Into the West by Mercedes Lackey

Into the West is the newest Mercedes Lackey book in the Valdemar series, which spans about a dozen mini series — typically trilogies. Readers have heard loads about how many, many years ago, the kingdom of Valdemar was established by a man who moved his people from a location in the dangerous Eastern Empire to a new place in order to live by the rule “no one way.” And, that it was in this new kingdom that the Companions, avatars of the gods and past souls in the form of white horses, first arrived to pair with humans to seek good and truth. But, we’ve never actually gotten that story, just bits of history scattered throughout the mini series. Finally, we meet Kordas Valdemar, the Baron of around 15,000 people who have finally escaped the Eastern Empire in the first novel, Beyond.

I feel bad for all the Harry Potter fans out there who have to live with the insufferable human J.K Rowling has been lately. On the contrary, Mercedes Lackey seems to be paying attention, slipping in more considered ideas into her novels without pushing an agenda. The diversity is simply “there,” if you have your eyes open. For example, the entire premise of Into the West is that the 15,000 refugees from Kordas Valdemar’s duchy cannot stay where they’ve ended up after magically gating out of the Eastern Empire. There are already people who live on the land, and even if the natives are amenable to sharing, the land can only support so many people. In a way, Lackey turns the reader’s attention to environmental concerns and colonialism. How much do we take, and are we good stewards of the soil, water, and air? Though some refugees stay and are welcomed, and some use the gate to return to the duchy, most venture into the west under Kordas’s leadership to find a new homeland.

In order to work together, everyone must have the same information. When Kordas delivers a speech, through a trick of lighting, magic, and handwriting, his words are closed captioned. I about lost it when I read this; Mercedes Lackey very casually added accessibility without making a big deal of it, like it’s the most normal thing to do to include everyone (it should be).

And though Lackey is well known for her lesbian and gay characters, in Into the West she says something about gender by not saying something about gender. In Beyond we met “the Dolls,” which are air elementals that were enslaved by the Eastern Empire mages in canvas bags roughly shaped like people, hence their nickname. The Dolls serve people, what one knows they all know, and always discern the truth from lies.

Although Kordas freed the air elementals from the Empire, he doesn’t know how to remove them from the cloth bodies. In the meantime, they are happy to help Kordas and his people until the mages figure out how to remove the magic that traps them. Lackey notes that the Dolls have no gender. Why would they? They’re canvas. But some will add a face or hair or bow to their canvas heads, but most are just genderless. They refer to themselves as “one” instead of “he” or “she,” until the Doll that serves Kordas directly decides to be “she.” Interesting, but not a big deal within the text, thus Lackey slides all this in seamlessly.

And if you consider how obvious an author like Stephen King is about his liberal politics, consider how subtle Lackey is in Into the West, a book published in 2022, in what has to be commentary about a post-Trump America.

Hate and fear are crude and cruel, and unenlightened, widely ignorant people are puppeted by appealing to their aching anxieties. It can come from within a people too — and compared to armies, it’s even inexpensive. Rage, hate, and fear can smash through any defense made of rock and wood, and can cause a people to unknowingly give themselves freely to the very ones who have secretly terrorized them. The only times it fails in all of known history is when people have more understanding of each other than the hatemongers can defeat, and the education to recognize deceit.

The emphasis is on how uneducated people are easily controlled because they are afraid. Not only are we so deep in the age of misinformation that we invented the word “disinformation,” but public schools in the U.S. are under attack as political machinations to control teachers and curriculum rage on. Think about how many people are frightened by the phrase “Critical Race Theory” and cannot define it, yet simply assume public schools are teaching it.

Lastly, I want to note that Lackey is getting funnier. One mage has a feisty cat that jumped through an experimental magic gate in the last book, causing the mage to shout, “Sydney, you asshole!” Now, the cat’s name is Sydney-You-Asshole. From there, Lackey allows this mage to continue swearing, as it’s part of his personality, and he’s rather amusing. Other characters, though not foul mouthed, deliver some funny quips, such as this person summing up a long day like a newspaper headline:

Two overconfident idiots are dead, after a tragic grass-cutting mission. Their bodies were found nowhere near their camp, obviously worn down to the bones. They worked too hard to keep the horses fed, and didn’t even stop for tea when they should have. . . . When interviewed, the horses were indifferent to their demise, and then asked for more food.

Granted, I don’t recall any mention of newspapers in the previous Valdemar books, but I still laughed. There’s loads to catch your interest in Into the West, though this does not mean the second book avoids that “middle slump.” I’m positive 100 pages could have been cut and the descriptions made clearer (I’m never 100% sure when they’re on the river or land). Still, I’m interested to see where the next book goes, especially eager for the introduction of the origins of the Companions.


  1. This is the first Lackey reviews of yours that I read. I confess I skipped the others, but you’ve piqued my interest so much that I enjoy reading about all your reviews, even if they aren’t books I’ll read myself. I love that humour has been worked in here, and such subtle but powerful commentary!!! Love that.


    • I figured there were several Lackey reviews folks were skipping because it’s a big series, but in the past I wanted to review each one as part of a project. Now, the project is over, but I feel the need to keep up and be a site that has all the reviews. I wish more authors would use subtle commentary about the real world, especially if they are a fantasy writer. I feel like an obviously stated direct comparison between a made-up world and life today is forced.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, so I’m never likely to read these, but she does sound to be a thoughtful writer, creating worlds that offer much to think about. I enjoyed in particular your comment on her diversity and handling of gender, and on this – “The emphasis is on how uneducated people are easily controlled because they are afraid”.

    My American friend – a retired teacher – regularly comments to me on the curriculum battles being waged over there, anti-CRT etc. The lack of education resulting in narrow, unthinking thinking (if that makes sense) is truly scary. I feel very sorry for committed teachers who believe in what education is about, can do, working in such an environment. It must be devastating. She tells me of one teacher in a high school in her area who was thinking about retiring early recently, but earlier this year my friend wrote “Though the school board is controlled by the ultra-right-wing faction, [name withheld] doesn’t see any effect of it on what she teaches. Her class reads To Kill a Mockingbird, and as part of preparation, they delve into Jim Crow and racism in the US. [She] is also passionate about saving endangered animals and likes to start the morning with pictures of national parks in the U.S. and pictures of nature reserves around the world. Nobody bothers her about what she teaches and she’s happy with that”. That was so encouraging to read.

    As always loved your thoughtful, engaged write up.


    • The one thing that stuns me is the argument about CRT and discussing gender identity is that if you look closely, the right want it to apply to something like 3rd grade and under, meaning we’re talking children 8 and younger. I don’t remember learning anything that “made me feel bad” in regards to race, if I learned anything about race at all, when I was 8 and under. That’s to say nothing of learning about LGBTQ people (there was no conversation about gender fluidity when I was a kid). The only reason I knew gay people existed is because someone would use a slur and my mom would tell me not to use that. I will say, though, we were watching a movie during spring, and one woman referred to another as her girl friend (meaning female friend). My niece, who just turned 7, said, “She’s gay??”

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  3. I admit I was going to skip this post seeing as I was otherwise engaged when it came out, but now I’m glad I’m here. You discuss lots of stuff which this book illustrates but which is general in application. Well done! It’s hard to imagine why JKR is working so hard to make herself disliked. King I see sometimes on Twitter, I don’t read his books. SFF is an ideal environment to explain/illustrate values and I’m glad Lackey does it well.


    • King has been accused recently of making his books too political. You can really feel the liberal vibes coming off that pages, and I feel like if I get that sense from any writer, that there is some agenda behind the book, I’m insulted because the author thinks I’m an idiot, and I’m also pulled out of the story because anything too “aware” is unnatural.


  4. It is refreshing to get authors who push so called “boundaries.” I only call them that because it’s the best description. If you don’t have a line to be crossed over anything you disagree with, then the author isn’t pushing anything. Just accepting that there many different people in the world and that’s okay.


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