Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I finished the 7th novel in the Valdemar series, written by Mercedes Lackey. The series has 35 books, 16 of which we are covering in 2019. We’re essentially doing a buddy read and using the hashtag #ReadingValdemar, but occasionally other readers jump in and join us, some new to the series and others long-time fans. Today, we discuss By the Sword, which is a standalone novel about Kerowyn, and Winds of Fate, the first book in THE MAGE WINDS trilogy. Please be advised that there may be spoilers in this post. The conversation is written by readers for Lackey readers without context from the novels, so if you feel lost, you’ll need to get your hands on some Mercedes Lackey!
Jackie: This was supposed to be the month we started reading only one book a month. Honestly, I’m uncertain if we needed to try and fit By the Sword into our reading schedule. After completing both By the Sword and Winds of Fate, I have conflicting opinions. Yes, I’m glad we took a break from stories set exclusively in Valdemar, that we got to understand the political landscape on a larger scale, and that we got to know Kero and Need. But I don’t think we *needed* any of that information to understand or appreciate where things are in Winds of Fate.
Melanie: It’s true that there is little connection between Prince Ancar, who is trying to take over Valdemar — and there’s that a big battle scene in which Kero and her Skybolts assist — and Morenelithe Falconsbane’s attack on the k’Sheyna vale. But I feel like I would have some trouble with Elspeth’s development without the presence of Kero in those opening chapters. Kero seems the only logical person around those Heralds and their “hit me; I’m a target” white uniforms, and I don’t know I would have believed in the development Elspeth made if she were trained by Talia or Skif or Alberich alone. A strong woman trained Elspeth to rely on herself and no one else. I also wonder how I would have read the relationship with Need differently without reading By the Sword.
Jackie: I definitely would have trusted Need more in Winds of Fate if we hadn’t gotten to know her in By the Sword. Actually, I’d probably be super wary if we had read Kethry’s books, too! Need is a . . . crafty weapon.
But, overall, I’m glad we fit this extra book in. Because you’re right: Elspeth’s development seems to come out of nowhere! She has grown up and is a completely different person than I would have expected her to be. But one I adore. Can we just stop for a second and appreciate that tirade Elspeth gave to Skif for wanting her to be a porcelain doll he could protect!? I want to hug Elspeth for that. I have felt that way so many times in my life. So. Many.
Melanie: I know you texted me that you were concerned — if that’s the right word — about Elspeth yelling at Skif so much. But I feel like we learned a lot about Skif in this book: he falls in “love” with everyone. Ugh. Talia had to be pallsy-wallsy with him to avoid hurting his feelings, Nyara just sleeps with him (does she even know his name??), but Elspeth is the one who says stop hovering, stop mansplaining, stop acting offended when she makes decisions. I LOVED IT. And the fact that Need is totally a sidekick in Elspeth’s attitude made me want to high five everyone around me. I’m so glad the sword started talking; I just loved that she was another strong female mage. It makes me excited for next year when I (we?) will read the VOWS & HONOR trilogy, with Tarma, a merc, and Kethry, a mage.
Jackie: I was concerned, at first. We didn’t get to hear anything from Skif’s perspective from the moment he recognized he was infatuated with Elspeth until the moment he met Nyara. I thought this might be a situation where Lackey was setting up Elspeth’s headstrong personality so she would fall into a trap and be caught by Falconsbane, and Skif was trying to be extra vigilant. When we got to hear from his perspective again I definitely thought, “Pft, Elspeth, girl, you are on it.” And she got all the cred back.
I am quite excited for when we read VOWS & HONOR. Lackey keeps surprising me with a new perspective on feminism in each book we read. The fact that the song “Kerowyn’s Ride” was considered allegory (because why the hell would a woman go to war!?) infuriated me. I love how we explored the idea of women being able to do the same tasks men can do, and in some cases better than they! I see Elspeth’s experience in Winds of Fate as the next step in Kero’s feminist journey. Now people see that women can take on the tasks men do, but we need to protect them still? This is, sadly, something we’re fighting in today’s society.
Melanie: We! Hooray!! A future of magic and stabbity-stabbity continues! #ReadingValdemar all the way. I do think there were places Lackey dropped the ball with feminism: the hyper-sexualized Nyara and the ready-for-romping Dawnfire, whose sole role seems to be having sex with Darkwind when she’s snuck up in his turf and wishing he would exchange some big-boy feathers that tell her (in Tayledras) that he’s serious about her.
Jackie: Ugh. Don’t even get me started on Nyara and Falconsbane. A HUGE ball drop for feminism here. These two characters feel quite out of character for Lackey’s writing. It makes me wonder if Ancar was supposed to be way creepier, but her editors made her pull back for the first published trilogy? I am legitimately grossed out by the hypersexualizing of everything related to these characters. At least in Winds of Fate the rape was actually a plot point. It would have completely changed how we view Nyara and Starblade if it was absent. Not that I would have minded. . .
Speaking of Falconsbane: holy crap, has he been alive since The Black Gryphon?! Over 2,000 years!?
Melanie: The Mage Wars are 2,000-3,000 thousand years before the founding of Valdemar. Way, WAY back. The narrator also mentions Urtho, whom I know is a Head Honcho Scary Mage from the time of the gryphons just by reading the descriptions of the books. The funny thing is Lackey published THE MAGE WAR trilogy after THE MAGE WINDS trilogy. Who knows when she wrote them. But I saw details snuck in about the mage wars. But I don’t have THE MAGE WARS on the agenda until 2020! Somewhere near the end of Winds of Fate Falconsbane mentions something about his “lifetimes,” so I’m assuming he’s either reincarnated, or he sleeps and wakes up like the vampire Lestat (different book; hi, Anne Rice fans!). And also. . .your comment just made me realize Starblade was raped. I mean, yes, men are victims of rape, but I didn’t even think of it because women are so often sexually assaulted in fiction to demonstrate power struggles, like we saw in Talia’s and Vanyel’s stories. Wait, Vanyel is a man. Okay, I think I just found a hole in my brain.
Jackie: Vanyel was raped at the end of his trilogy — because it wasn’t sad enough, amirite? But what is interesting is that in Winds of Fate Nyara’s and Starblade’s experiences are glossed over. We just head about combining pleasure and pain and how sexualized everyone is. Unlike in all Lackey’s other books where rape is explicitly mentioned. It was a weird change.
Speaking of changes, I find that I enjoyed By the Sword overall more than Winds of Fate. Both had similar pacing, but something about Kerowyn’s character and all the new secondary characters really gripped me. I didn’t care too much for the k’Sheyna plot at first, and other than the gryphons, we didn’t get many new secondary characters in Winds of Fate. Many new critical characters, like Nyara and Darkwind, however.
Melanie: While I enjoyed both books equally, they are quite different! I’ve really enjoyed watching the Heralds encounter magic, which they never have before. I was a bit overwhelmed learning the difference between the Tayledras and the Shin’a’in. Way back in Vanyel’s story I thought the people were Tayledras and their language was Shin’a’in, but Shin’a’in are horse sellers. And not all Tayledras use magic; certain tribes banned it, while others continued to use it. I think getting into THE MAGE WARS will explain a lot about the schism. I highlight notes about it in my book in case you have questions later — if I remember correctly, your book is from the library (hooray, libraries!). Back to my point: I thought all Hawkbrothers were like Moondance and Starwind. Ethereal. Limber. Glowy. Super magical. Some of the people in Darkwind’s clan just seem obstinate. In addition, I liked that the novel took place inside a vale instead of Valdemar or another country. That way, we get to see the strange creatures, both evil (like the things Falconsbane created) and good (like the hertasi and dyheli). Definitely looking forward to the challenges the characters face in the next book!
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