Reviewed by Holly White
I previously reviewed Mercedes Lackey's “Vows of Honor” series (Oathbound, Oathbreakers, and Oathblood) about the mage Kethry and the warrior Tarma, blood sisters who partnered to fight as mercenaries, then later established a training academy to teach their skills to the next generation.
In By the Sword, we meet Kerowyn, or Kero, the granddaughter of mage Kethry. Kero goes to her grandmother for warrior training because fighting is all Kero feels she can do well; she plans to “sell her sword,” working as a mercenary like Tarma and Kethry had done. Tarma takes her on as a student, training her in strategy and tactics as well as hand fighting and archery. But Kero did not realize Tarma had also agreed to train a spoiled son of the King as well. They couldn’t stand each other. Kero was a better fighter; Prince Daren was only going to slow her down. Daren, third son of the King of their country of Rethwellan, was obstinate; he couldn’t believe he was going to have to train with a mere female. To complete their training, they had to learn to work together.
Kero goes on to fulfill her dream, becoming a mercenary traveling with a mercenary company, a group of fighters who became to her like family. During one battle, she got separated from her company behind enemy lines. In trying to rescue herself, she also rescued a Valdemarian Herald named Eldan. As they traveled together, they each learned about the other one’s beliefs and lives, but they disagreed on even the most basic motives for how they lived. She journeyed with Eldan as far as the Valdemar border, but then left him to rejoin her company. But when she returned, she found the company’s losses had been heavy, and even their captain had perished. The incompetent new captain often recklessly endangered the lives of men and horses with no thought to strategy and tactics. Kero invoked her right to break her contract with the company, but that decision came with consequences. Before long, she found herself alone and friendless, working as a bar bouncer for only her keep.
The company had not forgotten her, however. Indeed they had been trying to find Kero to inform her that she had been voted in as the new captain. Before long, she was back with her company, but this time she was planning the battles instead of helping to enact them. Before long, Prince Daren, who was now in charge of the king’s armies, had hired her company to help him fight, as allies with Valdemar, against their common enemy. This war brought her into contact with Herald Eldan once more, and placed them all in a battle against hitherto unknown forces against unbeatable odds.
By the Sword is one of Mercedes Lackey’s best that I have read. It keeps you guessing, and is filled with twists and surprises right up until the end. If you love fantasy, medieval battles, and good vs. evil stories, then please read this book; you’ll be delighted that you did!
I had read By the Sword before I had ever read the “Blood and Vows” trilogy, and enjoyed it. But when I went back and read it again afterwards, I got so much more out of it because it refers heavily to events in the past from the other three books. I strongly recommend you read those first, because although By the Sword is designed to stand alone, it will increase your enjoyment if you have read the first three. This book also makes references to characters I’ve grown to know and love from Arrows of the Queen, Arrow’s Flight, and Arrow’s Fall, so I would also recommend having read them first. I promise you, By the Sword will delight you all the more for having done so.