When Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I started #ReadingValdemar, it was January 2019. Wow! We have really stuck with this. Interestingly, we’re not totally reading in any order — publication or chronological. Basically, we started with the first books published, jumped forward to the trilogy that started it all for me in high school, and then moved back and forward based who knows what advice. Mine? Something I gleaned from the Wikipedia fan page? Theories on Reddit? But what matters is where we are now.
Exile’s Valor is the second book following Herald Weaponsmaster Alberich. In weapons class one day, two of his trainees volunteer to fight, but try out some wild, acrobatic moves Alberich definitely didn’t teach them. Unfortunately, they break an exorbitantly expensive mirror in their showy efforts. However, in his attempts to learn about the source of the trainees’ acrobatics, Alberich discovers a traveling theater troupe that has a flight scene that’s more dancy-tumbling with swords than skilled fighting. The poor trainees are young and impressionable.
But while watching the play, Alberich notices the lead actor surreptitiously tumble off the stage and hand something to a nobleman in the front row. Being full-time weaponsmaster and part-time spy, Alberich has to investigate in case newly-crowned Queen Selenay is in danger. Her council is pushing Selenay to marry so she can produce heirs, something on everyone’s mind given Selenay herself is an only child. Valdemar is in a tenuous position. Although the actor and nobleman are suspicious, who is the patron funding their schemes?
Jackie and I know things that happen in the future that give away the mystery in Exile’s Valor. That had to be the case for all readers, though, given that the Exiles of Valdemar trilogy came out decades after the first trilogy was published — a trilogy in which Queen Selenay has a daughter from a marriage that was rotten and her husband is dead. Much of the fun was knowing who the secret patron of low-level villains was, and that the Queen’s first marriage would be bad. As a reader, I had a destination but not a route.
In Exile’s Valor, Lackey did two things I don’t recall seeing anywhere else in her work. Firstly, she carried an image through the entire novel. The story opens with Alberich making some changes to his living quarters in the salle now that he’s head weaponsmaster and the previous guy retired. The biggest difference: the addition of a blue-and-gold, stained-glass window that allows him to worship Vakandis Sunlord, the deity of his native nation, Karse. The window allows Alberich to reflect and pray in the sun without worry that assassins can see through. In a particularly touching moment, Alberich realizes how glass is like being a disciple:
. . . it had occurred to him how like a glassworker Vakandis Sunlord was. The glass had no notion of what it was going to be: it was melted in the heat of His regard, then molded or shaped, polished, turned into something that bore little or no resemblance to the grains of sand it had been. Sometimes mistakes happened. And when they did, He gathered up the broken shards with infinite patience, put them back in His furnace, and began again.
The blue-and-gold window and glass mirrors, especially the big broken one, are repeated images throughout Exile’s Valor, emphasizing the theme of being unable to see what is front of oneself. As Queen Selenay and Herald Alberich navigate their lives, they are unable to look firmly at themselves and say, “I know what I need to do,” causing problems in the kingdom that could be avoided.
Secondly, Mercedes Lackey finally recognizes the whole world she’s created across many novels. While each novel feels like it’s own puzzle piece, Lackey has never seemed to acknowledge that these pieces are eventually going to make a picture. When we’re in a trilogy about the Hawkbrothers, Valdemar practically doesn’t exist. If we’re in Valdemar, there’s no acknowledgement of the Tayledras. I could keep going.
But finally, we get some wider scope. When a prince of the country Rethwellan arrives, we get news of Tarma (Vows and Honor). Although Alberich admits some people he trains are very young, he’s reminded of a famous teen with a difficult choice named Lavan Firestorm (Brightly Burning). Vanyal (The Last Herald-Mage) is mentioned, Skif (Heralds of Valdemar) is foreshadowed, and Selenay, dreaming of a boyfriend, wonders if the Shin’a’in have princes. Never before have so many characters, nationalities, and tribes been included in one book in such a clear timeline. For me, Exile’s Valor opened up the world, allowing me to find clues to where in their lives characters from other books would be and how the series fits together.
Lastly, I just plain enjoyed the return to romance and spying — the basics of a Valdemar novel actually set in Valdemar. There’s no world-ending plot, no raging war, no demon reincarnated. We’re back to the basics of Heralds, Companions, mind magic, and a defined setting in the country’s capital.