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Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

By the Sword: We’re not in Valdemar Anymore

Originally published in 1991, By the Sword expands on a song that was included in Heralds, Harpers, and Havoc. The song, “Kerowyn’s Ride,” featured a girl who rides to the rescue of her brother’s bride after her family is attacked by raiders. This story is not set in Valdemar, which is kind of a relief. I love Heralds and their political projects that somehow never seem to address the issue endemic poverty in Valdemar’s urban areas. But their focus on fairness and the way their relationships with their Companions accelerate their emotional maturity WHILE YET leaving them completely neurotic, does get a little repetitive.

The world building that went into Valdemar isn’t wasted though, because By the Sword is still set on Velgarth.

[That’s why there’s a Companion on the cover.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: The End

We read about Vanyel’s death for the first time in the opening pages of Arrows of the Queen. We read about it again in Magic’s Promise when Vanyel got his ForeSight and started dreaming about it. We already know that Vanyel dies, that he dies for Valdemar, and that he dies alone. Chapter 19 offers no hope of escape or survival—Vanyel is a dead man walking.

First-time readers might have been waiting for a female Herald to take Stefan to safety. But that was Talia’s daydream, not the historical record. Otherwise, Vanyel’s final moments are exactly what we’ve been led to expect. Vanyel himself notes the similarities between the situation and his dreams, as if readers might fail to notice. We also know what happened to Vanyel after he died—the forest he guards almost killed Talia in Arrow’s Flight. There’s no point in re-reading for plot here.

[The last chunk of this book is all about the details.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Sorrows

When we left off last week, Kilchas had just fallen from the icy roof of his observatory. Vanyel and Yfandes were suspicious of the circumstances, but were distracted—Vanyel had just returned from a three-month diplomatic mission to Rethwellan and Stefen had a romantic evening planned. This distraction will prove tragic as chapter 15 opens with the “And then there were none” sequence.

Valdemar now has only three Herald Mages. Vanyel attempts to compensate through a combination of long-distance spell-casting and working through non-Herald Mages who have Mage potential. This may have fascinating implications for Valdemar’s national defense, and for the role Vanyel will play in it after his death. Can he work through Heralds with Mage Potential as a ghost? Can Companions use Heralds with Mage Potential this way? The forty-three words Lackey wrote about this leave a lot of room for speculation.

Trigger Warning for sexual violence.

[Which is fortunate, because it means you have something to think about until next week if you can’t deal with this section.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Forst Reach

Magic's Price Valdemar rereadChapters 8-14 of Magic’s Price feel like summer vacation. This is partly because it is—Vanyel and Savil take Stefen with them to visit Forst Reach. Stefen has been worn down by weeks of constant performance, both to block pain for King Randale and to demonstrate his Gift for the Healers. He needs to recover, and Withen invited him.

The more relaxed feeling also comes from the focus of this section. This is the love story, and while it has a few tense and dangerous moments, its focus on the relationship between Stefen and Vanyel is a lot like a romance novel. The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy neglected its central romance. Magic’s Pawn provided a longer look at Vanyel’s relationship with Tylendel, but ended it in the first half of the book. This chunk of Magic’s Price explores Vanyel and Stefen’s relationship in a more sustained way.

[It’s nice to see them in love.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Haven

I will forever be grateful to have escaped Magic’s Promise without major trauma, despite losing Jaysen to a moment of distraction and a swarm of piranha bats. This week, we begin Magic’s Price, a book which will leave us with far more devastating losses. Since there is no way to defend ourselves from the impending catastrophe, the best course of action is to enjoy the pleasures the book offers while we can.

One of those pleasures is the cover. Like medieval saints, Heralds are depicted with attributes, so we can tell which of them the artist had in mind. As on the covers of the first two books in the trilogy, Vanyel is pictured with his cape. This cover shows him near the moment of his martyrdom, so he is sporting the Shredded Sleeves of Doom. As ever, his famously silver eyes are not silver, I presume because of the limitations of paperback book cover printing technology. The back covers of these novels have all presented evil creatures that played a role in the plot—Magic’s Pawn featured wyrsa, which are basically hell-whippets, and Magic’s Promise had the aforementioned piranha bats. Magic’s Price features soldiers on horseback.

[Hell is other people.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Hearth Fires

We’re in the last three chapters of Magic’s Promise. There’s a mystery to be solved, and, if you’re reading along, a rapidly dwindling number of pages in your right hand. There simply isn’t room left in the novel for the mystery to take a lot of twists and turns. Who did it? The piranha bats on the book cover seem an obvious suspect. Who brought in the bats? Hmm, does anyone here have scheming relatives? Tashir does!

According to the treaty that Elspeth the Peacemaker brokered between Baires and Lineas, if either ruling family dies out through pestilence or misadventure (rather than through assassination), the other inherits their throne. So all the royal family of Baires has to do is make sure Tashir gets blamed for his family being torn into hand-sized pieces, and they double their lands.

[This mystery is a plot device, but it is not the plot.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Murder Mystery Dinner Party

In the dark of night, Vanyel scrambles into a uniform, mounts his Companion, Yfandes, and races for the border to answer a mysterious distress call from two Companions in the nearby country of Lineas. To his surprise, Yfandes takes him to the palace in the capital city of Highjorune, where he finds a Herald beating a Companion with a bullwhip while a blond boy clings to its back.

Herald Lores is a first for us, as readers. We have met neurotic Heralds, flawed Heralds, homophobic Heralds, and Heralds with daddy issues. We have met Heralds who wondered if Vanyel’s life was worth saving, who nearly killed him through casual negligence, and who thought him a poor trade for Tylendel. They all realized the error of their ways and sought to make amends. Here, for the very first time, we meet a Herald with his head permanently stuck up his ass. So Yfandes tramples him, and Vanyel decks him with his sword-hilt.

[He deserves it.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Family

When we left Vanyel last week, he was riding to Forst Reach for some R&R and an opportunity to catch up with his family. The last time we saw Vanyel’s family, Van was an emotionally intense teenager, and his family were agents of The Man, bent on destroying his dreams of becoming a rock star.

In chapters 4-6 of Magic’s Promise, Vanyel is a mature and rational 28-year-old, and we need to get to know his family as real people. Unfortunately for Vanyel, he’s getting reacquainted while recovering from the fatigue that is the result of his recent deployment to the Karsite border. He’s on a short fuse.

[All happy families are alike, but Vanyel’s family is unhappy about horses and sheep.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Peaches

The cover of Magic’s Promise features Vanyel in Heraldic uniform. A tasteful quantity of chains is highlighting an aesthetically appropriate expanse of his chest. Behind him, a child with a terrible perm clings to a Companion with slash-marks on its flank. Something is burning. The back cover has bat-like creatures with huge teeth.

There are peaches.

Everything about this cover says I’m going to have a lot of fun with this book, right up until the moment it punches me in the heart.

[That moment does not arrive in the first three chapters.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Road Trip

When we left Vanyel last week, our hero was drugged to the teeth to keep him from destroying the city of Haven and himself before someone could teach him to shield out other people’s thoughts and control all of his many, suddenly-acquired powers.

Vanyel had also acquired a Companion, which implies that he will learn to control his Gifts and will serve the Kingdom of Valdemar. This is pretty daunting for someone whose previous major accomplishments in life were playing the lute and choosing a tunic to match his eyes.

Vanyel is still locked in emotional trench warfare, but chapters 11-14 of Magic’s Pawn take a step down in emotional intensity.

[It couldn’t really take a step up and still leave Vanyel alive for the sequels.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: Live Fast, Die Young

Last week, I bunched up the happy chapters. Van and Tylendel talked more in those three chapters than Talia and Dirk did in three books. They’ve been so happy and sweet.

Their relationship has been especially good for Vanyel, who was able to relax and feel loved, which, in addition to being nice for him and Tylendel, dramatically improved his relationship with his aunt. I’m unwilling to objectify teenage characters, but the half-naked man-wrestling was pretty cute.

Yeah, that’s over now.

[Read More]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: It Gets Better

When we left our hero last week, he was slouching moodily towards Haven, hoping he would someday be a Bard. This week, we’re looking at chapters four through six (and a tiny sliver of chapter seven) of Magic’s Pawn.

Here, Vanyel meets his aunt Savil for the second time, and begins to settle in to his new life. At first, things look bleak, but Vanyel’s mood improves dramatically by the end of the section.

[There’s this weird smudge on the front lobe of my left side brain]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: All Vanyel, All The Time

This week we’re looking at the opening chapters of Magic’s Pawn. This takes us hundreds of years backwards from Talia’s time to examine the life of Vanyel Ashkevron, the Last Herald-Mage, the guy whose great personal sacrifice saved Valdemar from northern invaders, and whose ghost continues to guard Valdemar’s northern border, which is located where he put it.

Vanyel is so vitally important to Valdemar’s history that his story IS the world-building. The first book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy only mentions plumbing arrangements ONCE. There’s also no mention of road surfaces or tax policies.

[This book is all action, and minimal plumbing.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Songs of Valdemar

Last week, we finished the story in Arrow’s Fall, but we’re not quite entirely done with the book. In the final pages of the volume, Lackey has provided an appendix of Valdemaran songs. These were recorded on the album Heralds, Harpers, and Havoc, and distributed Off Centaur Publications, the Filk powerhouse of the 1980s, which went out of business the same year Arrow’s Fall was published.

It’s difficult to find a copy now, but some tracks are available on YouTube and on Grooveshark. The recordings I have found show clear signs of the degradation of the original cassette tapes. If you have fond memories of playing the tape over and over back in the day, you might not want to ruin them by listening to the songs now. If you never got to hear them in the first place, rest assured that these were slightly less musically interesting than most amateur performances of “The Wild Rover.” The song lyrics are a fun set of extras that expand on some scenes and ideas from the books.

[So what do we have?]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Love and War

When we left Valdemar last week, the Lady Elspeth had finally put an end to one of Valdemar’s long-term problems, the nefarious Lord Orthallen, with a well-aimed throwing knife. Herald Talia finished off another by revealing her feelings for Herald Dirk, a man who is primarily notable for being emo and having a face like a potato (although, to acknowledge his finer qualities, he Fetches like a boss).

Now, in chapters 11 and 12 of Arrow’s Fall, Valdemar faces still greater challenges: fighting Ancar’s army and planning Talia’s wedding.

[Remember in Arrows of the Queen, when a whole village got half taxes for giving Talia a second-hand cloak and some meat pies?]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Elspeth Takes Control

When we left Hardorn last week, Kris had been tragically slain, and Talia was being hauled off by guards while Rolan fled Hardorn’s royal palace.  

This week, we’ll look at chapters 10 through 12, which are split between two locations.  We start with Talia in Ancar’s dungeon and then move back to the Valdemar-Hardorn Border where Queen Selenay and her entourage are waiting to meet her envoy.  We’re nearing the final chapters of this trilogy, and Lackey is going to begin to resolve some of the loose threads in this plot.

Trigger Warning for torture and sexual violence within these chapters.


Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: When Orthallen Plans Your Vacation

Last week, Orthallen arranged for Talia and Kris to visit Valdemar’s neighboring state of Hardorn to continue discussing the marriage King Alessander has proposed between Elspeth and his son, Ancar.

Before we go any further with this week’s reread, we need to discuss the elephant in the room—which, in this case, is the cover art. The usual visual code for dire peril on the cover of a normal Valdemar novel is dramatic depiction of torn sleeves. This cover works to a different standard—Arrow’s Fall has the most ominous cover art in the 31-volume Valdemar series. Rolan is panicking, Talia has taken an arrow to the shoulder. The purples and blacks of the background suggest a dark and dangerous time. This cover promises tragedy, and chapters 6 and 7 deliver.

Valdemarans don’t leave the kingdom much—the prologue to Arrow’s Fall explains that Valdemar is on the edge of civilization and what lies beyond is unpredictable, dangerous, and frighteningly likely to follow you home and destroy your village. This section of Arrow’s Fall marks the first time Lackey sent her characters outside the country. They are going east, which is the more civilized direction.

[Unfortunately, civilized is not the same as safe. ]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Orthallen

In last week’s blog post, Talia returned to Haven to take up the reins of her responsibilities of Queens’s Own Herald. She’s also picking up the threads of relationships that were interrupted by her internship—she has been reunited with Elspeth and Selenay, and, although I wouldn’t say they have a relationship at this point, Talia is back within shouting distance of Dirk. But in chapters 3-5 of Arrow’s Fall, the most significant presence in Talia’s life is Orthallen.

Orthallen lurked in the background of the last two books. In Arrows of the Queen, he threatened to remove Skif from the Collegium for two years of military duty. In Arrow’s Flight, he spread the rumors that undermined Talia’s tenuous control of her Gift. Now that Talia has taken her seat on the Council, the conflict between Talia and Orthallen is on center stage. In the opening chapters of Arrow’s Fall, Talia demonstrated her willingness to use the unique powers of her position to frustrate Orthallen’s plans. In the process, she inadvertently but very clearly demonstrated why Orthallen would like the Queen’s Own to drop dead.

[He hates her guts]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Arrow’s Fall

In Arrows of the Queen, Talia Holderkin ran away from home and was Chosen by the Companion Rolan to be Queen’s Own. She survived an assassination attempt, helped unravel two plots against Valdemar, and found a new family among the Heralds. In Arrow’s Flight, Talia rode into the haunted Forest of Sorrows with Kris, on an internship that turned into a fight for survival against the forces of deepest winter and her own uncontrolled powers.

Arrow’s Fall opens with Kris deep in thought as he and Talia ride towards Haven. They’re filthy. They’ve been riding for a long time. They could have eaten, slept, and even made love while riding!


[Why yes, gentle readers, they did.]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Out of the Woods

This week on the Heralds of Valdemar reread we finish Arrow’s Flight!

Talia and Kris walked into their little Waystation in the haunted forest at the beginning of chapter seven. And now, after 80 pages in which the closest they came to interacting with a third person was having Vanyel’s ghost drop a tree on their storage shed, they are walking out. They’re rescued by semi-retired Herald Tedric and a road-clearing crew from Berrybay, and taken directly to the resupply station.

[It has a hot-water heater. I know you were wondering. ]

Series: Heralds of Valdemar Reread