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.
This cover is AMAZING. Kerowyn is in the hero slot, in the foreground. Kerowyn’s ensemble is military-inspired, but borrows from the color trends of the late-1980s. She is wearing bold geometric prints in shades of violet, turquoise, black, and gold. Her long hair is gathered into a high ponytail. She looks ready for anything: Covert ops. Jazzercise. Her armor allows for range of motion to facilitate archery and riding. The combination of plates and mail seems like it would offer a lot of protection for her torso, shoulders, and neck. HER ARMOR DOES NOT HAVE BOOBS. There’s a little curvature, but we’re spared the cleavage effects that so many heroines suffer from. She appears to be expecting action in this scene, which implies that the artist has left off her helm for aesthetic effect. Directly behind her is a Herald. He looks a lot like Uncle Jesse from Full House. He’s sporting the traditional Shredded Sleeves of Doom. Though shredded, the visible sleeve demonstrates the pervasive sartorial impact of Princess Diana’s wedding dress. His Companion is with them, sporting a bitless bridle (the only kind that makes sense for a Companion) and a fabulous blue saddle. I sincerely hope that’s for aesthetic effect, because the color seems like a poor choice for this context.
Kerowyn is holding a sword. It’s Need! Say it with me: “Women’s Need calls me as Women’s Need made me, Her Need I will answer as my Maker bade me!” Need was basically a character in Lackey’s books about Tarma and Kethry. I haven’t included those works in this re-read because they only intersect with Valdemar in very limited ways. They rocked though. Need only works with women. (Readers with recent exposure or excellent memories might recall hearing that she sometimes has defended very young men—if you are one of those, please please write about it in the comments.) Need does what her bearer needs her to do. If you are a fighter, she will protect you from magic. If you are a Mage, she will protect you from fighters. She’s also a healer. What’s the drawback? She wants to rescue all the women. If there is a woman in peril nearby (or in really serious peril far away), she will compel her bearer to go to the rescue. A disciplined sword-bearer can overcome Need’s compulsions and lead a mostly-normal life. If that’s your goal, Need probably doesn’t find you interesting. Like a Companion, Need chooses a Bearer and forms a psychic bond. Unlike a Companion, Need does not offer emotional support or advice, and usually does not make conversation.
It’s not precisely clear where on Velgarth the action in this novel happens, because the book does not provide a map. That’s OK. This is either book 7 or book 10 in the series, depending on how you’re counting—we know some things about the planet’s geography. Think of the map of Valdemar as a clock face with Haven in the middle (where the trade roads cross the Terilee River) and Sorrows at 12 o’clock. North of Sorrows, there are some raiders, and north of them, nomadic caribou herders. That is not the direction of our story—it’s not cold enough. From 1-3:30 on our clock, we have Iftel. It’s divinely protected. Hardorn goes from 3:30 to 5. It’s a generic monarchy. Karse sits between 5 and 6. They’re theocratic totalitarians. Rethwellen takes up the space from 6-8. From 8 back to 12, we have an occasional Tayledras Vale and the Pelagir hills/forests. The Vales move but retain their names, which creates the appearance of inconsistencies between maps of the region. The Pelagir Hills and the Pelagir forests are sometimes in the same place, sometimes separated, and sometimes not both represented on any given map of Valdemar. Lake Evandim is at 9 o’clock, and has pirates on its western side. Kerowyn doesn’t name her country, but the royal family of Rethwellen is going to show up fairly early on, and her family worships a goddess who does not provide defense. Thus, we are south of Valdemar but not too far away.
Now that we know who we’re dealing with and where we are, we’ll take on chapters 1-6 next week!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.