So when I was trying to figure out what books to read when or next, I had forgotten about another preorder until the box showed up last week. It just happens to be the newest Valdemar novel from Mercedes Lackey, Closer to the Chest. This is part of why I read Feminist Fight Club yesterday: I had read fantasy before that and knew I’d be reading fantasy afterwards.
Closer to the Chest is the newest Herald-Spy book, and that set comes directly after the Collegium Chronicles. So I was torn. Do I reread Mags’ story from the beginning, or only the Herald-Spy books? Could I spare the time for all of them? This would be eight books, five Collegium, three Spy. But these are Valdemar books, as I’ve said. Engaging, yes. Long? Not so much. I should be able to finish most, if not all of them, in a day each. And I really like the beginning of this set, it’s a real Cinderella story. So I gave into temptation and started with Foundation, book one of the Collegium Chronicles.
Let’s talk about the Valdemar series in general first. It is a large body of work, and probably Mercedes Lackey’s most well known series. The only coauthor seen is her husband Larry Dixon, though other authors contribute to the anthologies. Valdemar currently consists of thirty-three novels (six of them written with Larry Dixon – Mage Wars & Owls), one collection of short fiction by Lackey alone (Oathblood, featuring Tarma & Kethry), nine anthologies (the tenth is out later this year), and The Valdemar Companion with all sorts of background information that only a fan can appreciate. The series will be celebrating its thirtieth birthday next year, and it’s still going strong. In fact, you could say it’s stronger than ever, as the anthologies have lately been released every year, instead of every other or with a gap of multiple years.
But that only tells you how massively successful these books have been, and nothing about the content. Valdemar is the name of an idealistic country in a fantasy world (named for its first idealistic king), which employs Heralds to “make things fair”. Heralds are not the mere mouthpieces of the king that you might recognize from other courts, rather they are white-uniformed men and women with magic and extensive training who ride their magic white not-horses across the land fighting off bandits, sitting in judgement, convincing neighbors to make peace, and so much more. The country was founded on the idea of “room for everyone” and that there is “no one true way” and while humans are still human, they do try to make it a place that welcomes everyone. The Last Herald-Mage trilogy were some of the first books I read that featured an openly gay protagonist, and that’s just one example.
I’ve mentioned the Valdemar series in passing before, especially concerning the timeline. From the Mage Wars trilogy to the Owls trilogy, the series covers a roughly 2400 year span. (I’m not actually guessing that much – timelines have been included at the front of the books for more than a decade now.) Some eras, such as the “present” or end of the timeline, have a lot more attention than others. If you wanted, you could read Exile, Arrows, By the Sword, Mage Winds, Mage Storms, and Owls straight through. But you don’t have to. Which is part of the appeal to this kind of series. Yes, if you read Exile’s Honor you should probably follow it up with Exile’s Valor. But you could go back and read Vows and Honor next if you wanted. Each set of books can stand on its own as a complete trilogy, duology, miniseries or independent book. They still fall under the massive Valdemar umbrella and having some knowledge of the world and nations will help, but it’s not strictly necessary. Choosing to start this series is not saying “oh my goodness, now I have over forty books to read!?” Instead, it’s saying “oh, time to read this trilogy!” with no need to look for more until you’re ready.
The Collegium Chronicles take place after The Last Herald-Mage but before Brightly Burning. This is when the Herald’s Collegium was actually founded, as there are now too many Heraldic trainees for them to be mentored in ones and twos as they were in Vanyel’s day, but it’s not yet become the establishment that Lavan Firestorm will discover more than a century later. Our protagonist through this series and the next is Mags. Found orphaned in a bandit camp, he’s taken in by a cruel man who collects unwanted children to work in his mine as slaves. Then one day a Companion (magic white not-horse) comes to take Mags away. The boy learns that the world is a whole lot bigger than he ever imagined, and his life as a Herald Trainee oftentimes seems like the paradise priests promise after death.
Like I said earlier, there are elements of a Cinderella story to this, and it is one of Lackey’s favorite tales. There’s no handsome princess waiting to discover Mags, at least not in Foundation, but rest assured, this author does like to pair up her characters. The question is, when will you spot the intended romantic interest?
Yes, it is that stereotypical and obvious (though not as obvious as in the 500 Kingdoms series), but Lackey is a good enough writer that her romances don’t seem forced or out of place. Sometimes they’re integral to the plot, but not always. And if they’re not that important, they don’t overwhelm the story, a fact I appreciate.
As you can tell, Valdemar is a favorite series for me to return to again and again, so this will be far from the last time it shows up on this blog. But you can expect to see it for the next week or so as I read up through my newest addition to the world.