Exile’s Valor by Mercedes Lackey

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.

6 comments

  1. I love this review. I agree with everything! Though, while I noticed the mirror/stained glass motif continuing I never managed to put together the idea that we can never see what’s in front of us. Knowing what’s going to happen in Arrows of the Queen makes that motif even more interesting — no one can see what’s right in front of them.

    I wonder if, as we continue to read books published in the 2000’s+ we will see more of Lackey’s universe coming together. I do like how so many nations and previous characters were mentioned. The only downside is that if someone reads these books chronologically I fear that Heralds of Valdemar might feel tiny and closed off. I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering about Lackey’s inconsistencies and how that might affect someone reading Valdemar chronologically.

    I just noticed when writing this review, the cover MUST be from the last Hurlee “match”. The companions aren’t wearing armor and there are an awful lot of swords, but I bet that curly-haired man is Karathanelan… And that just made me giggle all over again.

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    • I love that being pregnant has made you giggle at murder. That is a HOOT.

      I think Lackey has always mentioned characters we don’t know, and readers follow along anyway. Arrows of the Queen talks about Vanyel AND Lavan, and neither character had actually been written at that point.

      I’m really, really, really hoping Lackey keeps opening up that universe as we read. I keep reminding myself that she’s STILL publishing these books, and if she’s not taking any reader feedback, then she’s an idiot.

      Yeah, the part about not seeing what’s in front of you. Selenay is too young to see she’s infatuated and in a position to be manipulated. The Heralds are too blind to see that letting Selenay just do what she wants is dangerous and not how they operate usually. Alberich can’t figure out that the nobleman is the one helping the prince.

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      • Yup. Apparently I find murder hilarious now. We’ll just go with it. I wonder if that will stick around once Baby Skullface Mercenary is evicted…

        I wonder, sometimes, how authors take in feedback from readers. I know that I’ve tried to reach out to Lackey in a few ways and I’ve heard nothing. I don’t blame her, but if she isn’t communicating with fans, how can she learn more about what her fans want? And, does a writer have an obligation to listen to their fans and provide some fan-service? So many questions. What do you think, as a writer yourself? (I definitely do not identify as a writer despite how verbose my writing can be…)

        Another perspective of not seeing what’s in front of you is Alberich not realizing that Myste and Keren or guards or whomever could help him. Or the Council not realizing that Selenay is more than a figurehead. Alberich not realizing that this plot about manipulating a woman refres to Selenay. But it’s also about intentionally ignoring what’s in front of you. I worry about Talamir and I don’t see anyone else worry about him. I hope this is addressed in some way in Take a Thief, but I doubt it. I don’t want him to just suddenly vanish before Arrows of the Queen. I want to understand what he’s going through!

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        • Lackey’s webpage looks like it was created on Geocities and never updated. Based on what I’ve read on there, though, I know she doesn’t like to read fan fiction because she’s worried someone will accuse her of plagiarizing from one of her fans. That seems…..obtuse to me. Then again, she’s putting out so much writing that she doesn’t seem to connect with her own novels. I will say that I love writers who are involved in their fandom more. S.M. Reine’s fans are known as The Army of Evil, and she’ll frequently write books just for us, because we’ve requested them, or what to know more about a character. There’s a whole novella series with the detective cat that she wrote during the pandemic just for fans. I love that. As a writer, I would want to be involved as much as I could with fans. If you see your fans as “other” and separate from you, I’d have to ask: who the hell do you think you are?

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  2. Wait – so who is the unknown patron and do we find out eventually? I just re-read this book and it annoyed me, but not enough to read the others to eventually find out.

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    • Hi, Chaz! We know who the patron is because it was revealed back in Lackey’s very first trilogy, starting with Arrows of the Queen! If you want me to spoil it, I can. If not, check out the first trilogy. It picks up with Selenay and Alberich, but stars a girl named Talia.

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