Retrospective: Reading all of the Valdemar novels for three years

in the beginning…

It all started on the school bus. I lived in the middle of nowhere and didn’t even know my “neighbor” (about 1-2 miles down the dirt road) existed until I saw her. There she sat, a gorgeous Japanese-Native-American teen who refused to get her driver’s license because she didn’t want to do the drawn-out training required in our state. She wanted to wait until she was 18, take the test, then drive away. In the near dark on that bouncing school bus, the older teen, hunched down in her tight jeans and leather jacket, sat reading. Reading. Who read in high school? Not me, not really.

Later, when I met her and her best friend and joined their group, they insisted I read a series about magic. “The protagonist’s name is Vanyel,” they wrote over AOL Instant Messenger. “With an Ah sound, like ‘palm.'” Okie dokie, I want to be cool, too. And I read The Last Herald-Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, which utterly slayed me. I asked for another trilogy from the same series, this time The Heralds of Valdemar, for Christmas. But it just wasn’t the same without Vanyel, and I put those books on the shelf for eighteen years.

Do I remember how it came about? Not truly. It was 2018 and I must have been thinking about series. Another blogger named Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense somehow got me roped into buying series. Not ones she recommended, necessarily, but just the idea of plunging into a series by first buying all the books and not looking back. Somewhere in all of this, I must have told Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku what I was thinking: read every Valdemar book. And if I remember correctly, she said she couldn’t let me do it alone. That’s a friend.

We organized a schedule: one book per month plus a discussion post in which we asked each other questions, so two posts per month. As time went on the discussions became more a series of questions that we each answered in our own time on a shared Google Doc, that way we wouldn’t have to wait for the other person to write back and could go at our own paces. Eventually, we got rid of the discussion posts in any format, realizing 1) they didn’t get much reader engagement, 2) they took a lot of time, and 3) for someone like me who only posts content twice per week, Valdemar was eating up a lot of space on my calendar. Instead, we used video chat, and once or twice we met up in person, to talk books.

along for the ride

For me, there were a few low moments in the journey. I wasn’t sure that Jackie was enjoying the read along, as she had many criticisms of the books, and the few folks we had who started the read-along with us dropped out pretty fast, though we appreciated everyone who took the time to read any Valdemar books. Our second giveaway, a compendium of the Exiles of Valdemar trilogy, went unclaimed because no one entered. And then there were the six connected books from Mage Winds and Mage Storms trilogies tied around a villain, Mornelithe Falconsbane, who was into nonconsensual S&M and rape and murder. As I wallowed through the sexual perversion and assault through six books, I also had to tolerate a wagon-load of characters whose personalities all blurred together. Even characters from past trilogies who featured in these books lost the distinct mannerisms that made them something to enjoy. Lackey has lost her way, I thought.

Some valdemar tropes

  • Abused orphan tween-age boy who is small for his age
  • Co-dependent Companions, which seem like genderless, clingy horses
  • Take-over-the-world male villain who is happy letting his own people die for the cause
  • A wealthy teen-age girl who despite a life of luxury can organize huge teams of people
  • First love for gay teen boys
  • First love between a well-to-do girl and a boy with a shabby background
  • Talking and listening with your mind only
  • Soaking in a hot spa (I grew to hate the word “soak” *shudder*)
  • Being saved at the last minute
  • Going to school and there’s a rich bully in the class who stalks you
  • Animals with minds like humans’
  • Bonding with giant birds and living in trees
  • Sneaking out even though the parents said stay put
  • A slurry of languages magically dumped in your head so you don’t have to learn them
  • Excessive use of magic that can mess up the earth

how life changed

As the project progressed, many things changed in Jackie’s and my lives. The pandemic, of course, might mean more time for reading for those of us staying home in a lock down. But what about Jackie, who couldn’t get her books from the library? I also found that the free time and virus paranoia, even when I was at home, made it difficult to focus on reading. Jackie continued to work from home, and what surprised many employees — that working from home tended to mean they were actually working more hours — was true for Jackie. And somewhere in there, Jackie got a new house that needed loads of remodeling, which was slowed down and delayed by early pandemic supply chain hiccups and a wild increase in the price of lumber. Then came baby! For perspective, baby just turned one.

For those of you who follow Jackie, you may be wondering, where are her Valdemar posts? While she has not had an internet presence, Jackie has still been reading all the books. Random text messages late at night (we’re in different time zones) about something weird a character did, or a new plot point, would ping on my phone, and I would smile. At one point, Jackie said that the only thing connecting her to the blog world in any way was #ReadingValdemar, and that alone has made it worth it because I know blogging is important to her.

Over three years we certainly have been exposed to a lot not only in life but in the novels, which makes it hard to say that Lackey’s books are all for a certain audience. Some feature young tweens, others star adults. A few books are more sexually mature, while others have foot-shuffling and hand-holding. There are the mind magic folks of the nation of Valdemar, but then you get the magicians on tribal lands who have nothing to do with Valdemar. Readers are exposed to different religions and nations, the wealthy and the poor, the rooted and the homeless, avatars for the spirits and elemental beings. We even got a co-author for a time with Lackey’s spouse, Larry Dixon.

in the end

38 books later, and here we are, at the end of the read-along. What does this mean for the future? Very gently the spouse asked if Jackie and I would still be friends after Reading Valdemar, if there was any reason to text each other if there is no monthly book to chat about. I definitely think so. Jackie and I met before Valdemar, and she’s forgiven me (I think) for not reading the Harry Potter series. But what will connect her to blogging? I know that I see this whole gap in my reading schedule where any kind of book can go now that I’m not saving a spot for Mercedes Lackey. I do plan to finish a few other series I’ve already purchased, including The Descentverse from S.M. Reine, a series I’m already into, and the #iHunt series by Olivia Hill, about Millennials fighting monsters in the gig economy. So, what to do? Read and review these entire series? Review one book at a time? I’m not sure, yet. *Read Jackie’s retrospective here.

17 comments

  1. I think it’s absolutely amazing that you guys read SO many books together! I think you’ll continue to be friends because as a fellow book wyrm, that really creates a bond. Perhaps, you will just have to find a new series to explore together. 🙂

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  2. I love this thoughtful roundup post. It’s quite a feat to read so many books in a series in such a short time. I would have flamed out pretty quickly I think. I think you and Jackie should just continue to text each other random things about whatever – that’s what I do with one of my college friends who now lives in China. Texting about random stuff really does keep a friendship going. Also that buddy read idea sounds good too. As for Jackie and blogging, it will be there if she decides she wants to pursue it again. I do see her on Goodreads and it’s nice to see she’s still there.

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    • Yeah! I’m not very active on Goodreads anymore, but when I do get on, I see her updating where she is and adding quotes. I know she reads a ton, and that her baby likes to read, too. Thank you for your kind words, Laila. It’s weird to think this project is over!

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  3. Wow, what an undertaking, well done to the two of you. And oh, I hear you about the readalongers dropping out and the unclaimed prizes (or when you send someone a prize and they really dislike it!). I ADORE your list of themes, so funny to read even if we’ve never read any of the books … I love the link that readalongs give us, though – one of my local friends did Anne Tyler with me but I don’t think we discussed her more than once in real life, just on my blog, though! Well done, and I hope you find something new to read and chat about together.

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    • Fantasy tropes are so funny, but Lackey has some odd ones that made me giggle. The other hard part about giveaways is when so many readers at one blog aren’t from the same country, so the cost of sending a prize is wild.

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      • That’s one of my goals this year, to try to put a dent in reading the books I already own. 🙂
        It’s amazing how often a person can impulse a new book and just let it sit on the shelf for months or even years untouched. And by that I mean me. I am totally a repeat offender of that. lol Happy reading to you in the new year. I hope you read tons of great new stories! ❤

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        • Oh, absolutely. I used to be the worst when I was in a writing program because an author would come visit, I would love their personality, and so I’d buy their book. Now that I’m FINALLY reading some of those (I haven’t been in a writing program in almost 12 years), I’m seeing some of these books are just awful, but their authors are lovely people!

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  4. Wow! That was quite a commitment! Seems like reading with Jackie was even better than the books themselves. Will the two of you undertake a different series now do you think?

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    • There was a while there when I was convinced she hated every book, so I was getting a little frustrated, but then she told me that her favorite part of a read-along is being able to complain about books! That changed my mindset.

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  5. Congrats on making it through the whole series together! That certainly takes some dedication! I’m sure even if the focus of your connections shifts, you and Jackie will remain connected, having gone through something unique together.

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