We’re 11 books into #ReadingValdemar 2019, and once again Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I pause to converse about what we read this month! Our questions were largely guided by comparisons — we wanted to reflect on just how different a Valdemar book is when narrated by someone who is not Valdemaran. If you read Storm Warning, be sure to add your own comments below!
Compare Karal’s view of Valdemar to the views of Valdemar we’ve experienced from Valdemaran narrators:
Jackie: While I have really enjoyed reading from the perspective of Heralds, Karal’s perspective is a wonderful reprise. His position as envoy of Karse allows the reader to understand hundreds of years of history quickly and easily. Suddenly, the Heralds are not all White Knights. And Valdemar isn’t all perfection. In particular, I love how positively medieval Valdemar seems to Karal. They didn’t have magic until recently, so all their technology is built on math and science (More on that below).
The Heralds who have been our narrators to this point have all been self-sacrificing heroes. They see their world as black and white: you are either with us or against us! The Heralds are willing to do anything for Queen and country. Because if you are against Valdemar, you obviously must be wrong. Karal’s perspective introduces doubt into this dogma. Karse has very different views of Valdemar. Bringing these into the narrative makes Valdemar feel much more real and less like a fairy tale.
But more than anything else, I love Karal’s relationship with religion. We’ve hardly read anything about religion in the Valdemar books. Sure, the Shin’a’in have their Star-Eyed Goddess, but we barely scratch the surface of who she is and how she is worshiped. From Karal’s perspective, an acolyte of Vkandis, we are suddenly steeped in religion. Religion influences all his world views. As a practicing Jew, I can relate to this deeply. Karal’s confusion on what motivates and inspires the Valdemarans is plain as they don’t really have a religion to speak of. And yet . . . the Heralds have these deep relationships with their Companions.
Melanie: I enjoyed the way Karal had his own coming-of-age experience, but it’s not centered around learning about and mastering a mind-magic Gift. We spent so much time with Talia in the HERALDS OF VALDEMAR trilogy hemming and hawing about the ethics of her empathy Gift. Was she making people feel ways they wouldn’t normally, or was she being responsible? Because Karal isn’t focused on one aspect of his life, I was more invested and felt certain that the story would move forward at a good pace.
Kim @ Travelling Gladly and I also discussed Karal and religion. I felt that he didn’t seem like a devout follower of anything, but she reminded me that Karal saw his god incarnate and thus could not NOT be a believer. Touche! We also discussed Vkandis transitioning from a religion that took children from their families and burnt them alive as part of a religious ceremony to a more peaceful experience thanks to the new son of sun, who is a woman. They’ve returned to tradition, actually, and not progressed further down a corrupt path, which I find interesting. Anyway, to me, it felt like religion was ubiquitous in Karse, so it didn’t have quite an impact like someone who comes to a religion when they are older — that’s what I was ultimately trying to say.
Compare mages to non-mages with a focus on their problem-solving:
Jackie: Melanie! THIS BOOK HAS ENGINEERS IN IT! I absolutely adore it. And this makes complete sense. This is a country that had to establish itself, more or less, the same way our world did. With no universal magic, they needed science to progress technologically. And yet . . . the Queen and Heralds completely forgot they have a college for math, science, and engineering. The Heralds and their mind magic seem to get all the focus and attention. But Valdemar survives on engineering. How could these people be forgotten? I cannot wait to see where Lackey takes this. I love that she compares magic to STEM; there are so many more opportunities to explore this further!
Relatedly, I completely understand why suddenly everyone wants to use magic as a solution. The mages rely on their magic to do most everything and are willing teachers. They fall back on their most useful and versatile tool when in trouble. And the non-mages? Well, at least those of the court suddenly see what Elspeth, Darkwind, and Firesong can do, and it completely changes their worldview. I would want magic to save the day every time if it could. This is MAGIC after all. Wouldn’t you want someone with magical powers to save the world so you don’t have to?
Melanie: I don’t know; I couldn’t help but remember Vanyel’s fear in THE LAST HERALD-MAGE trilogy: that the common people would come to rely so heavily on mages that they didn’t trust Heralds with mind magic to help them. In fact, a Herald would be a disappointment to the average Valdemar citizen. This is what I worry will happen again with fancy people like Elspeth, Firesong, and Darkwind being so prominent. Not only that, but I wonder if Valdemar citizens will lose faith in Heralds and turn toward the Tayledras for assistance instead! Thanks to Karal’s ability to make connections between separate groups (mages and engineers) and stand his ground when Firesong protests that magic isn’t logical and thus these math nerds need to take a hike, Lackey avoids a repeat of what Vanyel experienced hundreds of years before.
Compare Firecats to Companions. What predictions do you have for the future regarding these beings?
Jackie: Firecats are mystical beings that seem to be reborn Sons of Sun, high priests of Vkandis. I love how aloof and incredibly cat-like they are, despite being the size of wildcats and filled with religion and magic. But, I don’t have enough information to really make proper comparisons. I see parallels for sure. They are both mystical and magical with the ability to seemingly know the unknowable to their humans. They are support characters and alluded to being deities. But I feel like Firecats are more similar to the avatars of the Star-Eyed Goddess than the Companions. The Companions feel like independent beings from whatever power they originated, whereas Firecats feel like they are deeply connected to the god Vkandis.
Melanie: We learn bit by bit what a Companion is, which is interesting because Heralds don’t seem to care so long as they are Chosen! Karal and his mentor, mage-priest Ulrich, seem fairly certain that Companions are reincarnated Heralds, the way Firecats are reincarnated Sons of Sun. Thanks to having an outsider’s perspective, Heralds are forced to question their own way of life more than they have before. Now, why Companions keep a secret of where they come from is beyond me. Perhaps this reincarnation idea is one Lackey developed in later books, so she made the Companions be sly to cover her tracks. But the big difference I see between Companions and Firecats is that a Companion is a loving creature that needs contact with its Herald to maintain a strong bond.
Firecats are more like, well, regular cats! They come and go and only seem to appear when you really need them (kind of like how my Kitty pops up when I’ve had a funky day but hides in the closet when I’m fine). Sure, the Firecats are there to help, but they don’t seem fully devoted to one person. I wonder if one Firecat will visit many Karsites during the same time period because they aren’t “chosen” in the same way a Herald is Chosen. Right now, they seem too detached for me to love them. Actually, I wanted to know more about the kyree/human pairing between Tarma and Warrl in By the Sword. Warrl seemed like a cool wolf companion.
Compare Storm Warning to the rest of the Valdemar books thus far. What sticks out to you?
Jackie: What sticks out to me more than anything is that we don’t have a female voice as the narrator. One of the things which anchor me to “current day” Valdemar is the female narrators. Yes, in Winds of Fate we had Darkwind’s perspective for about half a book, and a few chapters from the bad guys (all of whom are still male, I do want to point out — Hulda was never really a dominant bad character), but these perspectives are also non-Heralds. There’s something about my experience reading the Valdemar books that says the Past is Vanyel, the Present is Talia/Elspeth. It was a bit jarring at first to have our protagonist not only be a non-Herald foreign to Valdemar, but also be a young man. But by the end, I fell in love with Karal and never want to let him go.
A parallel I see comparing Storm Warning to the previous books is tied into the narrative voices. Lackey’s male perspectives take only two forms: The evil villain or the damaged youth. Vanyel, Karal, and even An’desha all struggle with belonging and their identities. They have complex backstories that give each character plenty of room to grow. Making predictions, comparing MAGE WINDS to Storm Warning, Karal and An’desha will both grow into strong, independent men whose work has drastically improved the overall world. Not just Valdemar. Everywhere.
Melanie: I was excited to have a protagonist who didn’t doubt himself to pieces for a whole book. Every novel so far has had a coming-of-age experience plagued with crippling doubt, which is more severe (and annoying) that regular teenager doubt. Karal may wonder if he’s doing the right thing, but in general he soldiers on — through homesickness, brutal travel, not knowing the languages he encounters at Valdemar, fear of the Valdemar culture that was demonized when he was a boy.
I was also impressed that the book didn’t focus on awkward sexual relationships. I have to say, Lackey does not have a knack for writing about physical intimacy. It’s either unrealistic or the most sadistic B-movie villain rape possible. I’m not against sex in books; actually, I prefer it be there when it fits organically with the characters because it’s an important part of human health. But Lackey is just . . . not sexy with her writing. The closest we’ve gotten to something I could root for was Elspeth and Darkwind together the first time.
Lastly, I was most impressed by the steady progression of the plot. We didn’t get stuck in one moment too long. There was a mysterious “wave” that rocked the WORLD that destroyed all spells, then another that was more severe — and more to come. We got information about how the Eastern Empire and Valdemar reacted to losing their magic spells, and scenes of people trying to scientifically map out where disturbances will next occur and when — and maybe even why. I was excited to pick up the book every time I returned to it, which I did often because I had to know what happened next. In fact, I can’t wait to get to Storm Rising. This series has little regard for who is affected by the mysterious “waves,” and I like Lackey’s choice to destroy indiscriminately. Keeps me on my toes!
Did you read Storm Warning? Continue to follow along with #ReadingValdemar and add your posts to the link to enter our December giveaway of a copy of the EXILES OF VALDEMAR omnibus. Click HERE to enter!