Review: Four & Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices Book 4 of 4)

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices) - Mercedes Lackey

This book was the weakest of the series for me, even though it had an interesting story and likable characters.  The author took a different approach from the previous books.  None of our main characters were musicians, and the free bards only played a background role.  That wasn’t the issue for me, though.  I didn’t mind the change of pace.

I enjoyed the first 20%.  We’re introduced to a new character, a constable, who’s trying to solve a mystery.  There appears to be a serial killer who really hates female musicians.  The strange thing is that each female musician is killed by a different murderer, and that murderer then proceeds to commit suicide.  At around 20%, the explanation was made extremely obvious, but the characters trying to solve the crime didn’t catch on until much later.  One of the characters should have caught on right away, but she dismissed the obvious solution for nebulous reasons.  That really isn’t my main complaint about the book, though.  A book can still be interesting even when the reader has the answers that the characters are still seeking.

My main complaint is the excessive amount of monologues and explanations.  Each character analyzes his or her decisions in excruciating detail.  Sometimes the decisions were analyzed more than once, and sometimes two characters made similar decisions and so we were presented with similar analyses from each of them.  These mental analyses were also kind of backwards because usually the character would analyze their decisions after they had made and acted on them.  The author seemed very concerned that I understand exactly why the characters did what they did.  In most cases, I didn’t need or want that much explanation because the situation just wasn’t that complicated.  Normally I’m the type of reader who wants more time in characters’ heads.  I like to know what they’re thinking, what motivates them, and how they see the world around them.  This book, on the other hand, took things too far even for me!  

You also won’t normally see me complain about padding in a story.  I don’t need a tight, streamlined story that races from beginning to end and keeps me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  Those books can be fun, but I also enjoy books that engage in some meandering.  Give me some meaningless conversations between characters.  Give me some flashbacks that aren’t strictly related to the story.  Give me some side stories that have very little to do with the main plot.  If the book is well-written, and if I like reading about the characters, I’ll enjoy every word of it.  This book, however, was only 423 pages and yet it felt like there was only enough story to support half as many pages.  The rest of it just rehashed the same things from different angles.
The book did get more interesting near the end, so it was really just the middle that I had so much trouble with.  The climactic event was pretty much what I’d expected, but it was still fun to read about.  Maybe it seemed more fun than it actually was in comparison with the earlier tedium.  There was another small twist near the end that I really can’t talk about without spoiling anything, but it was a departure from the previous books in the series.  It was even a departure from what happens in many books written by other authors.  It was refreshing and unexpected.