Why did you get involved in #ReadingValdemar 2019?
Melanie: I’ve been following Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense for years. Oftentimes, her focus is YA, but then she really gets into fantasy series, too. Somehow, her bravery about getting into a long series made me jump in two feet with Mercedes Lackey and the Valdemar books, and I just straight-up bought all of them. Not like “oh, let me read a trilogy and see if I like them.” No, I bought 36 books. I had read The Last Herald-Mage trilogy when I was in high school, and all the death just ripped my sensitive self apart. I got The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy that Christmas and was thrilled, but it turns out I wasn’t ready to read a world in which Vanyel didn’t exist. I held onto those books — unread — from 2000 until 2019!
Jackie: I still cannot believe you held on to these books for almost a decade without reading them. I only tangentially knew about the Valdemar books before you mentioned them. I only knew of Mercedes Lackey as a pioneering female author in epic fantasy series.
I don’t quite recall when we started talking about these books… but for me this started as encouragement. When I realized you had held on to these books for almost a decade, I wanted to push you to finally start reading them. Then I realized how difficult it might be to read so many books on your own, so I read some synopses and was hooked. I had never read “horse books” as a girl, and I love fantasy with unique magic systems, and I love reading female fantasy authors. So I said: Bring it on.
Which was your favorite book and/or trilogy?
Melanie: Actually, my favorite was a book we almost didn’t read: By the Sword, a stand-alone novel in the series that introduces us to Kerowyn. She’s definitely my favorite character for her strength, wisdom, and good decision-making abilities. I loved reading about her training, especially in the sandbox where she learns war strategy. Her instructors were amazing women, too, and I’m most excited to read about them in the Vows & Honor trilogy in 2020.
Jackie: MINE TOO! By the Sword also breaks all the rules Lackey set up to this point. It’s set in Rathwellian, not Valdemar, we follow a Mercenary, not a Herald, we have magical weapons, not Companions, and we are introduced to magic on the whole. This book was a refreshing change after The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy and prepared us for #ReadingValdemar to go in new directions. And look at that cover! To paraphrase Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer’s Tor.com post about By the Sword – Kerowyn looks like she’s ready for both covert ops AND jazzercise. She’s my hero.
Ironically, though, I rated Magic’s Promise highest out of all these books. But hindsight is 20/20, right?
Which was your least favorite book and/or trilogy?
Jackie: I only get to pick one? Hahaha — I kid. I kid. My least favorite was Winds of Change, second in the Mage Winds trilogy. This book suffered the most of all the series from telling instead of showing. Lackey explores her magic system deeply and tries to demonstrate the sadism of Mornelithe Falconsbane but only through telling us what’s happening. This, coupled with a lot of Valdemar-specific technobabble, means I struggled to stay focused and engaged. I also feel like there are too many protagonists at this point in the Valdemar world. I didn’t know who I wanted to cheer for throughout the Mage Winds trilogy, but Winds of Change in particular was difficult.
Melanie: Deeeeefinitely The Mage Winds trilogy. I hated the villains, I couldn’t tell most of the characters apart, I wasn’t as engaged in the plot. Basically, this trilogy has become a blank spot in my mind; what exactly happened in the 1,000+ pages that was the series? I was pleased we were finally introduced to gryphons, but jeez. There was a lot of sadism and over-the-top magic. All of it felt like Mercedes Lackey was struggling for ideas, and the result was the world she crafted seemed to have no rules. One thing I would emphasize when I taught fiction writing was that no matter what happened in your world, you had to have parameters and rules, and they must be followed. When Firesong was teaching Darkwind and Elspeth magic, I wasn’t even sure what they were doing. That changed in The Owl Mage trilogy, thankfully.
There are so many non-human characters in the Valdemar series. Which stands out to you as inventive or interesting?
Jackie: I love the idea of Avatars. Throughout #ReadingValdemar there are many variations of avatars. Ghosts, gods and goddesses, and something in between popped up all over the place and each time I was enamored. They each opened a new way of thinking and perspective on the Valdemar universe. I am also both frustrated and thrilled that Lackey never explained them all. How are the Star-Eyed Goddess’s avatars different from Vanyel and Stefan? Is Vkandis different from Vykaendys? If so, how? If not, why? I love the speculative aspect they provided me in what would otherwise be Fantasy Fluff.
Melanie: Just recently we talked about the role of the hertasi, and they are my favorite creatures. Although most of them that are named are male, the tasks they do is often viewed as “women’s work.” In the last few years, I’ve read books about women who quilt, sew, knit, embroider, craft, etc. yet don’t think of themselves as “artists.” But they are! The hertasi not only design and make custom clothing to fit the personality and status of each person in the vale, they are architects, craftsmen, gardeners, chefs. They also swim well and have sharp teeth. Such passive creatures that are multi-faceted.
Which human character is your favorite?
Jackie: I have a tie for first place. Is that cheating? It might be cheating. I don’t care.
My favorite female character is the unflappable Herald-Captain Kerowyn. Kerowyn is one of the most well-established characters in the series. We get to watch her grow from 16 years old to 40 years old. We watch her come into her own, learn who she is, and understand how she becomes this legendary Herald-Captain. I mean, come on, she’s a literal legend by the end of the first part of By the Sword and is embarrassed about the bardic tales people are singing about her! Amazing.
My favorite male character is Karal. Karal, like Kerowyn, we get to observe grow from a child into a man. He is an acolyte of Karse’s God Vkandis, so also like Kero an immigrant to Valdemar. Karal’s perspective is quieter, subtler, and unique from Kerowyn’s. I love seeing Valdemar through his eyes and watching him grow into the man we know by the end of The Mage Storms trilogy.
Melanie: To avoid saying Kerowyn again, I’m going to say Skiff from The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy (NOT Skiff in The Mage Winds books). He was a street thief who had been Chosen, so when he gets to the Collegium to be trained as a Herald, he’s always doing things in some street-smart way. He’ll do a flippy-flip and steal something from Armsmaster Alberich, who then has to admit that while Skiff is a rogue trickster, he also has skills. When someone needs to sneak in and out of a place unseen, Skiff is your guy. I’m glad he’s another character we’re going to read more about in 2020 in the Exiles of Valdemar books, and I’m even happier that Alberich will be there with him. I hope Lackey doesn’t screw up the character again.
Which villain, problem, or life-threatening scenario got you excited — or maybe even worried!
Jackie: For me, it was the earth-sickness in poor Hardon. Ancar’s evil and cruelty literally poisoned an entire country. Each time Lackey described the magic-zombie-warriors of Ancar’s army mindlessly fighting I got anxious. Ancar drafted every man of any age to fight for him. He pulled the power out of the land to force them into this, burning their villages and stripping every resource from the country. Whenever Hardon’s land, villages, cities, or people were described, I felt physically unwell. I could not believe any ruler would sacrifice so much for power.
Melanie: Oh, definitely the illness that the Ghost Cat clan brought with them in Owlsight. I’m so terrified of germs. I get for-real anxious when I play the board game Pandemic because my brain is convinced those four viruses are going to kill me, even though they’re differently-colored plastic cubes. I’m endlessly fascinated by the zombie genre, no matter the origin of the disease or if we’ve got runners or walkers. Lackey proved that every great evil mage at the end of the story can be defeated, but germs are unpredictable. Did you just sneeze? *runs away*
Which Gift or Mage spell was memorable, and you’d like to see more of in future Valdemar books?
Jackie: I want to dig more deeply into the Bardic gifts! Yes, we got Stefan in The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, but we didn’t get his perspective. As a musician myself, I’d love to know more about how the three talents work together (gift, talent, creativity), how empathy ties into this Gift, and what this means for the way Bards interact and support Valdemar. We’ve gotten a handful of glimpses, such as when Stefan performs at court to keep King Randale’s health up, but this seems like only the very tip of what the Bards are capable of. I’d love to explore their works across Valdemar, how they use their Gift for propaganda and faith and all sorts of things! I see a whole world of abilities to explore.
Melanie: The firestarter Gift! It was only in one series! The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy introduced the tale of Lavan Firestorm, who burnt himself to death with his Gift, but saved people. Then, there is one Herald who has the firestarter Gift and helps during the final battle of that trilogy. But I always wondered what happened the Lavan, and why there aren’t more firestarters. I’m not sure if it’s all good luck or what, but there is a one-off book about Lavan Firestorm called Brightly Burning that is on the schedule for 2020.
In what ways is the Valdemar series different from other fantasy books you’ve read?
Jackie: The biggest differentiator is that the Valdemar books are all separate trilogies set in the same universe. I’ve read a ton of fantasy series, but they are all books in the same series. I know there are plenty of other book universes like this, such as Pern or Dragonlance. But this is a new adventure for me. I like that we are following a country. Certainly, there are characters we follow across series, but those are fewer. We’re learning about how Valdemar is established and grows. I love that the true focus and protagonist of this series is Valdemar itself. I look forward to learning more about her history and future.
Melanie: The other fantasy I’ve read is quest-driven. This means people/creatures journey the entire story. When I read The Unlikely Ones, Thing and her animal friends escape from a witch and travel to a dragon — travel the entire book, even when there are places they could stop and settle for a different kind of life. That book spawned three more in which, you guessed it, the characters travel. Even in my beloved Conan: The Destroyer movie, Conan and his ragtag crew (omg, I love Grace Jones) travel to get a jewel, which lets them travel to get a horn, which means they travel back to the beginning to awaken a god. TRAVEL. Perhaps this is the reason why I felt more at home when the characters in Valdemar books were on the move?
At any point did you ask yourself, “Why the heck did I get involved in #ReadingValdemar 2019?”
Jackie: Um. Yes? More than once, sadly. When we got to the end of Heralds of Valdemar trilogy and rape had been a completely unnecessary plot point in each book, I asked myself why. When I couldn’t get into Vanyel’s character in Magic’s Pawn. When Winds of Change kept being all blah-blah-blah pacing is bad blah-blah-blah. Each time something sadistic or rape-y appeared in The Mage Winds. And again when we read any passage from the Eastern Empire in The Mage Storms.
But I have no regrets. Part of the joy of reading with others is when those we read with challenge the perspectives and perceptions we have of what we’ve read. Which, thankfully, you did. #ReadingValdemar was amazing.
Melanie: There was this particular moment in Winds of Fury when Firesong sees An’desha is now in control of his own body after years of being trapped in his own mind while Falconsbane made his body do horrible, sadistic things. And Firesong, who has not gotten laid in too long, according to him, decides An’desha will be a great lover. OMG, why. This is when I rolled my eyes so hard I fell out of my chair. Firesong somehow became this. . . I don’t know, pervert?
He even considers convincing his married friend to have sex with him because he’s so desperate for it. He’s grumpy that people aren’t throwing their genitals at him. This sounds like a matter for therapy, Firesong. Yeesh. But Firesong and An’desha struggle as a couple for hundreds of more pages, and I just wanted the nonsense to stop. Lackey’s weird foray into sexual assault was too much for me, and I had to ask WHY?!
What are your hopes for #ReadingValdemar 2020, if you’re participating?
Jackie: Oh, you wonderful woman, I love that you start by giving me an out.
Melanie: You caught me! *blushes*
Jackie: This was not an easy read along, but it was so much fun! I am excited about many of the remaining Valdemar books, but not all of them. I am most excited for The Mage Wars, so we can learn about Ma’ar and Urtho and the creation of the Gryphons, and Vows and Honor, so we can find out how Kethry and Tarma became besties.
I’m least excited for Exile’s Honor, about Alberich, and Take a Thief, about Skiff. I know you’re excited to read both of these, but I am hesitant. I didn’t like where Skiff’s character ended in The Mage Winds. I am a bit concerned that these books will feel unnecessary after all our adventures with Alberich and Skiff. But I am willing to be proven wrong.
Melanie: I’m just very excited that we’re reading about people I miss or want to get to know better: Skiff and Alberich, Lavan Firestorm, and Tarma and Kethry. Also, we’ve read summaries of the giant mage battle between Ma’ar and Urtho from back in the day so many times, but we never actually read the books! I’m excited to go back to the beginning in The Mage War trilogy. This is the series in which gryphons were created, where we’ll learn about Lake Evendim and the Pelagirs — basically, topographical stuff that resulted after the Cataclysm. The Cataclysm, we know, caused bad magic to leak out, which is why the Tayledras have to cleanse the lands, etc. The Mage Wars books will just really solidify things. It’s going to be a great year!
If Lackey doesn’t recapture the Skiff from The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, I’m going to write her a strongly-worded letter.
Check out our plans for #ReadingValdemar in 2020 in the New Year! Plan to join along? Need motivation to pick up that trilogy you didn’t get to? Here’s a list of the books, in alphabetical order, you’ll want to get:
- Brightly Burning
- The Exiles of Valdemar trilogy
- The Mage Wars trilogy
- The Tarma & Kethry trilogy