I found this whole Valdemar trilogy a bit of a hard whack. I just didn’t feel emotionally connected with the characters like the other books. And it was even harder with this novel, because it was about the children of the main characters.
In fact, I found this book almost impossible to get through. The leads were kind of whiney and annoying. I mean, I’ve read a lot of stories which feature the children of those famous, and often they complain about the exact same things. But for some reason I found these guys SO MUCH MORE irritating.
I always find it hard to write reviews about books that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. And, like my enjoyment, they tend to be a bit shorter. Mostly because I still try to focus on what I liked. And whilst I didn’t hate this book, there’s much I can recall that I actually LIKED.
It’s been an age since I read The Black Gryphon. Or really, any Valdemar book. And although this definitely isn’t as fantastic to me as the other Valdemar books, I’m glad I decided to dive back into this world. I love the world building and the action. The fact that there is always a focus on misfits and plenty of emotional tangles to unsnare.
Skan is still a hit of an overwhelming cocky character. A little less painful than in the first book, but still not my favourite of characters. His development did make me like him a whole lot more though. Having a pair of gryphlets alongside definitely helped me warm to him too.
I vaguely (hey, its been a while) remember thoroughly enjoying Amberdrake and Winterheart. There is something fantastically simple about this couple that, whilst it doesn’t inspire fireworks, gives a feeling of comfort and truth. I love the acceptance that shines between them and how it carries throughout this entire story. The fact that they’re the targets of a madman who will make you cringe… well, that makes it all better.
Probably one for the reasons I don’t get as into this as the other Valdemar books is the lore and world building. I get seriously lost I all of the terminologies for the different clans and groups. Not to mention I feel like I’m constantly missing things from the history of the wars… which just inspires me to want to read this all over again.
Title: The Black Gryphon Author: Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon Series: The Mage Wars #1, Valdemar #1 Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!) My Bookshelves:Fantasy, Mages, Magic, Medieval fantasy Dates read: 18th – 25th May 2020 Pace: Medium Format: Novel Publisher: DAW Fantasy Year: 1994 5th sentence, 74th page: Cinnabar, of course, was as elegant as if she had just come from holding court, her scarlet gown cut to mid-calf, showing scarlet leather boots and slender ankles, her sleeves cut tight, displaying her graceful arms without an unseemly show of flesh.
SKANDRANON RASKAE IS EVERYTHING A GRYPHON SHOULD BE…
with gleaming ebony feathers, majestic wingspan, keen magesight, and sharp intelligence, he is the fulfillment of all that the Mage of Silence, the human sorcerer called urtho, intended to achieve when he created these magical beings to be his champions, the defenders of his realm – a verdant plain long coveted by the evil mage Ma’ar.
And now, as Ma’ar is once again preparing to advance on Urtho’s Keep, this time with a huge force spearheaded by magical constructs of his own, Skandranon is sent to spy across enemy lines, cloaked in the protection of Urtho’s powerful Spell of Silence.
As days pass and Skandranon doesn’t return, all in Urtho’s camp wait anxiously. but there is one among them for whom the possible loss of this great bird will be more than just a major military defeat. Amberdrake – a Healer of boyd, mind, and spirit whose talents are as essential to the army as those of any general – waits on the landing strip with anguish in his heart. For Amberdrake has come to value the vain, cocksure, and brave Skandranon as his closest friend and comrade, and he now fears that this prince of gryphons will never return…
It’s been a little while since I picked up a Valdemar book. Mostly because as much as I love them, they are often pretty heart wrenching. There is always some kind of abuse or emotional turmoil that just doesn’t seem to be as prominent in many of the other fantasy books that I read. So I honestly need to make sure that I’m in a good headspace whenever I pick up one of these novels… which I was when I picked up The Black Gryphon. And boy am I glad. It was enjoyable, fun and an absolutely great read. Even if there was still that signature Lackey tragedy that made the enjoyment a little less… joyful.
Writing this review, it is actually really difficult to pinpoint those aspects of this story that I really enjoyed. It took me a few chapters to really get sunk into the storyline. I think mostly because in the other Valdemar books that I’ve read so far, the characters are somehow known. Mostly they know each other. But even in The Last Herald Mage, the lead character has been mentioned again and again and again throughout the later books in the series. That’s not really the case for this. Not only are there totally new characters and events that I can’t remember being mentioned in the later books (that I read earlier). But there are also whole new species, gryphons and the such and different groups of people who have totally different names. It took quite a bit to get used to.
After I started to get connected to the characters however, I realised what a great series this is. Or at least, what a great novel to start off a series. Skan might not be human, but I think he is one of my favourite characters in this series. He is strong and sarcastic. Plus, I absolutely adored the constant inner dialogue whenever he’s doing something kind of stupid. Even if that stupid has the best of intentions…
Although this isn’t really like any of the other Valdemar books, I can see how the characters and groups of species / people act as the precursors to the rest of the books. You can see a hint here and there of the collegium and the healers and the different schools of learning throughout the books that I’ve already read. And I’m honestly looking forward to understanding more of this as the series unfolds. That and finding out more about Skan, Winterheart and all of the other wonderful characters.
Life at the Heralds’ Collegium in Haven has definitely improved for Mags. He’s even become something of a hero since risking his life to rescue his girlfriend Amily – daughter of Nikolas, the King’s Own Herald – from Karsite kidnappers. His training as an undercover agent for the crown is progressing. he is no longer the “foreigner” so many students distrusted. Life is good.
But Mags still doesn’t know who his parents were, and though he knows there are skilled, determined assassins hunting for him, hired by Karse, Valdemar’s longstanding enemy, he doesn’t know why. So it is necessary for mags to be always on his guard.
Mags has grown extremely strong, agile, and remarkably adept at running across rooftops, slipping down drain pipes, and sneaking unseen along dark alleyways. But now it is time for Mags to graduate to a new role: Nikolas’ partner and information broker. And Mags discovers that he’s quite good at his new job. So good, in fact, that Nikolas decides to let him run the undercover operation in town along one hot summer night.
Mags has barely unlocked the shop when everything goes black in a blinding flash of pain.
He wakes with an agonizing headache, bound, blind-folded, in a conveyance of some kind. But worst of all, he’s head-blind. No Mindspeech – he can’t even sense his Companion Dallen. And if he can’t sense or hear Dallen, then no one can sense him. And if no one can sense him, then this may well be his demise.
We all have a past, and no matter how hard we run from it, it will come back to haunt us. It’s true that the past has shaped us and all of those wonderful clichés, and Lackey reminds us beautifully of this in Redoubt. Mags doesn’t remember his past, but it constantly reappears in his life to torture and harass himself and his friends. It’s a fact that both fascinated and frustrated me throughout the story – it was easy to understand that Mags’ biological family had some amount of importance, but that was it. I like to know things, so not knowing drove me a little crazy. So, it was wonderful to finally find out more about his family and past.
Not only is Mags forced to confront his past in Redoubt, but it also takes him hostage – quite literally. He is taken, drugged and enforced to relive moments that he never knew existed. Although I know that my past won’t literally turn up out of nowhere and take me into the woods, it is a strong reminder that ignoring what has been before can bite you in the ass.
Mags’ horrifying upbringing is a bi-story throughout the series, and his innate toughness is really bought to the fore in this story. It is such a strong reminder that we can survive whatever is thrown at us, as long as we are strong (or stubborn) enough. He is in the worst of situations, but his physical and mental stubbornness allows him to survive and eventually return to his people.
Title: Changes Author: Mercedes Lackey Series: The Collegium Chronicles #3, Valdemar #9 Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again) My Bookshelves:Easy reading, Fantasy Pace: Medium Format: Novel Publisher: Daw fantasy Year: 2011 5th sentence, 74th page: Mags noted how the young man was acutely sensitive to any vibration, looking almost immediately when the floor trembled the slightest bit as someone nearby dropped something heavy.
THE SPY TRAINEE
Mags was a Herald Trainee in the brand new Heraldic Collegium in Haven, Valdemar’s capital city. Though his background of unimaginable poverty and abuse set him apart from most other trainees, nonetheless he had found his own special group of friends. Bear, Lena, and Amily were all students whose situations in life set them apart from more usual trainees, and together the four friends struggled to help one another find the solutions to their individual problems.
But Mags’ friendship with Amily brought him to the attention of her father Nikolas – the King’s Own. The seemingly immortal Companion Rolan had Chosen Nikolas to suit the specific needs of the current monarch, and those needs were for an agent who could collect information surreptitiously – a King’s Own spy. Nikolas recognized the same traits in Mags that Rolan had recognized in him. Both were inconspicuous with an almost uncanny ability to fade into the woodwork. Both could mimc low-class behavior and pidgin speech. Both were unusually expert at observing the situations around them, and at ferreting out hidden motives.
So Mags began training as Nikolas’ partner. They worked in disguise at night in one of the seedier parts of Haven, where Nikolas had set up a false identity as a pawnbroker and fence. Hiding in the shadows behind the desk, pretending to neither hear nor speak, Mags could better “observe” the clients, and even the surrounding neighborhood. And Nikolas could send him out on “errands” to chase down leads.
But this new job was far more dangerous than Mags had ever considered. For there were mysterious agents in the city – agents who sought to bring down the kingdom, and no one knew where they came from or who they worked for. They were smart, talented, and preternaturally fast. And most of all they were willing to do anything – anything – to bring Valdemar to ruin.
The challenges that Bear started facing with his familial issues really come to light in Changes. The conflict that starts to build in Intrigues is heightened and Lackey poignantly reminds us that family isn’t everything. I loved the contrast with Amily and Lydia’s families, they show exactly what unconditional love is all about. It’s a great reminder that blood isn’t everything and sometimes it is actually okay to say goodbye to family.
The other great theme in this story is that of Amily. She undergoes surgery to remove her crippling injuries. Not only is she able to finally walk around on her own, but Lackey reminds us that crippling sometimes isn’t just of the body, but also of the heart. Amily’s ability to simply move around on her own gives her a greater feeling of self-confidence and assurance. She undergoes physical repair, but it is the social and emotional restoration that really means something in this story.
Although this story is still focused upon Mags, it is the journey of his friends and pseudo-family that really drive it home. Lackey has an uncanny ability to take issues that we all face in our daily lives and use them to construct a story that engages and enthrals us. Her stories remind us that some issues are universal and love is worth fighting for, even if it’s not the love of our blood family.
Mags has been an orphan working in a gem mine when his life was saved by his companion, Dallen, who took him to Haven to be trained as a Herald. Now he was never hunger and never cold. He slept in a real bed in his own room and, most importantly, he had Dallen, who was like another part of himself. And yet, aside from Lena and Bear, both loners like Mags, he couldn’t relate to most of the Herald, Healer, or Bard trainees. He was the only trainee who came from what – to the others – was unimaginable poverty. And since Mags had no tolerance for the chronic complaining of his fellow trainees, this kept him feeling like an outsider, even though he was part of an elite corps of students.
But there were other factors that contributed to his isolation. For Mags had been “recognized” by foreign assassins fleeing the court. These spies had escaped the Royal Guard and never been questioned. Now, Mags was an object of suspicion among his fellow students, and even some of his teachers. After this incident it seemed far more urgent to discover exactly who his parents were. And at Haven, he had access to the extensive Archives.
Poring through the Archives, day after day, Mags finally got some answers, but they were incomplete: his parents, found dead in a bandit camp, had been two of a number of hostages, some of whom had survived. These survivors had told the Guard that Mags’ parents spoke a language that no one understood or even recognized. So Mags’ parents were foreigners, though from what country no one seemed to have any idea.
But rather than help his situation, this information did just the opposite, for ForeSeers had been having visions of the king being assassinated by “one of foreign blood” and some had even Seen Mags with blood on his hands.
How could Mags defend himself against a crime that hadn’t yet been committed?
Intrigues returns us to the world of Mags’ and the building of the Heralds Collegium. Mags is finally settling in to his new life and his small group of friends. I love that he isn’t a popular kid, he has a select few with whom he is close, and that is enough. I’ve never understood the idea of quantity over quality with friends, and Lackey helps to drive this home. You only need a few people who really care about you, not an entourage of characters that just happen to be there.
Lackey always deals with the idea of the ‘other’ really well. Intrigues highlights this through the use of Mags’ foreign blood and the ease with which his peers believe in his guilt. The way he is completely ostracised from the group because of the vague predictions of a future teller is incredibly cruel. But, the way that his friends choose to rally to his aid is a reminder of the importance of quality in relationships, something that can be really difficult to find.
This theme of bad luck and misunderstanding is even echoed in Mags’ own friendships towards the end of the story. Childish misinterpretations and jealousies not only further this, but also remind us that we all have a little evil in ourselves. No one is perfect, and there is nothing more frustrating than reading a story about a perfect protagonist. Mags’ self-doubt and insecurities about his own worth as a human makes him even more relatable. And has given him a special place in my heart.
Mags has slaved at the gem mines for as long as he could remember, completely unaware of how unusual his paltry existence was – until some strangers on huge white horses forced their way past the mine owners and carried him away to Haven to become a Herald Trainee.
Suddenly the whole world opened up for him. He was warm and well fed for the first time in his life, and he had Dallen, his Companion, who seemed more miraculous than an angel. But the world of the Collegium was not all heavenly. there was political upheaval in Valdemar’s capital, for the ancient way of training Heralds – the system of one-on-one mentoring that had been successful for centuries – was failing. Many veteran Heralds had died in the wars, and there were too many Trainees to go around. A Heralds’ Collegium was being built, and many thought it was wrong to train Heralds in classrooms the same way the Bardic and Healer Trainees were schooled. But dissent among the Heralds was no the only discord in Haven, for the court had been infiltrated by foreign “diplomats,” who seemed to be more interested in seeding discontent than in actual diplomacy… and Mags seemed to be the only one who’d noticed…
Foundation was a really unique book in my eyes. Most books have a very specific plot line and journey through the chief protagonist’s life. Foundation, not so much. It’s almost like a huge introduction for the remaining three books in the series. Not that this is a bad thing. Of all of the Mercedes Lackey books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, it is Mags that I feel the most connected to. So much so that when I finished reading this series, I turned right around and started to read it again.
Lackey has this incredible ability to take real human tragedy and cruelty, and show you how it can affect a person’s sense of self, confidence and even physical well-being. Foundation is no different. Child slavery is still occurring throughout the world, and it is something that most of us don’t really want to think about. Especially when it is all too easy to imagine the same thing happening to your own loved and cherished ones. So, the telling of Mags’ journey from child slave (really no better than a wild animal) to Herald hit me hard. There is something especially terrifying about the corruption and destruction of childhood innocence. At least for me. Mags’ childhood and back story made me appreciate my own life and upbringing to a whole new level.
Foundation is the first book in my favourite Valdemar series thus far. The combination of the creation of the Collegium, Dallen’s humour and Mags’ gratefulness for the simple things in life bought these characters to life and made me turn the pages again and again and again. Combine that with the beauty and simplicity of Bear and Lena’s friendship, and this story was very sweet and enthralling in its every word.
Title: Brightly Burning Author: Mercedes Lackey Series: Valdemar #15 Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!) My Bookshelves:Easy reading, Fantasy Pace: Medium Format: Novel Publisher: Daw fantasy Year: 2000 5th sentence, 74th page: He won’t kill me.
A CURSE OF FIRE
When Archer and Nelda Chitward moved their family from a small rural village to the bustling city of Haven, it was cause for great celebration. After all, their textile skills had made them leaders among their Guilds, welcomed into the highest of Guild social circles.
But not everyone in the Chitward home was happy about this “improvement” in the family’s position. Lavan, their middle son, had no desire to be a cloth-merchant, needleworker, cloth-dyer, or anything related to his family’s Guilds. He didn’t really know what he wanted to be – except back home in Alderscroft! To make matters worse, his parents had enrolled him in an “exclusive” private school. It was a place where the arrogant older students were expected to keep discipline, and as a lanky, undersized, sixteen-year-old newcomer, Lavan quickly became the primary scapegoat.
It didn’t help that whenever the older boys caught him he turned a bright scarlet with suppressed rage – a rage which left his skin feeling sunburned and tender, and so filled his mind that he was unable to see, hear, or even to think. For days on end Lavan was overwhelmed by blinding headaches and was unable to attend classes, yet even his pain was a welcome respite from the daily torture he suffered at school.
But nothing could have prepared Lavan or anyone in Haven for what was to come. For from his rage a Gift unlike any known in Valdemar would be born in a fiery conflagration which Heralds and Healers alike would be hard-pressed to contain…
As usual, Mercedes Lackey managed to seriously surprise me with this story. Similar to The Last Herald Mage trilogy, I knew that Brightly Burning would be a tragic tale – it’s mentioned in some of the other Valdemar books. But, it still hooked me and took me on an amazing journey through Lavan’s short, and sad journey.
I’ve read about homosexual and heterosexual characters, and love triangles until I’ve been blue in the face, but Brightly Burning is the first story that I can remember reading about a character that is asexual. Or at least, that is the way he seemed to me. There is a huge difference between a lack of sexual interest in the storyline (because they are too young, or it isn’t part of the author’s plot), but to read about a character that actually doesn’t appear to have any sexual interest in another was really interesting. I have read articles that say that Sherlock Holmes is supposed to have been asexual too, but I haven’t had the privilege of reading the original stories yet. So this was a really welcome difference. It was refreshing.
Even though I knew that Lavan wasn’t going to have a happy ending, it was really nice to find out the whole story. As myths and tales of our past are warped with time, I felt that the truth of Lavan’s tale was so much more exciting and surreal than the pieces I had managed to put together throughout reading the other Valdemar books. Lackey is a master of intertwining completely different generations throughout her books – Valdemar has become a very real place within my head because of this. It is so multidimensional that I can’t store all of the facts in my head, much like real life.
The final moments of this book are etched into my mind forever. All I have to do is think of fire of Lavan Firestorm and I can picture his final moments. To so vividly engrave a moment into my mind is a mark of how brilliant Lackey is.
Title: Exile’s Valor Author: Mercedes Lackey Series: Exile #2, Valdemar #21 Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!) My Bookshelves:Easy reading, Fantasy Pace: Medium Format: Novel Publisher: Daw fantasy Year: 2003 5th sentence, 74th page: The very novelty of the frozen river would bring skaters – the skaters would draw vendors of food and drink, and those would attract musicians, skate sharpeners, skate vendors, and probably more merchants than that.
QUEEN OF HEARTS
Alberich was a Herald of Valdemar, but once he had been a captain in the army of Karse. It hadn’t been easy for Alberich to transfer his loyalties, nor had it been easy for the court of Valdemar to accept a Karsite Herald. But Alberich had more than proved himself during the Tedrel War when he had almost single-handedly turned the tide of battle, winning honor and respect from the troops, and victory for Valdemar.
Valdemar had suffered terrible casualties during this bloody conflict. Worst of all, they had lost their king, a tragedy which forced his teenage daughter Selenay, weakened by sorrow and still in mourning, to ascend the throne prematurely. But the Valdemaran Council saw Selenay’s ascension as an opportunity to wrest power from the crown by marrying the young queen to a man of their choosing – a puppet who could seize control of the throne and do the Council’s bidding.
But though Selenay was young and inexperienced, she wasn’t stupid or malleable. She had absolutely no intention of marrying anyone she did not personally choose, nor would she allow her consort to take control of her kingdom.
Herald Alberich, now the Collegium’s Weaponsmaster, and Selenay’s personal protector, was well aware of the devious plans of the Council. But could Alberich protect his vulnerable queen from the conspiracies to steal her throne that were brewing among the aristocratic classes of Valdemar and its allied kingdoms?
Where Exile’s Honor dealt with coming to terms with a changed reality, Exile’s Valor shows us how it is possible to take strength from this adversity and embrace it. This is a story of coming to terms with oneself and using this to create a better future – not just for yourself, but for others. This story reminded me of the fact that even though change tends to rock me to my core and leaves me feeling unshakey and unsure at the best of times, it has always been a great agent for obtaining a better future. No matter whether the change is good or bad, desired or not, it can be used to make your future better… at least, that’s the way that I choose to see it.
Not only did Exile’s Valor expand on Alberich’s tale, it also helped me to understand Selenay’s. She seems so strong and put-together throughout The Heralds of Valdemar series, that I really struggled to understand how she could fall prey to a self-centred, not-so-good man and marry him. It just seemed so incredibly out of character. But, the retelling of this tale through Exile’s Valor and from the Alberich’s experiences finally helped me to place it into context. It went from being an inconceivable notion to completely understandable and justified. A fact that I very much appreciated.
Whilst this story seems to be primarily about settling into a new life and making it your own – it also bought home the realities of war and fighting. They weren’t glorified or toted as a desirable aspect of life, rather, it was a necessary evil. The creation of a new type of war game really highlighted this – Alberich is almost sad to be training his young charges in the weaponry. He knows that the seriousness of defending oneself will leave a mark on their souls and that it is not just a simple, carefree matter. I loved this take. I don’t think that such a sensitive and difficult area should ever be taken lightly, and Lackey certainly doesn’t glorify it.
Title: Exile’s Honor Author: Mercedes Lackey Series: Exile #1, Valdemar #20 Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!) My Bookshelves:Easy reading, Fantasy Pace: Medium Format: Novel Publisher: Daw fantasy Year: 2002 5th sentence, 74th page: Even the smell was the same: clean sweat, leather, leather oil, a hint of sawdust.
TRAINING THE ENEMY
Alberich has spent most of his youth in the Karsite military schools training to be an officer. As the son of an impoverished mother, he had had no other career choice open to him. And Alberich had risen in the ranks with almost unnatural speed. He developed expertise with many weapons and excelled in academic subjects with an ease that was the envy of his classmates. But in fact, the reclusive Alberich studies long and hard, pushing himself ruthlessly.
In battle, Alberich had always had a sort of “sixth sense” about things which were about to happen – when and from where the enemy would attack. Instinctively, he hid his ability, for the Sunpriests kept careful watch for anyone exhibiting the “demon powers” which were the hallmark of Karse’s greatest enemy – the witch-nation of Valdemar. Those they caught were “cleansed” in the fires of Vkandis Sunlord.
Both Alberich’s skill and secret served him well in the army of Karse, and when Alberich became one of Karse’s youngest captains, he received a special gift – a powerful white stallion “liberated from the enemy.” But this honor was merely a distraction, for the Sunpriests had laid a trap which even Alberich’s strange foresight could not predict…
Saved from burning as a witch when his odd white stallion braved the flames and carried him over the border into Valdemar, he was healed by the same enemies he had been taught to hate his entire life. Though he knew he could never again return to his home, Alberich also knew he could never truly become a Valdemaran. How could Alberich remain true to his own people and still retain his honor while helping to train the direst enemy of Karse?
I’ve read a lot of fantasy books that have a tough arms master to train the main character in self-defence. Regardless of the period of history or the weaponry used, they all seem to have the same things in common – they are tough, strict, unsmiling and incredibly efficient at killing, fighting and making sure their charges survive. So it was a real pleasure to read a tale that helped me to understand how a man could become an arms master.
I really enjoyed discovering how a Karsite could become the weapons trainer for Valdemar, they’re enemy states after all. Alberich’s journey explained just this phenomenon. But it went deeper than that, it helped to show me why there was a war being fought between these two literary countries. Even though it is fantasy, it highlighted the reason behind wars being fought both today and in times past.
It was incredibly interesting and insightful to view two sides of the same argument (or war). It reminded me of something that my Mum always told me growing up; it takes two to tango, or there’s two sides to every story. Even though Lackey helps us to side with Valdemar (after all, this is the home of all of her main characters), she also helped me to feel sympathy for the soldiers on the other side – forced or tricked or manipulated into fighting a war.
It’s always hard to embrace change, but Alberich is forced to do so, and very quickly within the occurrences of Exile’s Honor. Instead of being a simple transition from the ‘bad’ side to the ‘good’, it was a journey of emotional and spiritual turmoil that was prevalent throughout the entire book. I loved that Lackey didn’t try to simplify such an act that would certainly tear a man in two.
I loved the complexity of this book and that Lackey chose to investigate the grey areas of such potent discussions.