The Heralds of Valdemar Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey
|Book Name:||Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, and Arrow's Fall|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Release Date:||1987 - 1988|
One of the things I most enjoy about fantasy is how versatile it is: despite the presence of some defining tropes, most of them can be simply kicked away in order to make room for whatever it is that the author wants to say. Thus, having enough constraints not to wander off, but few enough so you can do pretty much anything you want; the work can become a very faithful projection of the author.
In the years I’ve been reading fantasy, I have never had this impression more vividly than in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, written by Mercedes Lackey and published between 1987 and 1988.
The Valdemar universe us quite vast, going through three thousand years of history in more than thirty novels. Heralds of Valdemar follows Talia, a poor farm girl living in the northern frontier of the kingdom, where the only authority women can have is in a very subservient position as wives. Once she turns thirteen, she is presented with a choice: she can either marry someone from the nearby farms or she can become a nun in a temple where she would have to take a vow of silence, never to leave her designated quarters.
Incapable of choosing between those two horrifying prospects, she runs away to her favorite hiding spot. There, she meets a Companion, one of the wonderful horses ridden by the Heralds, representatives of Valdemar’s queen, who beckons her to ride on his back. Together, they travel to Valdemar’s capital, where she receives a shocking revelation: the Companion has chosen her not only as a Herald, but as the Queen’s Own, destined to be her closest advisor.
The first book, Arrows of the Queen, introduces us to Talia and her first years of preparation to become a Herald. The second, Arrow’s Flight, deals mainly with Talia’s tour of duty, which every apprentice must go through to become a full-fledged Herald. Finally, the third book, Arrow’s Fall, tells of Talia’s coming of age and how, with her full rights as Queen’s Own, she must also take the full burden such an exalted role carries.
The greatest merit of these books lies in their masterful depiction of emotional evolution: We see it in men, women and even Companions, all of them changing and developing in plausible ways.
To achieve this is no mean feat, since it could easily take too much space from the action, turning it into a romantic story with fantasy elements. Mrs. Lackey, however, is a masterful writer, weaving action and emotion in such a way that at most times they are indistinguishable. Each time two characters are having sex, it’s not just to offer some kind of fanservice, but because both of them have a need that must be satisfied, whether it’s love, solace or just plain lust. On the same side, the violent conflicts are few and far between, but when they appear it’s clear that there are also well defined motives for each of those involved to act as they do.
The reason I get the impression that these books say much about their author is because of the way she describes the emotional aspects of her characters. It is so genuine, it’s hard to think it doesn’t come from the core of her being. The best example lies in the first book: one of Talia’s duties as Queen’s Own is taking care of the education of the heir, princess Elspeth, who is an absolute spoiled brat. Through hard lessons, complemented by some emotional guidance, she manages to turn her into a proper princess and a genuinely well-behaved person. Though I’m usually a cynic when it comes to emotions in literature, I must admit I was quite touched at reading how Talia’s steady efforts straightened up the little princess.
Unfortunately, there are two flaws marring this otherwise wonderful trilogy. The first one is a small but quite annoying habit of making Talia do something just because she had a hunch that it was the right thing to do. A few times such solutions can be understood, but in others it just looks like the author wrote herself into a corner and the only way to get out was through these little deus ex machina.
The other one is far more serious, related to the way the trilogy ends. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that by the end of the third book, a potentially catastrophic war looms on the horizon. Then, just after the first battle is fought, the book ends. Since the Valdemar universe is composed by many novels, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect for all plot threads to be solved, but to show us the beginning of a massive war and just leave it, is horrifyingly disappointing, especially since this is supposed to be a relatively self-contained trilogy. It would be akin to Tolkien finishing Lord of the Ring‘s third book just as Frodo is getting to the top of Mount Doom.
Despite the unsettling ending, Heralds of Valdemar is an excellent trilogy. I would especially recommend it to those looking for a break from other, more violent kinds of fantasy. In my case, it worked wonders to wash away the smell of blood after reading The First Law. 😛