Reviewed by Holly White
When I set out to review everything Mercedes Lackey had written about the fictional land of Valdemar, I did not realize that the short story collections were written primarily by other people. Once I realized this, I decided to review only those short stories that Mercedes Lackey herself had written, for two reasons. One, I am only interested for the purposes of these reviews in what she herself has written. Two, I want to get back to the full- length novels. I am not a huge fan of the short story as a medium; I feel that any story worth telling is worth developing in detail. However, in Mercedes Lackey's case, I enjoy them as appendices to an already well-established narrative (I am thinking here of the entire Valdemar stretch of novels as one long narrative, which is nothing if not well developed). These short stories bring a rich cohesiveness to the world of Valdemar, working as the thread that weaves the various books together seamlessly into a full tapestry. You find characters from one book interacting with characters from another. The short stories help you see the chronology of the world. They show you who was living concurrently with whom. You get to see what large-scale events were taking place during whose life (aided in part by a timeline that appears in the front of most of her books). As often happens with short stories that a part of a larger “world” of work, Lackey spends an unusually large part of each short story’s word budget on explaining backstory and setting. This redundancy will seem like a tedious waste of time for those who have already familiarized themselves with Valdemar. However, we forgive this mild infraction because she has crafted the world of Valdemar so well that we want to invite all our friends, and one never knows when one will be drawn into a fantastical new world because of reading a single short story that whets one’s appetite for more of the same. That said, I found in writing these reviews that I had to do likewise, spending words to explain backstory, in an attempt to draw in the casual Valdemar reader. The following are the reviews for each Mercedes Lackey short story; therefore, this review actually spans several books, each listed along with publication dates and the title (in quotation marks) of the individual short story being reviewed:
Sword of Ice: And Other Tales of Valdemar (Valdemar Anthologies), 1997, “Sunlancer,” and “Blue Heart,” both written by Philip M. Austin and Mercedes Lackey
Clarrin Mul-Par, a young lancer in the Karsite army, commanded men who had been detailed with carrying out the orders of the Sunpriests in the cleansing, a ceremony whereby children around age ten are tested for magical powers. Children with powers who were not made into Sunpriests were burned to death. Clarrin’s ten-year-old niece has dreams, which later come true. One night a scholar came to visit Clarrin’s grandfather, and the men sat talking in the garden long into the night. The scholar, a foreigner, asked various difficult questions about Karsite beliefs, religion, and customs. In most cases, Clarrin’s grandfather kept silence, and Clarrin himself had to admit that he did not know the answer. Where was this mysterious, foreign scholar from? What questions could he ask that would stump not only Clarrin, but his grandfather as well? And how would this night’s events change the course of the future?
Queen Selenay had a special Herald in her service, a mysterious Herald known only as “her Shadow.” Only a handful of people in the court knew the Shadow was even real; only a few more had even heard rumors of his existence. The Shadow, lethally dangerous to the queen’s enemies, served the queen in a very specific way, and although he but followed her orders, she still dreaded to hear the details when he reported about a completed mission. He, or rather, his Companion, Pilane, frequently asked for leaves of absence of varying lengths. Knowing the gruesome nature of the Shadow’s work, Selenay always granted him leave whenever possible. The Shadow never told Selenay what he did during these vacations, although she knew that his Companion was a writer. She assumed Pilane spent the time composing stories, with the Shadow writing them down for him. But this story reveals that the writing was only a small part of what the Shadow and Pilane were doing during these leaves of absence. Were they merely taking a much-needed break, or was something more dire involved?
The Valdemar Companion, 2001, “A Herald’s Journey,” by Mercedes Lackey
The Valdemar Companion is just what its title brings to mind, although with less illustrations than I was expecting. (I was expecting to see a glossy-paged book with several of Larry Dixon’s beautiful artwork. Larry Dixon is Mercedes Lackey’s artist husband, whom she met at a convention, and he illustrates most of her book covers). Other than that, however, The Valdemar Companion has everything one might expect. It contains maps, a guide to the various locations mentioned in the books, a Valdemar glossary, a list of her Valdemar books to date (2001) with their synopses, a guide to various websites containing information pertaining to Valdemar, interviews with both Ms. Lackey and with her editor, as well as a guide to the music of Valdemar. Yes, Valdemar does have its own music, and you can go to mercedeslackey.com and buy compact discs. However, The Valdemar Companion also includes “A Herald’s Journey,” a story that Ms. Lackey describes as being about “an ordinary Herald, (if there can be such a thing).” She describes it as a “novella,” but it is only 40 pages long. I have read most of Ms. Lackey’s body of work about Valdemar, and I’ve read the moving stories of how a Herald gets Chosen, and when I read this one, even though I have read several such stories before, it still “gets” me, every time. Each time a newly Chosen experiences that immediate and overwhelming honor, joy, unconditional love and acceptance, I am touched, awed, and inspired, and I end up slackjawed with misty eyes. The first part of the story shows how young Tafri is Chosen, travels to Haven, and begins his training to be a Herald. In the second part, we jump ahead four years to where Tafri is now himself mentoring newly Chosen Trainees. Finally, we jump ahead in time again, to where Tafri has earned his Herald uniform and is interning with a more experienced Herald. And we see the moment where Tafri becomes a Herald, not just in name, but in truth.
Sun in Glory and Other Tales of Valdemar (Tales of Valdemar Series Book 2), 2003, "Sun in Glory," by Mercedes Lackey
This story tells a more detailed account of an incident alluded to in Storm Warning, in which a Valdemaran Herald is made a Sunpriest of Karse. This history-making event sealed the newfound peace between the two countries in a way nothing else could have, because it involved a combining of the deepest beliefs of both cultures in such a way as to not compromise either one. This story includes a detailed account of how a woman came to be chosen as the Son of the Sun (the supreme ruler of Karse), and how the chauvinistic male Sunpriests were convinced to accept her as such, and to abide by her rule thereafter. In addition, Alberich, the Karsite weaponsmaster who is also a Herald (the protagonist of Exile’s Honor and Exile’s Valor), returned to Karse from Valdemar for the first time since, many long years ago, he had fled from Karse for his life, aided by the Companion who had just Chosen him. He accompanies Herald Dirk, and his wife, Herald Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald (the protagonist of Arrows of the Queen and its sequels), who was to be made into a Sunpriest. I cannot vouch for how one feels on reading this short story without all the backstory of Valdemar’s rich history, but for myself, reading this after reading almost all of the body of work about Valdemar, this was deeply moving. It made me cry. I actually highlighted several passages. I think this story can be summed up with this quote from Alberich: “What, exactly, is one supposed to do when the prayers of a lifetime are so fully answered?” If you have read these books, and felt the buildup of the conflicts within them, then I believe this story will bring things together in a way that will move you as well.
Crossroads and Other Tales of Valdemar (Heralds of Valdemar), 2005, "Landscape of the Imagination," by Mercedes Lackey
This story is about Tarma and Kethry, the two female warrior protagonists of Oathbound, The Oathbreakers, and Oathblood. The story begins with the two itinerant mercenaries starving, with no money to buy food, and unable to hunt for lack of game. They needed work, and fast, but when they finally got a job offer, it’s questionable. They met a woman who was both warrior and mage, who looked able to handle herself, but needed what she called “protection” on a journey. There were three problems with that. She would not say where the journey’s destination was. She would not say from whom or what she needed protection. And she would not pay up front. What was this mysterious job? Where would they have to go and how would they get there? Why was the woman hiring them when she could clearly handle herself? And if they took the job, would they succeed? Find out by reading “Landscape of the Imagination.”
Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar, 2008, “Moving Targets,” by Mercedes Lackey
“Kill me now!” begged Herald Alyn mentally. As a herald assigned to training interns, she had been assigned to train- not the customary ONE new herald, but FOUR at once! Elyn was now responsible for charming Laurel, practical Alma, lazy but lucky Arville, and wealthy but unspoiled Rod. She knew there would be trouble when she took the four of them on circuit. However, she never expected that one of them would bond to a Kyree (sentient wolf-like equivalent to a Companion) during the journey. She never expected that her charges would be not only willing but also eager to add to their itinerary an unscheduled visit to a village that needed their help- a village outside the borders of Valdemar. Furthermore, she never expected that the reason the village needed help was that it was haunted, or at least, seemed to be haunted. Would the Kyree bring help or yet more trouble? Would Haven approve their use of time and resources to aid a village outside Valdemar’s lands? And would they be able to discover what was haunting, or pretending to haunt, the town, and why? And most important of all, would Herald Elyn be able to maintain her own sanity through it all?
Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar, 2009, “The One Left Behind,” by Mercedes Lackey
This story tells the tale of Marya, whose father was Chosen long ago, leaving her mother and young self to fend alone. The letters had stopped coming before long, and there had never been so much as a visit. Marya’s bitterness toward Heralds had only grown after her young, handsome fiancé had been Chosen, only to follow the same pattern of letters that eventually trickled into nothing. Over the years that followed, Marya’s dislike of Heralds had grown into hatred. Therefore, when two Heralds showed up on her doorstep one day asking for her help, she slammed the door in their face. Why were Heralds wanting her help anyway? And what could possibly induce her to help them? Would she ever find out what had caused her father to forget about his young family? And her fiancé to forget about her? And would she ever find peace about it all?
Finding the Way and Other Tales of Valdemar, 2010, “Finding the Way,” by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon
Sherra, a hertasi (sentient lizard-type being) worked as a pathfinder, guiding travelers and helping protect them as they passed through the ever-changing swamp. Vesily, a Companion, needed help getting across the swamp to where her Chosen was. And since Vesily had not yet officially Chosen, she could not yet mindspeak to her Chosen. Sherra must not only guide her through the swamp and its perils, but also allow for the fact that their destination might move, since it was a person and not a point in space. While Vesily was a Companion, with all the power and wisdom thereof, she was also young and inexperienced. She could not understand that Sherra, while respecting Vesily’s title and abilities as a Companion, must take control of the mission during their journey across the swamp, or both of them could die. Although Vesily had a link to her Chosen, she could not tell certain things she ought to have been able to discern. She knew something was wrong, but she could not pinpoint what it was. She only knew her Chosen was in some kind of danger. But it was worse than that; for some reason, Vesily could not figure out even what her Chosen’s gender was. Will Sherra be able to guide Vesily successfully toward a destination that changes as often as a person moves from one spot to another? Will the two of them be able to face down the dangers of the swamp? Will they be able to agree on who is boss for long enough to complete Vesily’s mission? Will they find the Chosen in time to avert whatever danger he or she is facing? And will they find out what else was wrong with the Chosen, and why the gender confusion?
Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar, 2011, “The Simple Gifts,” by Mercedes Lackey
Don made his living by doing some questionable things, so when two Companions, Destin and Ardred, called on him for help, he thought they must be crazy. Turns out they were not crazy, only desperate. Desperate enough to ask him, a person who had no experience whatever that was not … questionable. Then the two Companions took him to a cottage, which held Destin’s injured Herald, Millissa. Don then learned that the Companions expected him to not only drop everything and stay with her, but also cook and clean for her, and care for her injury! Were they all crazy? These weren’t the kinds of things in which he excelled. But he had a good heart, and he decided to do what he could. But Ardred was in this area on a mission, and it was a dangerous one. The two Companions had counted on Millissa for help with that danger, but now that she was incapacitated, that job fell to Don. Again, Don questioned their mental sanity. Would Don be able to learn to do what Millissa and the two Companions needed? When it came down to facing the danger, would Don find the necessary courage? And, when all the excitement settled down, would Don continue on his … questionable … path, or would he choose a different destiny?
No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar, 2014, “Vixen,” by Mercedes Lackey
Healer Vixen, tormented by haunting memories of a bitter childhood, passed over her hometown of Hartrise every time she came to it during her circuit. Although since she had left home, she had been accepted by the Healers, trained and honed her gift, and become renowned for her healing abilities, she still angered at the thought of facing either her parents or the now-grown children with whom she had grown up. Having been a village joke, Vixen never wanted to deal with those hurtful people again. Her bitterness seeped into her healing, because as often as not, those who received the benefit of her healing also received a lashing with her tongue. One day a Companion came to her asking for help; his Herald had broken his ankle. Herald Vanyel (from the Last Herald Mage Trilogy) was relieved that since his injury had in no way been his own fault, he did not receive one of her famous scoldings. However, just at that moment, a mysterious monster arrived in the village! Vixen used her gift of animal mindspeech to determine its intentions, only to find out that it wanted nothing more than to eat everyone and everything living in the village. Vanyel, under the influence of healing drugs, could not use his magic, not even to summon help. Vixen tried to use her animal mindspeech to get help, but it was a long shot. Then, a second monster arrived! The two monsters began fighting, and the best Vixen could hope for was that they will each kill the other. Otherwise, the entire village would become a meal for the victor. Will Vixen recognize help when it comes? Will the villagers? When Vanyel makes Vixen an offer, will she accept it? Will she ever return to Hartrise and face down her demons?