Beyond (The Founding of Valdemar #1)
Expected publication: June 15, 2021, by DAW
The story of Valdemar’s founding has been mentioned in more than one of Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar books: Once upon a time, Baron Valdemar led his people into the wilderness to escape an empire and find freedom. There, in their new land, the first Companions emerged from a sacred grove and Chose the first Heralds to help maintain and defend the fledgling kingdom as its people fought to survive and thrive in the wildlands. But just who was Baron Valdemar, and what were his people like? What conditions did they flee, and how did things get so bad in the empire that they all felt like a life in the wilderness was preferable? More than thirty years after the publication of the first Valdemar book (Arrows of the Queen, 1987) Mercedes Lackey is finally telling the story of Valdemar’s founding.
Kordas Valdemar is a clever man who wants nothing more than to raise his horses in peace, protect his people, and be ignored by the Emperor. For the majority of his life, he’s been able to do all three, but keeping out of the Emperor’s sight is easier said than done, and if Kordas makes the slightest misstep, he could be turned out of his own home and see his land and its people put under the authority of one of the Emperor’s sycophants. So for the past two generations, the Valdemar family has been preparing to leave the empire for a land far to the west where the Emperor can’t find them. There, they will build a new country where they can live as they choose without having to fear for their lives, homes, or freedom. But getting to this new land is easier said than done, and when the Emperor summons Kordas to the imperial court for no apparent reason, Kordas fears that decades of planning will be for nothing. But no matter the danger, they have to take the chance.
Though the quality of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books has varied over the past thirty years (and some of the earlier ones have not aged particularly well), they have been perennial favorites for many fantasy readers thanks to lovable characters and fast-paced stories that blend action and adventure with stories of everyday life in a magical kingdom. The good guys are very good, and the bad guys are very bad– and they always get what’s coming to them in the end. These books are pure escapism in the best sense of the word, and for many readers, the Valdemar books have served as the first example of LGBTQIA characters portrayed in a positive light. The cover art of beautiful teenagers riding pretty white horses provided cover for the darker stories inside– after all, what close-minded adult who judged a book by its cover would think twice about handing a book about a girl and her horse to their teenager? And so, through the years, the magical land of Valdemar and its capital city of Haven became a real haven for many kids who questioned their identity or sexuality thanks to Valdemar’s most basic edict: There is no one true way.
In Beyond, we discover that this motto has been baked into Valdemar’s identity from the beginning. Kordas has created a safe haven for quirky people whose ways of life, love, and happiness don’t fit into the strict and closed-minded norms of the empire they live within. Fleeing the empire doesn’t just mean that Kordas and his family will have the power to do what they want, it means that all the ‘different’ people who live within his domain will be free to seek happiness as they choose. The apparently gender-fluid mage can find happiness with the man he loves; a mother will be able to raise her sons without a veil of secrecy; magic-wielding people can live in peace and practice their art without being conscripted into the army to have their powers drained in an endless war.
Though some of Lackey’s previous Valdemar books have suffered from a lack of focus, Beyond is an example of Lackey at the height of her powers. It features engaging and lovable characters doing their best, pastoral slice of life scenes blending with a tense main plotline, and enough political intrigue to keep everyone on their toes. And while we might know what’s going to happen in the end– the Kingdom of Valdemar comes into being and lasts for hundreds of years, after all– the question of ‘how did they do it?’ is what keeps pages turning. There’s plenty of both fun and suspense in Beyond, and some sly meta-textual commentary for sharp-eyed readers. And while plenty of questions are answered by the last page, there are still some left unanswered with the main one being, “When does the next book come out?”.
Thank you to DAW and NetGalley for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.