As the first true fantasy series I ever read, many books based in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar hold a special place in my heart. Introduced to the idea of fantasy as a genre in sixth grade through a story in my Language Arts textbook, I immediately went to the library to find more to read by that author. An author who was not Mercedes. However, on the library shelves very close to her sat the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, and while I stacked the first three books of the Dragonriders of Pern in my skinny little arms, I grabbed these, too. They sounded amazing, just as enthralling as the idea of a dragon who could speak in your head. Why not give them a shot?
Of course, I’m glad that I did. Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey ushered me into worlds I’d never dreamed of and left me craving more. Thankfully, there was more to be had, both by them and by other amazing authors. I plan to post about each of the various sets of books and standalones based in and around Valdemar. (And eventually I’ll get to Pern, too, although I later learned it wasn’t quite as fantasy as I thought!) I will do my reviews in publication order, and I will try very hard not to give spoilers. If you haven’t read these books before and decide you want to from my reviews, I want you to enjoy them just the way I did, discovering their magic one page at a time.
Title: Heralds of Valdemar trilogy – Arrows of the Queen, Arrow’s Flight, Arrow’s Fall
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Date Published: 1987, 1987, 1988
Genre: High Fantasy
Number of Times I’ve Read It: At least 20—I honestly have no idea
Content Warning: Arrow’s Flight contains mentions of underage rape and murder in one scene. Arrow’s Fall contains non-detailed torture and rape in several scenes.
Accessibility: Available in eBook, audiobook, and print as individual books or an omnibus
Arrows of the Queen (4/5 Stars)
Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a runaway, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen’s own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.
But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason that could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen’s heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen’s own foes.
Arrow’s Flight (4/5 Stars)
Talia could scarcely believe that she had finally earned the rank of full Herald. Yet though this seemed like the fulfillment of all her dreams, it also meant she would face trials far greater than those she had previously survived. For now Talia must ride forth to patrol the kingdom of Valdemar, dispensing Herald’s justice throughout the land.
But in this realm beset by dangerous unrest, enforcing her rulings would require all the courage and skill Talia could command—for if she misused her own special powers, both she and Valdemar would pay the price!
Arrow’s Fall (5/5 Stars)
With Elspeth, the heir to the throne of Valdemar, come of marriageable age, Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald, returns to court to find Queen and heir beset by diplomatic intrigue as various forces vie for control of Elspeth’s future.
But just as Talia is about to uncover the traitor behind all these intrigues, she is sent off on a mission to the neighboring kingdom, chosen by the Queen To investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from Prince Ancar. And, to her horror, Talia soon discovers there is far more going on at Prince Ancar’s court than just preparation for a hoped-for royal wedding. For a different magic than that of the Heralds is loose in Ancar’s realm—an evil and ancient sorcery that may destroy all of Valdemar unless Talia can send warning to her Queen in time!
I won’t even pretend that I am not biased towards this trilogy and Valdemar as a whole. As the quintessential fantasy series of my preteen and teenage years, I definitely reread it with rose-colored glasses. I’m not ashamed of that at all! There is something utterly enthralling about the magical concepts in Lackey’s Valdemar. (Really, I should refer to it as Velgarth, as that’s the name of the “world” and Valdemar is but one country in the world that she writes about—but it’s the one that most people who have read even a few books in the series will recognize instantly.)
Arrow’s of the Queen was Lackey’s debut novel. It definitely reads as such. While she mainly writes character-driven stories, and I love that about her, the characters in Arrows of the Queen are probably some of her thinnest, especially most of the secondary characters. We don’t get good motivations for the “villain” of the piece, although that is taken care of in later books. One of Lackey’s signature traits is that she focuses tightly on the main characters, and in AoQ this is more of a flaw than an asset. However, Arrow’s Flight and Arrow’s Fall do a good job redeeming the trilogy as far as the secondary characters go, and even in Arrows of the Queen we get some good glimpses here and there of what the characters could be.
Arrows of the Queen is not quite a “Chosen One” story, although in fact all Heralds in Valdemar are “Chosen” by the avatars of their gods that take the form of supernatural white horses. Since the Heralds are a large group, the shee number of Chosen, however, turns the “Chosen One” trope mostly around and keeps it from overwhelming the story. The plot of the first book is fairly simplistic and exactly what the synopsis says: a young girl, Talia, pulled from her rural home and thrust into an entirely different, formal situation where she has to help the Queen’s heir become someone worthy of being Chosen, as well—in terms of Heralds, that means someone self-sacrificing, loyal, and kind, which the heir is not at all because of bad influences, despite being all of six years old. The book reads like YA and probably would have been classified that way if such a classification existed when it was published, or if the following books didn’t have much more adult themes.
Arrow’s Flight is about Talia coming into her own as an adult woman, learning what being a Herald means outside of the classroom she’s been in for four or five years. Time in the first two books is a little wonky and although the heir was six when we meet her, by the end of Arrow’s Flight she’s fifteen, although only a year goes by in this book. Don’t do the math. It will hurt your brain. This book shows how much Lackey learned from writing the first, with a plot that’s better thought out,\ although still pretty basic. Talia and her mentor travel around as she learns what Heralds do “in the field,” which is basically arbitration of disputes and playing messenger across the country, keeping the Queen advised of the status of her realm.
Arrow’s Fall is the best of the three books in this trilogy as far as plot and characterization. It’s also the only one that goes outside of Talia’s limited point of view for more than half a chapter or two at a time. Lackey experimented with style here even more than she did Arrow’s Flight, and we get four or five points of view, although they’re pretty haphazard and require some extrapolation for who is the focus for the first paragraph or two whenever she switches. Still, the plot in this is much more complex than the previous two, and in this book we see the first instance of something that she becomes very good at—adding twists that explain the previous behavior of characters in other books in a way that is believable even though you could swear that’s not what she was planning at first. You can tell that her world building is getting better with each book, and she continues that trend into following trilogies and standalones.
Probably my favorite aspect of the Valdemar world is the magic system that Lackey developed. She didn’t start out with “true” magic, although even at the beginning of the first book, we learn that it’s possible in this world. Instead, the Heralds in this time period use “Gifts” that we would think of as telepathy, telekinesis, and clairvoyance, only she uses her own names for these things: Mind-Speaking, Fetching, Fire-Starting, Far-Seeing, Foresight. Outside of the Heralds, there are Healers who can heal with Gifts and Bards who can influence emotions while playing or singing music through Gifts. I love those details, and they hold a special place in my heart in the series even as “true” magic is incorporated in later books.
Anyone who likes a more hopeful sort of fantasy would enjoy because, while there are some darker elements as the series progresses, Lackey injects a lighter tone into every story than has become popular in recent years. Her books are a palate cleanser when I’ve read something that pushes too far into the realm of dark and deadly. I always know that, no matter what happens in the plot, at the very least the main characters will make it out and good will prevail. I really need that sometimes.
I do suggest reading in publication order the first time trying to get through all the Valdemar series simply because of the way that she developed some details and how they’re introduced or mentioned in each trilogy. However, that isn’t a requirement, and there are plenty of people who have started chronologically or who just pick up somewhere in the middle.
© Allyson Pauley 2021