Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

Welcome, readers, to my first book review of #ReadingValdemar in 2019! I’ve had other readers text and leave comments for me about Arrows of the Queen. They’ve finished it, and I’m hearing excitement in their messages. Jackie, my co-host, has also reviewed our first book.

Here is a bit about the book: Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, published in 1987, is the first in the “Arrows Trilogy.” It’s also called the “Original Trilogy” because it’s the first book Lackey published set in the Valdemar kingdom. While people online argue over where to enter in the Valdemar books, most agree it’s the Arrows Trilogy. Chronologically, it is not the first book, but it is the first published. Lackey later wrote more trilogies, taking her series back thousands of years, and I’ll explain the big difference: magic vs. Gifts. A mage is someone who uses magic. A herald is someone who has a Gift. The last mage died centuries before the characters in Arrows of the Queen.

About the plot: the protagonist, Talia, is a thirteen-year-old girl living in a “Borderland” of Valdemar. Basically, it’s a tiny, socially-backward village on the far outskirts of the kingdom of Valdemar, about two weeks by horse. Readers learn that Talia loves books about heralds, and especially Vanyel, the last herald-mage. In Talia’s village, men marry several wives who produce tons of children, and in the opening chapter, Talia has been summoned by all her father’s wives. She’s told that at thirteen, and with a year of regular periods behind her, she’s now ready to be married off and make more children. Distraught, Talia runs away, knowing that by spending the night alone she will never be welcomed back (in case she had “relations”). This is when Roland Chooses her . . .

Roland & Talia

Roland is a Companion, which are brilliant white horses that bond with a Chosen human who becomes a herald. They feel a love deeper than any other, and Companions have personalities more like people than horses. They are much faster, and after more bonding, many Chosen and Companions can share thoughts. Oftentimes, when a Chosen dies, so does the Companion.

Roland takes Talia to Valdemar, though she doesn’t know this. As a farm girl from a polygamist community, she thinks she’s returning a Companion to his real Chosen herald — as if a Companion could get lost. Distrustful of men and aggressive women, Talia has a hard time adjusting to everything. But people give her food and clothes along the way until she ends up at the Collegium in Valdemar — where the Chosen train to become full heralds. Can it be true that she’s going to be a herald, just like Vanyel from her book?

Even better. Talia was Chosen to be the Queen’s Own Herald, a position that requires Talia advise the queen and shape the heir into someone worthy of being Chosen herself. But people who would see the heralds dead and the queen dethroned lurk in the Collegium and around the heir, poisoning her behavior to ensure she’s never kind enough to be Chosen.

Arrows of the Queen gives lots of information about who heralds are, what they do, how they study to be heralds, how they cultivate and master their Gifts, and what a Companion is. Talia goes to classes and trains with Roland, always aware that heralds rarely live to see retirement. Lackey’s older characters mention battles they were in, planting seeds for future trilogy spin-offs. Each student and teacher at the Collegium has a history. Because all the heralds and herald-trainees are from different locations and circumstances, each is interesting and could be his/her own trilogy.

Since much of the novel is introduction to Lackey’s newly-created kingdom, only in some small part is it about the politics of the kingdom. If you think about how the average trilogy is shaped, I’d argue Lackey is going to follow the same arc. I’ll bet readers go into book two with Talia older, with new students who look to her as a mentor, but the problems still remain as heralds fight to hang on to the throne and their peaceful ways.

I enjoyed Arrows of the Queen and was reminded of why I loved reading Lackey in high school. Although new Gifts are found and cultivated at just the right times, I never thought Lackey clumsily used magic to fix problems. And her threat of heralds not living to see old age always lurks in the margins. The plot isn’t free of romance; it develops and withers naturally, and readers get a variety of gay, straight, and lesbian characters. Overwhelmingly, I love that the heralds are peacekeepers who defend themselves, each other, and the people in Valdemar from evil. Heralds can’t lie or cheat, and Companions never Choose someone with hatred in their heart. I’m always glad for goodness.

A thoroughly enjoyable start to #ReadingValdemar! And don’t forget add the link of your post to participate in our June giveaway! You can create a list, do a video review, create something that you might share on Instagram, or write a review. Each book-focused post earns you two entries into the June giveaway.

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54 comments

  1. I had almost forgotten about the lesbian relationship in this book. It was the first one I had ever encountered in pop culture, and I’m so glad Lackey made it a positive representation, especially with society’s views of LGBTQ people in the late 1980s. No one would have blamed her for not putting in her books, and I wonder if she got any backlash for it.

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  2. It indeed was ‘a thoroughly enjoyable start to #ReadingValdemar’! I finished reading Arrows of the Queen last night and am writing a review to join your read-along. Thanks for recommending it to me, I did enjoy it! ๐Ÿ™‚ Off to compose my thoughts to do this book some justice. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. An interesting start to your challenge! Whenever I read about fantasy series of this kind, I always find myself intrigued, but I don’t tend to do well with series. Glad to learn that this book had positive representation at a time when it was dangerous to be gay or lesbian.

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    • I myself am not a series person. I tend to only jump in once in a great while. I don’t even like to watch TV shows that have an overall arc because I forget what I’ve seen when the next season comes out. Plus, if I get into a series, I feel like I’m “wasting” my time not reading other books. Lackey’s work brings me so much joy that I jumped in with few hesitations.

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  4. I apologize if you’ve written about this topic before, but what year were these books published? I must say I’m impressed that we meet gay characters seeing as this is an older series, definitely not as common that’s for sure…

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  5. Oh man! We didn’t talk about the same stuff at all. How neat! ๐Ÿ™‚ Talia’s time in the college feels a bit info-dumpy in retrospect, but I didn’t notice that in the moment. You’re right, though — this is all set up for future books. I haven’t done much research into Lackey’s writing and this series… I wonder if the publisher bought the entire trilogy or if this was originally a potential stand alone novel? I feel like that’s done more today than it was done in the 80s. But I still wonder…

    Great review, Melanie. It’s obvious we have a LOT to talk about.

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  6. I’m an old fashioned ‘straight’ SF sort of guy (that’s straight re science by the way, I’m not fussed about s*x) but I enjoyed your review. I like the idea that my daughters and granddaughters can get positive role models from their reading. How of Talia’s rebellion against her family is feminist and how much just standard teenage stuff do you think? Finally, is there somewhere we can go to see Jackie B’s review and others that have joined your readalong.

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    • Good question, Bill! I’ll link to Jackie’s review in my review right now. Everyone else can add their reviews to the “linky” thing (it’s at the bottom of my review).

      I think Talia runs away because she’s seen her sister married off to a man who beats her mercilessly. They’re all expected to churn out children. Though she wasn’t treated well before her 13th birthday, she didn’t mention running away. I think marrying her off, which is a feminist issue, is what broke the teenage camel’s back.

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  7. Sounds like a good start to your readathon. I think we are starting to see a shift in fantasy worlds built around patriarchal societies. I just came across a upcoming book another blogger featured where the world was this kind of utopian matriarchal society which sounds really interesting. I already forgot the title, I need to go hunt it down…

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  8. This was my first time experiencing Lackey’s writing and the Valdemar world. I can’t believe this book was published the same year I was born. So many fabulous themes that were WAY ahead of the times. I wonder if she caught any flak for including these things?

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    • I’m not sure. Jackie told me she’s writing a bio post about Lackey, so I hope to learn more. For an author so famous and prolific, I feel like nothing is said about Lackey in the news. I don’t think she’s on social media, either. Maybe these are reasons she’s prolific!

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  9. […] Brief Re-cap: In Arrows of the Queen, teen Talia is Chosen by Rolan, a mythical horse creature known as a Companion, to become a herald. Companions never Choose wrong. He takes her from her backward, patriarchal society on the edges of the Vamdemar kingdom to the capital where Talia attends school at the Collegium, training to be a herald (a protector of the queen, the kingdom, justice, and its people). She learns her natural Gift is empathy, which is totally weird in a herald. Talia’s job is to make the heir to the throne — a wretched brat named Elspeth — kind enough to get a Companion to Choose her. . . or the throne goes to someone else. Click for my full review. […]

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  10. Great review! I’m intrigued by this series. I know I can’t commit to any sort of read along, but I’m looking forward to your future blog posts and thoughts about the books! I’d like to pick up this series after I finish (slowly) working my way through the Robin Hobb books.

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    • Thanks, Ami! You can pick up most any trilogy in the series and jump right in. In glad you’re following along; I’m worried sone bloggers have totally stopped visiting because I’m doing a series.

      How many books are in the Hobb series? I remember you reviewing some of them!

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      • With series I’m always interested to know if the blogger still likes the series the more it goes along. I’ve gotten so fed up with cliffhangers so I’ve been really trying to limit the new series I start to ones that are completed, so I’ll definitely be reading your reviews to see if this is something I want to pick up since the world is so large and there are so many books.
        The Hobb books are set up similar to how Lackey writes. Hobb has multiple trilogies all set in the same world, so you can read one trilogy and be done, or read the trilogies out of order, etc. I think there are 5 trilogies in The Realm of the Elderlings plus some short stories. I’ve finished the “first” of the trilogies (The Farseer Trilogy) and hope to start book one of the next trilogy (Liveship Traders Trilogy) after I finish Bleak House. Although I’m not sure I want to go from a large book right into another large book, so we’ll see. I hope to at least get to it this year for sure! I really like the multiple trilogies/series all set in the same universe aspect of Hobb’s writing, which is another reason I think I’d like the Lackey books. I like that the story is somewhat broken up into manageable chunks rather than so many books in the series.

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        • I didn’t realize Hobbs had so many books, and the way you explain it suggests to me that you WOULD like Lackey a lot. She’s still publishing Valdemar books, but there are so many that by the time you got near the end, she’d have more of them out. I guess there was a five year gap when she didn’t write a Valdemar book, and then she came out with five new books all of a sudden. How people write so much, I don’t know.

          I forgot you are reading Bleak House. Do you do little updates like Laila does with The Count of Monte Cristo? I’d love to hear your thoughts as you go along.

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          • Nah, when I got to about 15% into the book the thought came to me to do chapter recap/thoughts (one or two a week), but I don’t think I’d be able to keep up with all those posts. But Bleak House I think would work exceptionally well for that! I just read the spontaneous combustion scene last night – wowza! Dickens sure does have a way with words and setting the atmosphere.
            And ooh – The Count of Monte Cristo I think will be the classic I pick up next (either that or a re-read of Les Mis). I think a chapter by chapter post of a book would be quite fun and with classics I think others would read along, as many would have either already read the book or be somewhat familiar with it. But am just not sure if that’s feasible for me – maybe some day when I have more free time!

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