The Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Valdemaran Public Health and Epidemiology

One of the conventions of YA literature is a journey in which the hero’s mettle is tested. Harry Potter went to the Forest of Dean. Katniss Everdeen went to the Quarter Quell. And Talia goes to Sorrows Two.

She spent Arrows of the Queen being trained and educated as Queen’s Own, and in chapters five and six of Arrow’s Flight, Kris and Talia reach their sector and her skills are put to the test. The major plot development here is that Talia’s shields continue to deteriorate, taking her emotional state with them.

In order to build that problem to a meaningful crisis, Lackey needs to show us what Heralds really do, and why it’s important for them to be emotionally stable.

So what, precisely, is a Herald’s job? The closest Earth-analogue I have found is Louis XIV’s use of intendants to carry out his will in the provinces. The intendant system really annoyed the French nobility. It’s hard to get an exact fix on how Valdemar’s nobles feel about Heralds because Orthallen is the only member of the nobility who does anything other than swear fealty in this book. But if you recall last week’s blog post, he did seem a little passive-aggressive.

As they travel through the villages on their circuit, Kris and Talia take on approximately one challenge per village, steadily increasing in difficulty. Kris performs a marriage ceremony for a young couple, and Talia deploys Solomon-like wisdom in dealing with loose livestock and property disputes. A village or so down the road, Talia empathy-zaps a psychotic woman who is planning to attack her employers. This is both an unconventional use of her Gift and an indicator of a lack of Mind Healing services in Valdemar’s rural areas. Kris and Talia also collect tax records for the fiscal year so far, and deliver news and legal updates from Haven. The political implications of this are fascinating, but I’m completely captivated by Lackey’s handling of public health issues in this section of the book. I love fictional public health issues.

While riding circuits in their sector, Heralds stay in Waystations. These are isolated, primitive cabins full of things that mice and bugs like to eat. How do Heralds manage the health risks associated with these living conditions? In this section of Arrow’s Flight, Talia fumigates all the Waystations. Can’t have my Heralds getting bedbugs! And they must be taking this threat really seriously. Kris and Talia expect to be in the field for 9 months before resupply; they may stay in one Waystation for five or more nights while working in a village, but they move to a new Waystation each night while traveling between villages. Assuming an average of one Waystation every three days, they will need approximately ninety of these adorable little fumigation bombs. That’s roughly half a chirra worth of luggage. The fumigation process relies on filling the Waystation with pungent smoke, and I’m worried about potential long-term impacts. If fewer Heralds were killed in action, Valdemar’s Healers might see a connection between pest-control strategies and respiratory and neurological problems in older Heralds. They might also notice that their cockroaches are invincible. Or possibly not, because Velgarth is magical and maybe their pesticides defy evolution.

But there is more here than scene after scene of Talia lighting up anti-vermin grenades. A WHOLE VILLAGE gets sick. ALL AT ONCE. Presenting symptoms are fever, facial edema, and swollen lymph nodes. It sounds like mumps, except that EVERYONE GETS IT AT ONCE, which sounds like biological warfare. I know that sounds a little over-the-top, but follow my logic here:

  • Vanyel was killed while fighting enemies located to Valdemar’s north.
  • In chapter two, Kyril told Talia about Vanyel’s Curse, which protects the Forest of Sorrows. The curse affects armies, bandits, and even predatory wildlife.
  • Thus, Valdemar’s enemies to the north cannot rely on conventional means.
  • However, there is no reason to believe that Valdemar’s un-named northern neighbors like it any better than its southern ones do.
  • Weaponized mumps seems like something a hostile mage could cook up to circumvent Vanyel’s Curse and wage a war of attrition in northern Valdemar.

I feel compelled to acknowledge that there are 29 more books set on Velgarth, and I have not conducted a thorough recent review for evidence that supports or refutes my claims. That’s what the comment thread is for.

Kris stays at the village to care for THE WHOLE VILLAGE OF SICK PEOPLE WHO ARE ALSO NOW UNCONSCIOUS. Sorry for all the all caps, but not sorry, because this is a pretty kick-ass disease. He uses the Arrow Code to tell Talia to go get some Healers, and she and Rolan run flat out for four days to the nearest Healing Temple—which seems inconveniently remote, but I don’t know where any of the other villages are or what the minimum safe distance is for illnesses that knock out whole villages at once—to get some Healers to Heal the WHOLE VILLAGE OF SICK UNCONSCIOUS PEOPLE WHO HAVE WEAPONIZED MUMPS. The Healers are familiar with this illness because some village or other gets hit with it in the early part of every winter. VANYEL’S CURSE CAN’T STOP WEAPONIZED MUMPS. People, I respect if this isn’t your favorite part of these chapters, but it COMPLETELY is mine.

After a grueling week helping the Healers with the village of weaponized mumps victims, Talia and Kris head for a nearby Waystation with firm instructions to get some rest and fix Talia’s shields. We will meet them there next week when we take on chapters 7 through 9.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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