My relationship with books—all books, not just ones about Valdemar—reflects the needs of the moment. Over the last several months, I’ve found that Valdemar stories speak to the part of my soul that really wants to live on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches (with extra butter). Valdemar offers magic and drama in a context of surprising social and political stability. Heroes come and go, they remember each other or they don’t, but Valdemar stays pretty much the same. No matter how far characters travel, or how strange their adventures, they kingdom they come back to is basically the one they left. I love the wild, magical elements of the series, and I love its assertion that, despite the conventional wisdom, you can go home, over and over again.
Most (though not all) of Lackey’s Valdemar stories have focused on one corner of Velgarth. There’s a lot of world outside it, and outside Lackey’s usual focus on Heralds, to explore. The Tales of Valdemar anthologies offer a wider range of perspectives, and a more diverse cast of characters, than the novels usually do.
Lackey’s stamp of approval on the anthology stories suggests that, if they aren’t precisely canon, these stories at least don’t contradict her vision. And some of Lackey’s own stories in these anthologies have constituted important contributions to the Valdemar canon; her story in the 2003 anthology Sun in Glory and Other Tales of Valdemar explained how Talia became a Sun Priest. Despite these enticing qualities, my personal contact with the anthology series has been sporadic. I stopped reading them entirely in 2008 when Lackey’s own contribution to Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar was a Scooby Doo crossover fic. I have standards. But I’m also a long-time fan, and when it was suggested I review the new anthology, Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar, I jumped at the chance.
Lackey got her start as a writer in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies back in the 1980s. I suspect that Lackey takes her responsibilities as a nurturer of new young talent very seriously. Some of these writers need more nurturing. I am more than willing to write a scathing review of Lackey’s work when it merits one, because I believe that, as an NYT best-selling author with a 30 year long career and a publication schedule that suggests that her brain is wired directly to her laser printer, she can take it. However much the story may deserve it, giving a bad review to a debut short-fiction author feels like punching down. Suffice it to say that a number of these stories start in medias res, and never get around to explaining the res or move from the medias to the terminus. Others are self-indulgent exercises in the hurt/comfort genre, or center around overly simplistic moral lessons. Overall, the anthology is a bit of a slog.
The stories in Tempest offer significant coverage of Karse, and a sharper focus on Bards, Healers and ordinary people than we usually see in the Valdemar series, and some of these stories are very entertaining. I’ve been reading Valdemar stories for a long time, and there is nothing quite as comforting as the nostalgic, pastoral rhythms of a story about Valdemaran farm animals. The stories in Tempest offer up the classic problem of a bull breaking through a fence, an unruly herd of goats, and a sheep with an embarrassing personal problem (plus hilarious pustulent discharge). In a less agricultural vein, Stephanie Shaver’s “A Small Quarrel” struggles in its efforts to explore the challenges of single-parenting while riding circuit with a Companion for a nanny, but includes an exciting revisit to the city of Highjorune. Tour companies are leading ghost walks through the castle! I want a whole book about Valdemaran tourism and the conspiracy of evil bards that Shaver also proposes. I feel a little guilty for not liking Shaver’s snail-loving five-year-old character, Ivy, who I suspect is based on her own daughter. But only a little guilty. Kill your darlings, Shaver! (Only in the literary sense; I wish nothing but the best for your actual children.) Evil bards and Valdemaran Ghost Walk tours are stories worth our undivided attention!
Enough stories mentioned evil bards that I checked the Valdemar wiki to see if I had missed or forgotten an evil bard story—it’s an entertaining idea, and I’m glad to see the more exploration of of the Bardic Gift. Fiona Patton’s “Haver Hearthsong” is a delightful slice-of-life story from urban Haven, and addresses a subject dear to my heart—access to health care in Valdemar’s inner cities. Rosemary Edgehill and Rebecca Fox’s story, “Harmless as Serpents,” shows a side of Companions that is usually only hinted at. Valdemar’s peasants are not neglected either. Several stories explore the complexity of Valdemaran local politics in rural areas. Others deal with occupational opportunities. There’s a little bit of a Protestant feel to some of these stories—everyone acknowledges Heralds are special, but there are many ways to serve the kingdom.
Lackey’s own story, co-written with Larry Dixon, has some distinct Iron Man riffs, but doesn’t carry its homage too far. It’s an intriguing addendum to the Owl Knight series with a cliffhanger ending that hints at a possible continuation of the stories from that series and the Mage Storms trilogy. The Collegium Chronicles and Herald Spy series have felt like a distraction from the overall arc of the Valdemar Saga, and I am cautiously excited about the possibility of a return to Valdemar’s “present.” I know that ordinary everyday life has long tedious parts, even for Heralds; It’s one of the reasons I like to read about other things. I would like to see more wild, magical elements.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.