I am one of those people who are entirely susceptible to nostalgia and fan service. I admit this with no shame whatsoever. By the time I reached By the Sword, Lackey’s first standalone book in the world of Velgarth, I was so hooked that it could have been about anything. She and her world had become one of my go-to reads. Thankfully, the book stood up well to my expectations.

Title: By the Sword (Heralds of Valdemar series)

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Date Published: 1991

Genre: High Fantasy

Number of Times I’ve Read It: At least 20—I honestly have no idea

Content Warning: Kidnapping, threats of rape, violence.

Accessibility: Available in eBook, audiobook, and print as individual books or an omnibus

By the Sword (4/5 Stars)

Granddaughter of the sorceress Kethry, daughter of a noble house, Kerowyn had been forced to run the family keep since her mother’s untimely death. Yet now at last her brother was preparing to wed, and when his bride became the lady of the keep, Kerowyn could return to her true enjoyments—training horses and hunting.

But all Kerowyn’s hopes and plans were shattered when her ancestral home was attacked, her father slain, her brother wounded, and his fiancée kidnapped. Drive by desperation and the knowledge that a sorcerer had led the attack, Kerowyn sought her grandmother Kethry’s aid, a journey which would prove but the first step on the road to the fulfillment of her destiny. For facing her family’s foes would transform Kerowyn into an outsider in her own land, a warrior bound to the spell blade Need, and a mercenary forced to choose between loyalty to her comrades in arms and the Herald of Valdemar, whom she had rescued and who in his turn had helped to awaken her to the true meaning of love and to her own unique powers of magic.


By the Sword tells the story of Kerowyn, granddaughter of one of the protagonists in the Vows and Honor trilogy. The story does well as a stand-alone novel, one of the few Lackey has written for the world of Velgarth. Beginning when Kero is an older teenager, the books cover her life up into her mid-thirties as she trains to become a mercenary fighter under her grandmother’s partner, Tarma. Lackey’s usual character-building shines through with Kero, to the point that she is an incredibly popular character in the fandom at large. Eventually, her adventures take her into Valdemar, where she encounters many familiar characters from the original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy and some new ones.

As a single female fighter, Kero could easily have been written as a stereotype brought to life. However, despite being a woman with a forceful personality, she is nowhere near the muscle-bound female warrior type. She’s smart, caring, and a very loyal friend.

The plot for By the Sword is probably one of her best at the point of its publication, much tighter than any of the others and with better pacing. The world building remains phenomenal. As usual, Lackey presents new tidbits to pull readers deeper into the world of Velgarth. She also brings in antagonists from two other trilogies, showing how the various countries near Valdemar relate to one another. There’s plenty of action for those who love that, with a romantic subplot woven in (although not as much as the synopsis might suggest).

I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of true sword and sorcery type stories. It has action, magic, and many appealing characters. It’s a nice standalone break from the many trilogies that populate this series.

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. 

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© Allyson Pauley 2021

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