Mercedes Lackey’s first trilogy, The Heralds of Valdemar was published in 1987 and ’88. It was followed shortly thereafter by her second and third trilogies, and a series of other series set in Valdemar and elsewhere.
I got my first copy of Arrows of the Queen as a twelfth birthday present, back when I was a socially awkward horse-crazy kid, which means that I was basically the bullseye of the target audience for that work and for a number of the books that followed. And there have been a lot of books about Valdemar—an average of just over one a year since 1987, despite a five-year hiatus from 2003-2008. I think it’s fair to admit that I have stopped being the target audience. My relationship with Valdemar and its Heralds was definitely at its most exciting when I was twelve, but I’m still excited to see them.
Lackey has been building the Kingdom of Valdemar, and the other countries and cultures that occupy the planet Velgarth, through almost continuous attention for the last 27 years. It now constitutes one of the most prolonged ongoing efforts in world-building in the fantasy genre. Lackey’s work has been justly noted for its gender politics, but has also explored history, engineering, educational systems, diplomacy, politics, emergency management, public health, warfare and physics. And, as I noted in my review of Closer to Home, it’s just really fun to read.
We’ll be starting with the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy (Arrows of the Queen, Arrow’s Fall, and Arrow’s Flight), originally published in 1987-88, and then moving on to The Last Herald-Mage trilogy (Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price) and By the Sword. These works are generally too slight to sustain a detailed chapter-by-chapter examination. Instead I’ve divided them into sections more-or-less based around major plot events. I’ll be posting about one section each week. I will be considering both the books themselves and their relationship to late-20th century social history and popular culture. There will be love. There will be snark.
Before we begin, some useful vocabulary for those new to Valdemar:
Velgarth—The planet. It’s named in the prologue of most of the books, but almost no one ever mentions it.
Valdemar—The country most of the novels are set in. It’s significantly better than neighboring countries because its government has a rudimentary set of checks and balances in the form of magic horses.
Companions—Blue-eyed, white, psychic horses that choose people to serve as Valdemar’s political elites, usually when their adolescent angst is at its dramatic peak.
Heralds—The people who have been chosen by Companions. Heralds ride around the kingdom mediating disputes, collecting taxes, assisting in defense, and dispensing justice. Valdemaran law requires that monarchs must also be Heralds, although they usually don’t travel.
The Monarch’s Own—The head Herald, responsible for advising the reigning monarch. This Herald is chosen by a special Companion. He is the best one.
The Council—A group of high-ranking nobles and other officials who advise the monarch, impose taxes, and approve laws. Council decisions are made by majority vote, but can be vetoed by the Monarch and the Monarch’s Own voting together.
Did I miss anything important? Let me know in the comments!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.