The Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Welcome to Arrow’s Flight!

We’re starting Arrow’s Flight this week! I’m super, super excited! It starts with a map and a prologue. We get a description of Valdemar’s founding! I haven’t decided on the format for my Valdemar Day celebrations yet, but now I know what events we will be re-creating! And by we, I mean me and all three Valdemar fans I actually know in person. I feel (perhaps unjustly) that Valdemar fans tend to be isolated from one another. You don’t see us flooding the Valdemar panels at cons. You don’t see Valdemar panels at cons. Valdemar fans buy enough books to justify ongoing production of lots and lots of hardcovers, but not enough to justify public space to talk about MAGIC PSYCHIC PONIES WHO RUN THE STATE and the books about them that we have been reading for over 25 years. As I begin re-reading the second book in this series, I feel strongly that it’s time for a Valdemar fan manifesto. Star Trek fans dress up in costumes and speak Klingon. Lord of the Rings Fans dress up in costume and speak Elvish. They seem to be having a pretty good time. I don’t speak Shin a’ in, nor do I ever wear costumes, and I don’t own a blue-eyed grey horse. No one has to take big steps that they’re not ready for, but let’s pull ourselves together and be open about our affections, OK? FOR VALDEMAR! Although of course, I shouldn’t say that because the state could be wrong. There is no one true way.

The map, at the beginning of the book, looks like your basic clump of blobs separated by lines. Valdemar is located in an enviable, but largely indefensible, position on a broad plain. The map clarifies that, whatever you may have read in Arrows of the Queen, Talia’s hometown of Sensholding is located in the South, near Valdemar’s border with Karse. This explains where the raiders who are responsible for the Holderkin’s high mortality rates come from. Karse is also Alberich’s country-of-origin, and played a major role in the Tedrel Wars that killed Selenay’s father. I speculate that Karse-Valdemar tensions are a result of Karsite efforts to maintain a regional balance of power by limiting Hardornian expansion into the Valdemaran plain. The map doesn’t show Valdemar’s western border, which seems to be somewhere west of the coast of Lake Evendim. The lake itself is obviously a crater. The evocatively named “Exile’s Road” ends short of the border, on Evendim’s shore—it is not clear whether exiles from other countries cross the lake and proceed eastward into Valdemar, or if Valdemaran exiles are supposed to travel to the lake and throw themselves in. Valdemar has only one river large enough to be represented on the map, which may help explain its primarily pre-industrial economy. The direction of the river’s small tributaries suggests an ocean somewhere to the northwest. The Forest of Sorrows, where Vanyel died, is in Valdemar’s north.

The accompanying summary of Valdemaran history demonstrates a strong bias towards Marxist historiography. In a classic example of the impact of class conflict on historical events, the founders of Valdemar fled an oppressive monarchy in the East to create a state that would serve their needs more fairly. They are not Valdemar’s original inhabitants, about whom we know nothing because by the time Baron Valdemar and his buddies got there, the natives had been wiped out by war. This brief explanation of major events in Valdemar also provides a little more information about Talia’s early life. By the time she was Chosen at age 13, Talia had been managing the education of the younger children on her Hold for four years.

What are we doing with our newly enhanced knowledge of Valdemar’s history and geography? We’re going to party with the Heralds. Let me back up, because there are events in the plot first.

Talia is promoted to full Herald and gets a snazzy white uniform. Keren and Sherrill agree that everyone looks awesome in their snazzy white uniforms, which just proves that Valdemar is magical, because white makes me look washed out. Talia also get a new room where she’s slightly less likely to overhear her friends and comrades having sex, although she’s still stuck with the emotional front seat to Rolan’s amorous conquest of everything female that passes through the Companions’ Field. Keren and Sherrill take this opportunity to remind us that Talia still isn’t having sex, and to speculate about the possibility that she will be riding her internship circuit with Kris. Who even the two surviving members of a rare lifebonded lesbian threesome must admit is really good looking (I exaggerate—they were never a threesome, they’re just speculating on what might have been if everyone involved had acted on their impulses before Ylsa died). Talia doesn’t like Kris. WHICH IS AWESOME I DON’T EITHER. I’m going to be standing to Kris’s left for most of this book. With the haters. Kris will just have to shake it off.

Shortly after Talia is promoted, Elspeth is Chosen as a Herald. Valdemar’s long national nightmare is over! Elspeth’s Companion, Gwena, is clearly Grove Born, which is pretty special, but Rolan lies to Talia about it so no one knows. Just keep it in mind, because it’s important a couple trilogies down the road. Also, please note that Rolan is a liar. Talia can’t block him out, ever, but Rolan can make Talia believe things that are obviously false, even though he doesn’t communicate with her in words.

Rolan’s lie has no impact on the political implications of Elspeth’s Choosing, which leads to her confirmation as Heir to the Throne and to her coronation ceremony. Talia has to learn to read the coats of arms that noble children read like a book from childhood. Where could we find a noble child who can read coats of arms like a book? Hmmm, I don’t know. Obviously, Talia is the only person who can announce all these people’s names. It’s a good thing she’s so hard-working. Talia also serves as Elspeth and Selenay’s bodyguard at Elspeth’s coronation, where all of Valdemar’s fractious nobles are coming to pledge their loyalty to Elspeth as heir even though her Choosing frustrates many of their personal ambitions. A single five-foot tall 19-year-old who is also reading everyone’s coats of arms so she can announce their names properly is definitely the best possible security choice the Queen and the Heraldic Circle can make. Definitely.

Kris and Dirk accompany Talia to the coronation, where Kris mansplains everything. He mansplains how he’s going to be Talia’s mentor on her internship, because he just became a Herald five years ago, and his vast experience makes him the perfect advisor for the second most powerful Herald in Valdemar. He mansplains how his good looks make it hard for him to find dance partners who aren’t trying to grope his handsome manly parts. He mansplains how Heralds party. Dirk joins in and does a little mansplaining of his own, which I don’t blame him for, because he has to do something to get a word in edgewise. Talia brushes her teeth with a bottle of Jack, and they leave for a night of singing, dancing, and storytelling with all the other Heralds, who are also making out in dark corners of the tack shed in the Companions’ Field.

Tune in next week for chapters 3-4, where Kris mansplains himself all the way up the North Trade Road, with bonus Mean Girl shenanigans!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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