Thursday, November 8, 2007

The World of Valdemar

If you enjoy reading fantasy, you might enjoy reading Mercedes Lackey's various series set in the world of Valdemar. I won't review the books individually, but I will list the books in the order of publication (the order in which I recommend anyone read the books), but I will point out some of my favorites (and why they are favorites). As with most fantasy, there are magical creatures and people with special abilities. Unlike some fantasy authors, Mercedes Lackey writes what I call "light fantasy" - entertaining and easy reads - no lengthy, convoluted plots and archaic dialog here... In most of the series, the storylines center on Heralds, people "chosen" by intelligent white horse-like creatures called "Companions" (who have the ability to communicate with their "Chosen"). Heralds, both men and women, are in the service the monarch of Valdemar, who must also be a Herald. Heralds are "the good guys", protecting Valdemar and administering justice throughout the land. And, of course, the stories involve the struggles between good and evil.

So, if you are interested in reading these books, here's the order in which I recommend you read them (with the caveat that you could read most all of the books within a series first, for those series which are not all written "together" - the exceptions being last three books on the list, which come more than ten years after the previous books in the series):

Arrows of the Queen (1987)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Arrow's Flight (1987)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Arrow's Fall (1988)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
The Oathbound (1988)(Vows & Honor Trilogy)
Magic's Pawn (1989)(The Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
Magic's Promise (1989)(The Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
Oathbreakers (1989)(Vows & Honor Trilogy)
Magic's Price (1990)(The Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
By The Sword (1991)(Kerowyn's Tale)
Winds of Fate (1991)(The Mage Winds Trilogy)
Winds of Change (1992)(The Mage Winds Trilogy)
The Black Gryphon (1993)(The Mage Wars Trilogy)
Winds of Fury (1993)(The Mage Winds Trilogy)
Storm Warning (1994)(The Mage Storms Trilogy)
The White Gryphon (1994)(The Mage Wars Trilogy)
Storm Rising (1995)(The Mage Storms Trilogy)
The Silver Gryphon (1996)(The Mage Wars Trilogy)
Storm Breaking (1996)(The Mage Storms Trilogy)
Owlflight (1997)(The Owl Mage Trilogy)
Owlsight (1998)(The Owl Mage Trilogy)
Oathblood (1998)(Vows & Honor Trilogy)
Owlknight (1999)(The Owl Mage Trilogy)
Brightly Burning (2000)
Take A Thief (2001)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Exile's Honor (2002)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Exile's Valor (2003)(Heralds of Valdemar series)

There are a few other Valdemar books, collections of short stories, not on the list above. Not all the short stories are written by Mercedes Lackey, but they are authorized publications. I have read Sword of Ice (1997) and Sun in Glory and other tales of Valdemar (2003), but I have not read Crossroads and Other Tales of Valdemar (2005) or Valdemar Companion (2006), as most of my Barnes & Noble purchases over the last two and a half years have been children's books for my future classroom library.

I will be up front about these books: they aren't for everyone. There are homosexual characters in some of the books. I didn't start reading these books until I was in my 20s, but I would not recommend these books to students (I'm a certified elementary school teacher), and I would only recommend these titles to teens when their parents were okay with it (with the foreknowledge of some of the potentially objectionable content - extramarital sex and homosexuality). All this being said, these books aren't really about the characters' sexuality (although it does figure more prominently in The Last Herald Mage Trilogy). As an adult reader of these books, I understand that while I might not agree with the morality of some characters, underneath some of the character flaws I see, these are people fighting for what is right for Valdemar. These books tell stories, in the context of a fantasy world that could never exist, of flawed people trying to do what is best to safeguard good people against threats rooted in the actions of evil people.

My favorites out of all twenty-six books are the most recent: Take a Thief, Exile's Honor and Exile's Valor.

Take a Thief tells the backstory Skif, a character from the first Valdemar book, Arrows of the Queen. Skif is an orphan, abused by his uncle and his cousin, and running with a gang of pickpockets. Then, Skif is "chosen", although he starts out thinking he has stolen a horse... Skif is mentored by the Collegium's weaponsmaster, Alberich. Between Skif's life experiences prior to being chosen and his tutelage under Alberich, Skif is uniquely skilled for covert missions within Valdemar's capital city, Haven.

Exile's Honor tells the backstory of Alberich, the mysterious weaponsmaster at the Herald's Collegium (someone "seen" throughout many of these novels, as all Heralds are required to receive weapons training - archery, swords, and even knives in some cases). Alberich is not a native of Valdemar. In fact, he is a native of Valdemar's sworn enemy, Karse. As a young boy, Alberich was taken from his home to be trained as a soldier in the service of Karse, a theocratic (and dare I say "fascist"?) state. Karse regularly "sacrifices" children to their god, and when Alberich, a captain in the Karsite army, runs afoul of the priests during one of these "sacrificial fires", he becomes their next target. When he is trapped in a burning shed, his recently captured "horse" comes to his rescue. Only this "horse" isn't what is seems, and Kantor takes Alberich to Haven. Although most all Heralds are "chosen" as children, and Companions are not known for making wrong choices, Alberich is not so easily trusted. Alberich is a soldier and honor and duty are important to him. He must prove himself at a time when the nation of his birth is at war with the country of his exile.

Exile's Valor continues Alberich's story, picking up pretty much right where Exile's Honor left off. There is a new queen, young and untested, and there are those who seek to usurp her power. Can Alberich, as the young queen's personal bodyguard, protect her and discover those behind the plot?

On a side note, when I was first reading Alberich's story, I was corresponding with Major Pain (then "Capt. B") and his XO (through, who were in Afghanistan at the time with 1/6 Marines. I couldn't help but think Alberich would have made an excellent Marine...


Cassandra said...

Ironically (or not) I bought several of these books for my teen-aged sons when they were growing up. They enjoyed them. The homosexual theme didn't bother me one whit, in fact I thought it was tastefully handled and was a good way for a young person to be exposed to that subject if they were going to - not a bad opening to talking about it with your children if you want to.

Miss Ladybug said...

I agree, but I know some people aren't comfortable with it, so I just wanted to be upfront and make people aware. Buying a book when you aren't familiar with the author's work can be a bit of a crap shoot - unless you've heard other talk about the books, you only know what the publisher chooses to put on the book jacket. These books aren't about the individual character's sex lives, but it's not something that is ignored. Again, in The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, Vanyel's life is unalterablely changed in Magic's Pawn, for good or ill, because of a romantic relationship, making a significant impact on the way in which he lived his life as seen in Magic's Promise and Magic's Price.

Cassandra said...

The Vanyel ones were the ones my sons read. I loved them - I read them too. I always read anything I bought for my sons when they were boys. I think this is one reason my oldest son is as open-minded as he is, which is a good thing, since he is a police officer now. He is dealing with a rather broad swathe of humanity - certainly a whole lot of things he was never exposed to as a child and being overly judgmental about people when you haven't walked in their shoes isn't really all that helpful. You can not approve of behavior while not condemning a person or understanding that if you had grown up in different circumstances you might have taken a different path and that is where I think fiction is so valuable. It trains the imagination and enables children to empathize with what they have not personally experienced. That doesn't mean they have to suspend their logical faculties and moral codes, whatever they may be, but we have to live in the world the way it is, not the way we wish it were. I think that the more conservative your upbringing, the more important it is to find a way to live with the world as it *is* while reconciling reality with your beliefs. We're fairly socially moderate so that wasn't a huge issue in our household, but I still found fiction a great way to bring up topics for debate and discussion with my older children and reinforce ideas I wanted to teach them. I think this would work whether you were conservative or liberal.

Miss Ladybug said...

Again, I agree with you about fiction being a way to expose one's self (or one's children) to a way of life outside of what you have personally experienced.

It was one of my best friends (Lyric Mezzo) who introduced me to Mercedes Lackey and Valdemar. She started me out with Magic's Pawn. Since this trilogy weren't the first books written, I was a little confused when I started reading the rest of them (beginning with Arrows of the Queen) since - chronologically in the history of Valdemar - the events of The Last Herald Mage take place before Arrows of the Queen.

If your boys (and you, too) liked The Last Herald Mage books, but don't have the time or inclination to read all the other Valdemar books, you would likely enjoy my favorites, too, since they can stand alone well enough of their own (and even better with some knowledge of Valdemar/Heralds & Companions).