A Girl and Her Horse: The Heralds of Valdemar

I first encountered Mercedes Lackey and her world of Valdemar when I was in high school. This was in the 90s, well before YA fiction was the publishing juggernaut it is now, and I had left the children’s section behind but still felt unsure about wandering the shelves in the adult section. No one cared that I was there, but I was a short, geeky teenager. I felt like everyone was staring at me.

And then I saw this book with a girl and a white horse on the cover, and being the horse crazy kid that I was, I decided to pick it up. I don’t remember now which of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books it was, but it was a fateful decision. Horses and teenage girls go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so Lackey’s choice to write a world in which misfit teens are chosen by magical, intelligent horses called Companions and whisked off to this life of danger and excitement was an inspired one. But it wasn’t just the notion of the Companion that drove my adolescent love for Lackey’s books. Like any good author, Lackey was concerned about more than surface level plot and character development. Among the Heralds, merit, hard work, and service drive them, and acceptance of people, no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, or race is par for the course. This was different from any fantasy I’d read before. Those were focused on grand quests and featured typical fantasy characters like the heroic prince, the beautiful princess, the warrior, the wizard, the clever thief, etc. In Valdemar, I encountered an array of faces and personalities. Sure, the plots were predictable and the people were often too good to be true, but they were comforting. When I and everything around me was in constant flux, there was a world I could retreat to where competent people helped each other and were willing to talk to their enemies and try to work out their problems.

I stopped reading Lackey’s books after I graduated from university. I don’t know why. Perhaps I thought I had outgrown them, but thanks to Jackie at Death By Tsundoko and Melanie at Grab the Lapel’s 2019 #Reading Valdemar project, I’m rereading Mercedes Lackey’s books. I’m finding that they are just as much fun now as they were then. Sure, I recognize that the prose isn’t the best and that there are plenty of cliches, but the characters are so likable that it’s hard to put the books down once I’ve picked them up.

In Lackey’s debut novel, Arrows of the Queen, Talia is a thirteen-year old girl growing up in a strict, fundamentalist religious community where women are second-class citizens. She’s been abused by the men in her family, and the women are hardly better. They don’t know what to do with this girl who loves to read and dreams of a different life. When her family declares that she is ready, at thirteen, to get married and start a family, Talia panics and runs away. She runs straight into a beautiful white horse than even she recognizes as a mystical Companion. Not realizing what this means, she decides to ‘return’ the Companion to the capital where she discovers that she’s been Chosen by the Companion and has a greater destiny than she ever imagined.

Is this a cast of multiple tropes colliding? Yes, it is. The ‘Chosen One’, the ‘Mystic Waif’ are two I think of off the top of my head, and there are definitely others. But when a story is so engaging, I can forget the tropes and cliches. I read Arrows of the Queen in less than twenty-four hours. Though it was written thirty-two years ago, it still feels like a breath of fresh air after so many YA Fantasies featuring melodramatic love triangles, plain yet somehow drop-dead gorgeous heroines, brooding princes, evil empires to rise up against, and characters who will do anything for their friends except talk to them about important matters.

In Valdemar, people are skilled, but not perfect. There is romance, but it’s not the center of the story. There is political intrigue, but it’s not forced or unrealistic. Lackey’s storytelling is fast-paced, and while it’s not always bursting with action even the quiet scenes between two or three characters are interesting. Arrows of the Queen is obviously a debut, but it’s easy to see how it began Lackey’s 30+ year career with more than 140 published works to her name, with 43 books in the world of Valdemar alone. It is, as I’ve described it before, literary catnip: fun, easy to read, and populated by competent, likable characters doing their best to help the people around them.

I’m looking forward to rereading some old favorites and delving deeper into the Valdemar books Lackey has published since I stopped reading her work all those years ago. If you’re looking for a light, fun collection of books, I highly recommend Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. And feel free to join us in the #ReadingValdemar project! It’s only just started and is going on all year long. Check out Jackie or Melanie’s pages for details and schedules, and happy reading!

10 thoughts on “A Girl and Her Horse: The Heralds of Valdemar

  1. What a lovely review, Kim. When I was writing mine, I battled this desire to tell the readers about everything in the book and trying to write a concise review. Part of my struggle is that Lackey is still publishing books, long since you would have graduated college if you went to high school in the 90s, and so we’re all aware that characters like Skif, Vanyel, Lavan Firestorm, and Elspeth all have their own books. I want to tell people about these connections, but it’s just overwhelming. I’ve decided to save that for a conversation post Jackie and I are putting together for the end of the month. I think I also mentioned this to you, but I’m going to keep reading Valdemar books in 2020 and go back to the old days of mages and move forward to Lackey’s newly-published works.

    So…..did you ever get a horse in real life?

  2. It is definitely overwhelming when you try for a succinct overview of the whole thing! I think I am going to leave all the connections to individual review or trilogy reviews, so maybe they’ll be less daunting. And I did see that you are planning to carry this into 2020. I will be happy to join you again for it!

    I did not get a horse of my own, but a friend had one she would let me ride, and family members had horses, so I was never very far from them!

  3. I never liked horses. They are huge! And I know they get skittish over the littlest things.

    I am definitely continuing in 2020, especially since I went and bought the rest of the books.

    Just a head’s up: Jackie and I noticed a typo in our graphic that has all the reading dates. Two dates are now changed (and made later): we’re reading Arrow’s Flight by January 28th and Arrow’s Fall by February 11.

    Lastly, did you share your URL to your review of Arrows of the Queen on the little link think on the bottom of my review? It enters you for a $20 gift card to an online book store!

  4. *lol* Horses can definitely be big! If you can remain calm, though, it goes along way to helping the horse remain calm, too.

    It still cracks me up that you bought so many of them at once! How are your shelves doing?

    I will see about grabbing the updated image, and linking my review to yours for the giveaway. Thanks!

  5. Literary catnip! This is a PERFECT explanation. It’s easy to ingest; all light, fun, and well-rounded. I am looking forward to following Talia as she grows into a full Herald. There are lots of little threats Lackey left us to pick up and follow in this world. While Talia’s story feels neatly guard-railed, there is obviously a lot more of Valdemar to explore! I look forward to hearing more about their politics in particular.

  6. I am a bit sad to say I haven’t started it yet. I have two more book club books to finish before I can pick up Arrow’s Flight! But I’ve heard the politics come more to light. I don’t need a deeply political book, but I’m curious how the whole world works together.

  7. Well, I don’t want to get into A Song of Ice and Fire levels of politics. But I want to better understand Valdemar. It’s so intriguing that this is a country built by refugees who seemingly take in all. I just started Arrow’s Flight last night. I love these books.

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