The Valdemar Reread

Mercedes Lackey’s Storm Warning: Engineers for Valdemar!

Mercedes Lackey’s Storm Warning, the first of the Storm trilogy, was published in 1994. Storm Warning takes place shortly after the events of Winds of Fury, a book in which Elspeth’s penchant for throwing knives at people turned out to have both benefits and drawbacks.

Valdemar has recently contracted an alliance with its traditional enemy, Karse. In Storm Warning, the Karsite ambassador, Ulrich, and his assistant Karal, are traveling to Haven. When a series of unexplained magical anomalies hits Valdemar, Karal and his friends save the kingdom using calculus and careful notes.

Heralds are very thoughtful people, and their training involves years of academic studies. However, their adventures thus far have not emphasized their intellectual abilities. There are other ways to serve. Storm Warning highlights a cast of characters whose gifts and work are more firmly seated in the nerd world. Karal meets Rubrik’s daughter, Natoli, a young engineer. She takes Karal to the Compass Rose, an inn where scholars and engineers congregate to discuss their work under the aegis of Master Magister Henlin. As the magical anomalies become more severe, they explain to Firesong that, although he understands magic intuitively, it operates following predictable mathematical rules. The scholars carefully measure the anomalies to determine the pattern of disturbances and make a plan to protect the world from them. By way of dramatic contrast, the Eastern Empire simply decides that the anomalies are an attack from Valdemar. Why are the anomalies coming from the wrong direction? They must have circled all the way around the world. The Eastern Empire should have paid more attention in physics.

There is so much I love about this story. Like so many of Lackey’s books, Storm Warning opens with a map. I love maps. This map, like every other map of Valdemar that has appeared in the novels (and yes, I know that a more detailed one exists in the Valdemar Companion) implies that Velgarth is a world without oceans. The map also suggests that the story takes place at a low point for Menmellith, which is missing, even though it was granted its independence from Rethwellen in By The Sword. I imagine that the chaos in Hardorn has resulted in tough times for Menmellith’s independence-loving people, who rely primarily on their geographic inconvenience and lack of interesting resources for national defense. And also on military support from Rethwellen. Karse’s southern border is tantalizingly visible, but its neighbor is unnamed. To Valdemar’s northeast, the border of Iftel is now demarcated with a double line labelled “Iftel Shield Border.” In the southwest, the city of Zalmon continues to stand alone, completely ignored by Valdemar’s roads, watered only by the snow melt from the Comb.

Valdemar’s roads play a major role in the first half of the book, but FIRST, we get an extra special treat—a field trip, if you will—to the Eastern Empire. All we have known about the Eastern Empire up to this point is that Baron Valdemar, the Valdemar of Valdemar, left it to form his own kingdom. And that it’s in the east. Now we learn that the Eastern Empire was founded by mercenaries stranded at the end of the Mage Wars. Emperor Charliss is a mage, is approximately 150 years old, and wears the Wolf Crown, which is made of PURE ELECTRUM. His robes of state are too heavy to lift. He sits on the Iron Throne, made from the weapons of his enemies which have been specially treated to prevent rust. It has not escaped Charliss’s attention that his late ambassador to Hardorn returned home with one of Elspeth’s monogrammed throwing knives in him. Emperor Charliss is hoping that his possible successors will prove their worth by expanding his lands into Hardorn and Valdemar.

Like many field trips, its curricular relevance is limited—we get to forget about the Eastern Empire for the next eleven chapters. Karal and Ulrich’s journey could stand in for the Lonely Planet Guide to Valdemar. Valdemar’s inns are welcoming. Its cuisine is simple and delicious, and features a lot of pie. Due to Ancar’s indiscriminate use of magic in the recent war and Valdemar’s lack of experienced mages, the weather is uncertain. As priests of Vkandis, Ulrich and Karal appear to be immune to some of Valdemar’s rules of secrecy. Ulrich casually reveals that Valdemar’s Companions are reincarnated Heralds, which makes their Herald escort, Rubrik, very uncomfortable. They are also keen observers; Young Karal notes that Valdemar’s wealth lies in its arable land, which results in food surpluses despite a lack of mechanization. I suspect that Karal has recently read The Wealth of Nations.

Karal is a nice kid. In his childhood, his father taught him to work with horses. At age nine, he was taken from his family to be trained in the Temple. As a young novice, he witnessed the miracles that brought Solaris to power as the Son of the Sun. He has an insider’s view of the resulting changes, combined with a gradually expanding understanding of the world. He’s skeptical enough to look carefully at potential explanations for his experiences, but never cynical. As a foreigner in Valdemar, he has a lot of interesting questions about how the kingdom works. He’s fun to follow around.

Although he is an obvious candidate, Karal is not Chosen by a Companion. Instead, he gets the Karsite equivalent, a Firecat named Altra. He can look like an ordinary cat if he chooses, but he’s the size of a mastiff and has a tendency to disappear while Karal is looking at him. Karal also gets a Companion, Florian, as an assistant. The Companions are concerned that Altra doesn’t know Valdemar’s unwritten history, and Karal will need a native guide. This is the first book in the trilogy, so Florian hasn’t revealed any of Valdemar’s unwritten secrets yet. Between Florian, Altra, and the ancient Karsite documents that Ulrich provides, Karal may be the single most significant human repository of earth-shattering secrets the Valdemar series has ever known.

Once Ulrich and Karal arrive in Haven, we get to catch up with our friends from the Winds trilogy. Firesong has built a tiny Vale in that grove in the Companions’ Field where Vanyel and Tylendel once “trysted.” If only Vanyel had been less notoriously celibate, the Tiny Vale movement would be sweeping Valdemar, powered by Firesong’s devotion. He shares his Vale with An’desha, who is operating at approximately 70% of a Sorrowful Young Werther as a result of having to deal with all of Falconsbane’s memories. Talia introduces Karal to An’desha—they’re both homesick young men, and neither of them fits in well with Valdemar’s youth culture. Elspeth, Skif, Darkwind, Kerowyn, the Gryphons and Prince Daren make cameo appearances.

Who were you excited to see? What do you hope Karal learns about first? Tell me about it in the comments!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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