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Literature / Bardic Voices

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Bardic Voices is a series of five novels by Mercedes Lackey. Each novel centres on different characters, although characters do reappear in other novels in minor roles. The books are, in order:

  • The Lark and the Wren
  • The Robin and the Kestrel
  • A Cast of Corbies
  • The Eagle and the Nightingales
  • Four and Twenty Blackbirds

The books mostly follow the adventures of the Free Bards, a group of musicians who work to help each other and make music. Their main rivals are the Bardic Guild, who have strict rules and are more concerned with their own individual power and wealth than anything else.

This series provides examples of:

  • Abdicate the Throne: Kestrel was the rightful king of Birnam after his uncle deposed his father. It turned out that the father was taxing the people heavily and wasting it on personal luxuries while the uncle was ruling the kingdom wisely. Kestrel, knowing that he wasn't really competent to take it, publicly renounces all claim to the throne, and ensures it sticks by marrying the Gypsy Bard he is in love with.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Rune and Wren. She's all of 16, or 17 at the most when she starts hurling herself at her 40-something mentor.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Gypsies take on use-names based on their job (such as hostlers being called Hob), with musicians taking on bird names. When the Free Bards were formed, they adopted the practice, with all of them taking on (or being given) bird names.
  • Attempted Rape: This prompts Rune to run away from home, kicking off the plot of the first book.
  • Baker Street Regular: In The Eagle and the Nightingales, Nightingale hires a group of street children to be her eyes and ears.
  • The Bard: The main characters, and several of the minor characters.
  • Better as Friends: Tal and Ardis have a lot of Unresolved Sexual Tension in Four and Twenty Blackbirds. During the climax they end up independently deciding that they are much better off staying as partners and confidants without becoming lovers.
  • Bird People: The Haspur are anthropomorphic eagles who excel at singing.
  • Celibate Heroine: Ardis of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is celibate by virtue of her religious vows. She is strongly attracted to the book's other protagonist, investigator Tal Rufen, and briefly contemplates the idea of giving up her vows. Eventually she decides that she may be attracted but she is not in love, and that she is content with her life as it is.
  • Corrupt Church: While there are individual priests/monks/nuns that are truly good people, some in high positions, many in the Church are corrupt and venial, with some getting into positions of power to further their own shady agendas. Case in point: Bishop Padrik of Gradford in The Robin and the Kestrel.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Church has many of the trappings of Medieval Christianity — worship of a "Sacrificed God", monks and nuns, soaring cathedrals, rampant corruption with some good eggs. Believers under duress whip out a "Sign of the Flame", presumably analogous to the Christian "Sign of the Cross".
  • The Fair Folk: In The Lark and the Wren, Rune has to rescue her Bardic Master/love interest from an Elven king. She succeeds (luckily Elves are vulnerable to music) and forces the king to promise not to come after them or use magic or weapons against them. Sadly Rune isn't quite savvy enough; the enraged king ends up sending a huge-ass thunderstorm (weather being neither magical nor strictly a weapon) after them.
  • False Widow: Rune's mother in The Lark and The Wren wore a wedding ring and claimed that her nonexistent husband had been a muleteer killed by bandits in order to cover up the illegitimacy of Rune's birth. Other than the husband and wife that owned the inn she worked at, none of the villagers believed this story, especially when Stara acted like a 'loose woman' outside the inn.
  • Fantasy Aliens: It's never outright stated but there are distinct implications that many if not all of the nonhuman races are aliens stranded long ago. The Deliambriens are the clearest case as they have maintained some of their old technology.
  • Forced Transformation:
    • In The Lark and the Wren, a corrupt priest turns one of the Free Bards into a songbird as punishment for refusing his advances. When he is found out and the spell is broken, it backlashes on him, turning him into a huge dark bird. The bird-priest returns as one of the villains of Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
    • In Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Bishop Ardis turns the people who were responsible for burning down most of a city into donkeys and gives them to the city to be used to help clear away the rubble.
  • Good Shepherd: High Bishop Ardis, the priest that married Rune and Talaysen in the first book, and a few others. Ardis in particular becomes one of the main characters in Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
  • Home Sweet Home: The Lark and the Wren ends on this note once the Free Bard protagonists gain a permanent position as court bards while the Beta Couple acquire a well-fitted out wagon to let them continue their wanderings in comfort.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The Lark and the Wren features a cozy, high-class brothel full of these, with the justification that Madam Amber is extremely careful about who she hires.
  • Indentured Servitude: Bardic Voices makes the statement that indentured service was worse than slavery because slavery had rules to prevent exploitation of the workers that indentured service didn't have, and those who owned the debt were free to rack up spurious charges to extend the length of service.
  • Involuntary Dance: Rune forces some elves to dance when playing her fiddle in order to rescue Master Taylesen from them.
  • Interspecies Romance: Happens between Nightingale, a human, and T'yfrr, a Haspur (a humanoid eagle-like race) in The Eagle and the Nightingales. T'yfrr adds that such pairings happen in his homeland.
  • Intimate Healing: After saving her from almost drowning, Talaysen has to warm up a hypothermic and semi-conscious Rune without anything to make a fire with, so he climbs into a sleeping bag with her. He is very uncomfortable with this because a) he's old enough to be her dad, b) she's his apprentice and c) he's still falling for her despite both these facts. The first thing Rune does when she wakes up is give him The Big Damn Kiss, and in the next chapter they're sealing the deal on their Relationship Upgrade by getting married. It's as heartwarming as it sounds.
  • King Incognito: Jonny Brede/Kestrel was Sional, the crown prince of Birnam, whose tutor, Master Bard Darian, smuggled him out of the country when his uncle (a good man), disposed of the king (because he was corrupt and was wasting the Treasury's money). Due to falling ill with fever during the escape, the prince forgot who he was and Master Darian was able to make him think he was just a regular boy named Jonny Brede. When Jonny joins the Free Bards, a magical technique allows him to regain his memory, and knowing that he wouldn't be a good king and would be just a puppet for those that preferred the corrupt reign of his father, renounces his claim to the throne and marries a Gypsy woman that he loves.
  • Lizard Folk: Topaz is implied to be one. Rune doesn't have the temerity to ask what race Topaz is exactly, but suspects that upon close inspection she would have tiny scales instead of skin.
  • Lost Colony: The setting of the books is implied to be a lost colony for at least one of the non-human species, the technologically advanced Deliambrens, and After the End for everyone else.
  • Magic Music: Discovered partway through the first book.
  • May–December Romance: Rune and Talaysen. She's about 16 when they marry, he is at least 40. Also a case of Teacher/Student Romance.
  • Miss Kitty: The Madam of the brothel that Rune gets a job at (as a musician playing in the common room) goes by the name of Amber. (Not her real name, just the name that all madams of that brothel go by). She is a nice person and cares for all her employees, from the serving girls and boys in the common room to the ladies working upstairs.
  • Moe Greene Special: A minor character is a dashing romantic figure with an eyepatch, and he tells all sorts of exciting stories about how he got it. When his girlfriend in private asks him the real story, he swears her to secrecy and says, "You know what every mother says to a boy who plays with a sharp stick?"
  • Never Suicide: Four and Twenty Blackbirds is about a series of murder-suicides that are actually magically induced double murders.
  • "Number of Objects" Title: Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
  • Obfuscating Disability: In The Robin and the Kestrel, the church of the city that the heroes are visiting uses this, among other techniques, in order to enact "miraculous healings."
  • Phony Psychic: In Four and Twenty Blackbirds, one of the ex-priest-mages that Tal investigates has taken on the persona of a psychic named Oskar Koob, using his magic to find information about his clients (such as seeing inside their belt pouches) and to aid in his phony consultation sessions.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: In The Lark and the Wren, once he is encouraged to remember who he is, it turns out that Kestrel is actually the prince of Birnam, fled after his uncle deposed his father and running from the assassins chasing him.
  • Rightful King Returns: Purposefully subverted in The Lark and the Wren; the old king had driven the country to the point of rebellion, the usurper is doing an excellent job, and the rightful heir only comes back to publicly renounce the throne, having neither the training nor the inclination to run a country.
  • Rock Theme Naming: Rune takes a job at a brothel (as a musician only). The ladies working there all take pseudonyms after gems, both for the high-class ambiance and because working under a professional name helps enable them to leave that life behind them when they retire.
  • Son of a Whore: While Rune's mother isn't a whore, Rune has been called the daughter of a whore/slut (and told she will be one herself) by some of the teenage boys in her village, since she was born out of wedlock.
  • Sinister Minister: High Bishop Padrik, who took control over the city-state of Gradford with faked miracles (most of which were learned from a rogue Gypsy clan or helped along with his magic) and being a great orator, preaching on such subjects as that woman's place was in the home, that nonhumans were Anathema, and any sort of fun (non-Church music and brightly colored clothing, for example) was a sin.
  • Serial Killer: Catching one is the plot of Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
  • Speech Impediment: Kestrel/Jonny has a stutter (except when singing) due to a fever and a really awful scare he had as a child, though he eventually manages to overcome it.
  • Spiritual Successor: to The Bard's Tale Trilogy. Lackey had helped write a novelization of the first video game, and was intrigued by the Magic Music idea enough to explore it further.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Rune, from The Lark and the Wren, passes as a boy to join the Bardic Guild, which only accepts men. Somewhat subverted in that she's fairly open about her gender with most people not directly connected to the Guild. Also, when she gets the apprenticeship and reveals her true gender, she is savagely beaten and both her instruments are broken. Considering they were planning to castrate "him" to keep "his" pure voice, this may have been a better fate. It turns out well enough in the end: She throws in with a group of freelance bards who lack the Guild's prejudices.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: In The Lark and the Wren, Rune/Lark gradually falls in love with Talaysen/Wren, the head and founder of the Free Bards, after he becomes her teacher/mentor.
  • This Bed of Rose's: In The Lark and the Wren, the heroine is housed in a brothel; she plays music for the customers, and it is made clear that no more is expected—or wanted—from her.
  • Tired of Running: In A Cast of Corbies, Free Bard Magpie says this about the Church. In her case this means staying for her part in a play, not a fight.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Used reasonably straight in "Amber's," a house of High Class Call Girls where Rune spends some time working as a musician. None of the girls mind what they do, and Amber, the madam of the establishment, is a kind and lovely woman who looks out for all of her employees like a mother (the books do at least acknowledge that places like Amber's are not the norm).
  • The Usurper: King Charlis in The Lark and the Wren, but he's actually a fairly good king, who overthrew an incompetent ruler who was bankrupting the country to pay for useless luxuries for the court. The only bad thing he ever does is try to kill the rightful prince to solidify his position, but in the end he's willing to leave Sional alone in exchange for the prince (who didn't consider himself fit to rule) publicly renouncing his claim to the throne.
  • Wandering Minstrel: There's the Guild Bards and Minstrels, the Free Bards (those that are good enough to be in the Guild, but can't because they're women, or don't like the Guild), and ordinary minstrels.
  • The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Kestrel was the rightful king of Birnam after his uncle deposed his father. It turned out that the father was taxing the people heavily and wasting it on personal luxuries while the uncle was ruling the kingdom wisely. Kestrel publicly abdicated the throne in favor of his uncle because he did not think himself competent to take it.

Alternative Title(s): The Lark And The Wren, The Robin And The Kestrel, The Eagle And The Nightingales, Four And Twenty Blackbirds, A Cast Of Corbies