[WIR, What Hath Gone Before] Arrows of the Queen.
RPG.net link here.
In which we are introduced to Our Heroine Talia, whom is Special; In which Talia meets Rolan the Bad Decision Horse; In which Talia is carried unknowing to the Special Capital City where the Queen confirms her Specialness; in which Talia learns how to be a Herald, specifically the Best Herald (for she has the Best Bad Decision Horse); In Which Talia struggles with self-doubt and lack of self-confidence, exacerbated by Bullying and The Occasional Assassination Attempt; in which Talia Experiences Personal Growth And Gets Super Psychic Powers; In Which Talia’s Upbringing Lets Her Whip The Princess Into Shape Through the Power of Terrible Babysitting; In Which Talia, by Virtue of Her Powers and Bad Decision Horse, Uncovers a Plot And Saves The Day.
This was the first book of my WIR, and remains one of my most enjoyed. The book has a fair amount of first-novel-itis, but it does a lot right. Some of the more eye-rolly bits of making the Heralds special and Talia extra-super-special are here. But this book avoids a trap that we see in the later series, by dint of sheer inexperience. Because it never occurred to Mercedes Lackey that anyone would not naturally root for her viewpoint heroine and nifty animal companion, she doesn’t waste words or narrative potential trying to make them pure or perfect, and she doesn’t drum up the villain’s evil with tedious sex crimes. Instead, we get villains who act like they know what they’re doing, and because the narrative gleefully glosses over the questionable things that Rolan the Bad Decision horse is doing, offering neither avoidance nor excuses, he actually comes across as an interesting character, for all that he has only a few lines in the book. I do maintain that the series supports the intended reading, the reading where Rolan is just really bad at his job and needs to patch things over with PSYCHIC POWER OVERWHELMING, and even the reading where Rolan is basically Lucifer, and has positioned himself into having good done his way while quietly eliminating any other faction. Likewise, there is a very obvious reading where Talia’s attempts to whip Espelth into shape are blatantly her carrying her own abuse forward, and she only succeeds because of a quick mindwipe by Rolan when he manages to finally get his hooves on the princess. Because the author didn’t have anything to prove, we ended up with a surprisingly nuanced work. This would continue into the next book. Sadly, we mostly lost the “plot developments”.
We also had a fairly strong supporting cast. They were all blatant archetypes, but they had enough character and enough wordcount of bouncing off each other rather than just interacting with Talia that it worked.