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books; $27; 376 pp
Published: October 2016

The third volume in the Herald Spy series, this was a doozy.

Amily, the King’s Own Herald of Valdemar, and Mags, also a Herald, are married and a formidable duet working for the Kingdom of Valdemar.

This time, their focus is a woman-hating religious sect whose titular god is named Sethor the Patriarch. The sect decides to move into an old temple in Haven, convincing a small sect comprised of the very pacifistic Sisters of Ardana, a bunch of sweet old ladies who focus on hand-copying manuscripts and pursuing sensible, loving religious tenets to give up their site. They are moved outside the walls of the capitol city of Haven to a larger but more remote place.

The Sethorites, as they become known, REALLY hate women. Women should be seen and not heard, keep their place, not take on work that men can do (like be Heralds, or Guardsmen, or leatherworkers) not own shops, etc. because they are doing work that only men should do. Women are solely to support men, be wives and breeders, submissive to all that Sethor decrees.  A fun group. And of course, the Sethorites have no women in their ranks.

In the meantime, the Court becomes aware that women are receiving anonymous notes, shoved under doors or placed in their rooms that spew vicious complaints.  The notes declare things like the recipient is beneath contempt, a demon, should kill themselves for taking on a man’s job, or presenting herself as a harlot and dragging men to ruin. They are spitefully, wholly gross and vicious. Some women read them in disgust and burn them. Some women find them horrors, and a few take the note-writers vitriol to heart. They label the note writer the Poison Pen.

So the Heralds (backed by the King and Prince) spend a great deal of time trying to ferret out who is writing the notes, how they are getting delivered to the recipients who live at Court and the highborn who live elsewhere in Haven.

Then women-owned businesses are trashed and vandalized.  Herald Mags can discover little on the streets, even with the help of his ring of couriers and “littles” (homeless children he succors and houses down in the streets of Haven).

So finally, he “joins” the sect of Sethor as an eager laborer who feels he’s gotten short shrift because of women and will eagerly work to undermine their positions in the city.  The story really moves along at a clip because, of course, the actions of the women-haters finally go from verbal to physical. One young lady throws herself in the river because she takes to heart all the nastiness in her continual onslaught of horrendous notes and is barely saved by the quick actions of the Heralds and two Companions.  And the nasty slime even kill a dog and leave it displayed in a Court garden; the small animal pierced with a dagger holding a note to the carcass.

The story shows what a well-oiled machine the Heralds are (how well Amily and Mags work together) and how they all get to the bottom of this dreadful display of misogyny. Lord Jorthun and Lady Dia, along with Nikolas, Amily’s father and previous King’s Own Herald are also in the thick of things.  It is terrific book with a great end. Actually, the best of the three Herald Spy books. ~~ Sue Martin

Click here for book #1 Closer to Home and here for #2 Closer to the Heart

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