We rarely get a good example of unrelated women in a platonic, close friendship in older, more traditional fantasy stories. All too often, women are singular additions to a group of men, the love interest of the male main character, or the single character going it alone against seemingly unbeatable odds. While more recent fantasy novels have gone a long way in adding representation for women, I could make a good argument that Tarma and Kethry of Mercedes Lackey’s Vows and Honor paved the way.
First written as short stories to be included in sword and sorcery anthologies, Lackey eventually included the pair in another country of the same universe as Valdemar, a decision which had long-reaching consequences for future books. A pioneer in representation, Lackey’s Tarma is a brown-skinned member of a nomad tribe, one of the first non-stereotypical, non-white main characters in fantasy. She also represents asexuality, although this is magically induced at her own request by her deity and not something she was born with. Overall, the books helped set Lackey’s trend of breaking down barriers in fantasy.
Title: Vows and Honor Trilogy–Oathbound, Oathbreakers, Oathblood
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Date Published: 1988, 1989, 1998
Genre: High Fantasy
Number of Times I’ve Read It: At least 15—I honestly have no idea
Content Warning: Oathblood contains mentions of child bride rape/abuse, mentions of rape, and violence. Oathbreakers includes violence and murder. Oathblood includes mentions of rape, violence, and kidnapping.
Accessibility: Available in eBook, audiobook, and print as individual books or an omnibus
Oathbound (4/5 Stars)
She was Tarma. Born to the Clan of the Hawk of the nomadic Shin’a’in people, she saw her entire clan slain by brigands. Vowing blood revenge upon the murderers, she became one of the sword-sworn, the most elite of all warriors. And trained in all the forms of death-dealing combat, she took to the road in search of her enemies.
She was Kethry. Born to a noble house, sold into a hateful “marriage”, she fled life’s harshness for the sanctuary of the White Winds, a powerful school of sorcery. Becoming an adept, she pledged to use her talents for the greatest good. Yet, unlike other sorcerers, Kethry could use worldly weapons as well as magical skills. And when she became the bearer of a uniquely magical sword that drew her to those in need, Kethry was led to a fateful meeting with Tarma.
United by sword-spell and the will of the Goddess, Tarma and Kethry swore a blood oath to carry on their mutual fight against evil. And together, swords master and sorceress set forth to fulfill their destiny….
Oathbreakers (5/5 Stars)
Evil had cast its shadow over the kingdom of Rethwellan. When Idra, leader of the Sunhawks mercenaries, failed to return from a journey to her home, Tarma and Kethry, warrior and mage, set out in search of their vanished leader.
Oathblood (4/5 Stars)
This exciting new anthology includes a new novella featuring Mercedes Lackey’s most popular heroines, Tarma (one of the sword-sworn and most feared of all warriors) and Kethry (who wields magic and weapons for the greater good), whose fates are suddenly bound together in blood by the powers that control their destinies. Also included in the unique volume is the complete collection of Lackey’s short stories about these two brave sisters as they answer the call of their destinies with sword and sorcery!
Oathbound, being in part a compilation of earlier short stories written and published by Lackey tied together by newer passages, is an enjoyable but badly paced read. It’s much better to approach this book as an anthology of connected novellas and short stories. That makes the jarring transitions understandable. Read as self-contained stories, all are enjoyable. As usual, Lackey’s character building is a strength with these two. Some of my favorite characters of the series, you get to see their bond build as each story progresses and they learn more about each other. There’s plenty of action in these, too, compared to the slower action pace of some of her other series, probably because each story has its own smaller plot.
Oathbreakers is the best of the three books in Vows and Honor. Lackey continues her world building in this one to spectacular results, really building up a lot of the background on Tarma’s people without them even being a focus, showing us how the world outside Valdemar works, and yet also leaving plenty of room to tie future Valdemar stories into it later. I can’t pinpoint a single favorite part of this book, although since it begins with a battle campaign, that part is perhaps least enjoyable for me. It’s still full of character and world building, though, the two things Lackey does best. It’s full of intrigue with plenty of action for those who like that, plus amazing secondary characters and a plot that drives you to finish and leaves you satisfied at the end.
Oathblood is another collection of short stories, this time a more traditional, deliberate anthology. Some stories are repeats from Oathbound that have been cleaned up a bit, not a bad thing at all considering this was published ten years after the original book in the trilogy. The novella at the end is the perfect follow-up to the end of Oathbreakers and a good lead into the next chronological book in the series which features Kethry’s granddaughter.
The nice thing about this trilogy is that the books can be read separately. You don’t absolutely need to read Oathbound in order to get a good grasp of what’s happening in Oathbreakers and Tarma and Kethry’s friendship. Each book is self-contained, although reading Oathblood first would give you a few spoilers to Oathbreakers at the very least. This also makes it easy if you don’t want to read a trilogy all at once. Oathbound and Oathbreakers can be read as a duolog and honestly, so can Oathbreakers and Oathblood. The thing that makes this a trilogy is more that they’re about the same main characters than that they tell a continuing story.
I suggest reading in publication order the first time trying to get through all the Valdemar series simply due to 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.
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