I actually read the next book in my reading marathon of the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey last weekend, which was Storm Warning (fantasy 428 pages), the first book in The Mage Storms trilogy.
“Karse and Valdemar have long been enemy kingdoms – their peoples filled with mutual prejudice and mistrust. Only the vile deeds perpetrated on both kingdoms by Ancar of Hardorn, and the subsequent emergence of the armies of the Eastern Empire in the wake of his defeat, have forced these two so-different lands into an uneasy alliance. For the Eastern Empire, which has long been isolated and shrouded in mystery, is ruled by a monarch whose magical tactics may be beyond any sorcery known to the Western kingdoms. Forced to combat this dire foe, not only must traditional enemies unite, but the Companions may, at last, have to reveal secrets which they have kept hidden for centuries … even from their beloved Heralds.”
The story follows Karal, a mere secretary to the envoy from Karse. He is the first character in the Valdemar books who doesn’t really have any inclination towards being at least trained as a fighter. He is dedicated to his job and that is remarkably admirable because being a secretary isn’t one of those glory-filled and sought-after jobs, but it’s still something that has such a huge impact on the rest of the story. He takes notes during meetings and uses those notes to help shape and impact the way the other people involved see the problem. Karal is probably the most relatable of all the characters because he isn’t a skilled fighter, he doesn’t have a hidden magical ability, he isn’t himself the envoy; he’s a secretary. He goes to meetings and take notes.
Having read this entire series before, during this reread, I actually thought about how much talent as an author it takes to drop just enough hints so the reader can learn about the world-building and the details that the characters wouldn’t know but that exist throughout the story. I also thought about how this entire Valdemar series is definitely a wish-fulfillment kind of fantasy, where readers are shown what a world could look like if the leaders were just and fair and if the people of the land cared about each other. One example I have of this are specifically from this book and how the information carefully placed in this book indicate exactly how religions can get warped over time.
Early in the story, Karal is having a discussion with Rubrik, the Herald who came down to escort Karal and Ulrich up to Valdemar. During the discussion on page 98, Karal vaguely remembers that in the older works of his religious texts, that Vkandis, his sun god, had a goddess-consort and somewhere between the oldest records and Karal’s present day, the priests removed all trace of that goddess. There are little tidbits throughout the whole book that Vkandis and the Star-Eyed are a matched pair of beneficial guardians and the hints are dropped so subtly that by the end of the book, the reader has a sense of intuition that Vkandis and the Star-Eyed are not only on the same side, but that they have the same outlook or rules that govern how they interact with humanity. They go to great lengths to ensure true freedom for the intelligent beings in the world. Another hint that supports this shows up on page 180 where Karal is reading through the original journals of one of the earliest Sons of the Sun, the leader of Karal’s religious sect. “When had the order of the Priests of the Goddess Kalanel – the consort of Vkandis – disappeared, for instance?” Which is then later corroborated on page 241 where An’desha uses the Star-Eyed’s name, Kal’enel, when thinking about what it would be like to have the full attention of a deity. It was blatantly obvious to me in all the previous time I’ve read this particular series, but this time, I actually took the time to see where all the clues were so that as I progress as a writer in my own career, I can see what was successful in setting up the ground work for allowing the reader to intuitively understand parts of the world-building without having to suffer through an information dump.
I really like the way religion is handled in this book. The book shows the devotion of a variety of different people to their different faiths and that none of those faiths are wrong. The Valdemar books in general go to great lengths to mention that there is no one, right way and that good done in the name of anyone or anything is still good. I think it’s summed up the best in Karal’s own thoughts on page 380: “We have free will, all of us, and Vkandis interferes very little in our life in this world, Ulrich had said. He does not play with us as a child plays with toy soldiers or dolls, nor does He test us to see what we are made of. He allows us to live our lives and make our own choices, and only after we cross to join Him does He judge us on the basis of what we have and have not done with the life and free will we were granted at birth – and how well we have kept our word in promises made to Him. What we choose to do intersects with what everyone else in our lives chooses to do; sometimes those choices mean joy, sometimes sorrow, often a little of both. That may be why good things sometimes happen to evil people. Most assuredly, with no cause by the Sunlord’s hand, bad things sometimes do happen to good people.”
Another example of things that can and easily do relate to our own world from these books is the behavior of the Eastern Empire’s army stuck in Hardorn, and how accurately that portrays universal military concepts. The passage on page 279 talks a bit about things that impact all military people, whether in fantasy, science fiction, or real life: “Disciplined troops couldn’t cope with an enemy that wouldn’t make a stand, who wouldn’t hold a line and fight, who melted away as soon as a counter-attack began. They couldn’t deal with an enemy who attacked out of nowhere, in defiance of convention, and faded away into the countryside without pressing his gains.” Then, in the next paragraph on the same page: “The farmer who sold the Imperial cooks turnips this morning might well be taking information to the resistance about how many turnips were sold, why, and where they were going! And he could just as easily be one of the men with soot-darkened faces who burst upon the encampment the very same night, stealing provisions and weapons, running off mounts, and burning supply wagons.”
Overall, I’d say this is a solid three on my rating scale. I’m quite glad I own it and I am positive I will be reading it again at some point in the future.
Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Storm Warning. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1994.