The Valdemar Reread

Forces Beyond Human Control: Mercedes Lackey’s Storm Rising

Storm Rising is the second of Mercedes Lackey’s Mage Storms trilogy. Although it takes place over a thousand years later, it’s publication date in 1995 was between the final two books in the Mage Wars series, creating an overlapping reading order for these temporally disparate trilogies that both deal with the magical fallout of the war between the great Mages Urtho and Ma’ar.

This portion of the Valdemar blog series is only nominally a reread. I have read these books before, but I don’t remember them at all well—this is more of a rediscovery. Storm Rising returns to the story of Karal, the young Karsite Priest who has become Karse’s ambassador to Valdemar following the assassination of the mentor, Ulrich, by an agent of the shadowy and mysterious Eastern Empire. Karal has been working to help forge a defensive alliance between a loose coalition of Valdemar’s neighbors and to deal with the magical storms that have been battering the region. Storm Rising also continues the story of Grand Duke Tremane as he abandons his quest for the Wolf Throne to focus on surviving storm-related magic-outages and scary mutant creature attacks in rural Hardorn.

There has been something of a hiatus in the tradition of starting these books with a map, but fear not geography fans! The map is back! The version at the front of Storm Rising has a lot of shading which interferes with legibility. I thought for a moment that we could finally resolve the question of where Kero’s company was headquartered, but it turned out to be Hawk’s Nest rather than Bolthaven over there in Ruvan. In addition to forcing me to squint to make out all the letters, the meaning of dark and light areas is unclear. Are lighter areas higher in altitude? More desert? Less smog? Let’s be serious about our cartography, please! But this map does reward my squinting efforts—it confirms that Urtho’s Tower was in the middle of the Dhorisha Plains. This means that Ma’ar was based in what is now Lake Evendim.

The story itself showcases Lackey’s effort to complicate her characterizations. Firesong gets kind of squicky, here. And the evil villain who plotted Ulrich’s assassination in an attempt to undermine the fledgling Valdemaran League? He’s kind of OK. Storm Rising opens in Hardorn, with a long chapter on General Tremane and his army. Facing wave after wave of magical storms that, they have at long last determined, are NOT coming from Valdemar, the army needs to find a way to survive the coming winter. (As a point of interest, I note that this winter is “on its way” rather than “coming.”) In an epic struggle with the forces of inconsistent magics, Tremane’s mages open a portal to an army supply depot in his home district, or whatever it is the Eastern Empire calls those things. It turns out to be quite the supply depot; Completely emptying it provides the army with pay and supplies to last the season AND sets and costumes for a production of a traditional Imperial drama. Now all the army needs to do is build a sanitation system. There may not be one true way, but no one gets anywhere on Velgarth without careful attention to waste disposal. By chapter four, the Eastern Empire’s lost army has has planned a sewage system that also produces fuel for heating fires and fertilizer. Tremane has a new hobby—it’s rescuing children from snowstorms. Any second now, we should be seeing him thinking about the long-term leadership needs of this new kingdom he’s created and re-inventing Heralds.

Our friends in Valdemar have also been growing and changing since we last saw them. An’desha has become a Newtonian! He reasons that the formula for the behavior of the Mage storms must exist, even if no one can calculate it. And now that we have had that thrilling hint at the eventual development of the Laws of Valdemaran physics, we move on; It’s time to talk about Firesong’s emotional problems! I bet they have a formula too. An’desha wants Firesong to find another lover. I agree that this would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. But Firesong is afraid of losing An’desha, which he’s about to—the kid needs some time to figure himself out. Firesong is feeling scared and lonely. He wishes he had a lifebond. He ponders being reborn over and over Ma’ar-style to seek a lifebonded lover. He laments Valdemar’s sudden shortage of acceptable gay men. Never before has one so skilled and handsome become so pathetic so fast.

Karal is suffering more nobly. He’s getting an ulcer from the new Shin’a’in ambassador. So am I—I don’t like the Shin’a’in ambassador either. Or the kestra’chern, the trondi’irn, or the Kaled’a’in. Let me just point out right now what a pain it is to type superfluous apostrophes on an iPad. I encourage the authors of the future to consider using exclamation points instead, because one day the book bloggers of the world will rise up in a bloody revolution and the apostrophes will be hung from the lampposts. Fortunately for Karal and me, we both have access to a local version of Prilosec. Like all Valdemaran medicine, Karal’s version comes in the form of dozens of cups of weird-tasting tea.

While Karal convalesces, Firesong continues dabbling with evil. In addition to a lifebonded lover, Firesong has decided he needs more sympathy from An’desha, lizard servants who instinctively know what he wants, and a wider range of temperatures available in his bathtubs—he’s currently limited to hot and cold. I don’t think evil is gonna bring all that a-running, and I’m hoping that the ghost of Yfandes is going to come slap him silly at some point. I’m doomed to disappointment there, but Solaris decides to come for a state visit, to assert the legitimacy of her convalescing teenage representative. She travels through a Gate built by Suncats. Apparently, being a divine avatar helps circumvent local instability in the Magical power supply.

Clan K’Leshya also beefs up its delegation. They send a trondi’irn for the Gryphons and a kestra’chern for Firesong. He’s not really evil! He’s just suffering from prolonged exposure to toxic magical pollution. His kestra’chern is named Silverfox. Yes, really. Silverfox is opposed to lifebonds on principle—he doesn’t like feeling coerced—but he finds Firesong sufficiently interesting to resolve the issues with An’desha, who has already taken his bonus apostrophe and moved out of Firesong’s ekele into a room at the Palace.

There are three major developments in the plot here. The first deals with Tremane’s journey towards an approach to power that Valdemaran leaders would consider politically enlightened. Tremane volunteers to join the Valdemaran League, but Solaris remains skeptical of his motives—Ulrich meant a great deal to her. She exacts a clever revenge by casting a permanent truth spell on Tremane. This is going to create some interesting complications in his efforts to function as a political leader. Lackey is reserving these for a later volume in the series.

The major challenge facing Valdemar and its allies is the effort to control the Mage Storms, or at least mitigate the damage they cause. Natoli and the Artificers have been calculating how long the magical breakwater everyone created in Storm Warning will last, and their results are uncertain but alarming. In case the mathematical calculations failed to alarm you, Natoli and co. also construct a steam engine. They build it in a big brick tower, as a safety precaution. It explodes. Several artificers and injured, and one loses a leg. So, that there is probably why we haven’t yet had the Valdemaran steampunk revolution and no one on Velgarth travels by train. It is also an instructive demonstration for readers who weren’t sure what pressurized steam can do. That’s worth keeping in mind because we’re going to Urtho’s Tower to destroy a magically-powered device. Magic is kind of like pressurized steam.

The Mage Storms have two points of origin, and only one is currently accessible—Ma’ar’s tower is under Lake Evendim. The ruins of Urtho’s Tower contain magical artifacts of untold power whose detonation may create waves of energy that counter the magical storms. The only logical thing to do is send a crew of Mages plus Karal (who is a Channel) across the Plains to blow stuff up. They set off an enormous magical explosion, and they appear to all be alive afterwards. And that’s where the book ends. Our crew of intrepid Mages and their assistants are struggling their way back to consciousness after detonating the device, and we have yet to discover who may have been metaphorically burned and who may have lost a metaphorical leg.

We have a book to go before we return to the Mage Storms trilogy and answer these burning questions. As I continue the spiral through these interlocking series, the next book is The Silver Gryphon, which appears to be about the fledgling police force in the city of White Gryphon, far far away from Valdemar a thousand years ago, in the part of Velgarth where they have oceans. And boats. And (then as now) thigh-high boots.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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