Next up: The Velgarth (Heralds of Valdemar) book universe by Mercedes Lackey
This isn’t exactly one continuous series, but a collection of books and series set in the same world. This will be a review of that world, and then in my “recommendations” section, I’ve posted a reading guide that goes through the individual books– because I don’t really think all of them are worth it and there are so many; it’s too complicated to include in this review.
The world of the Heralds of Valdemar is a pseudo-medieval world of kings, queens, swords, and sorcery. The main setting is the kingdom of Valdemar. Valdemar has a very interesting and unique organization of agents to the crown called the “Heralds”. The Heralds function as both police towards the citizens of Valdemar, and military towards enemies of Valdemar. The entire kingdom is based around this group– monarchs must be Heralds as well as royalty, and Heralds operate as agents of most governmental institutions such as judicial proceedings and the military. They are the elite, trusted instruments of the monarch, held in something like reverence by the lay population. And the reason for this is that they are Chosen for the job, rather than volunteering, Chosen by Companions. The Companions are shaped like white horses with blue eyes, but they are much more than that. There’s a sort of in-book religious explanation for their origin, but I don’t believe it’s really ever discussed at length in the books. But they’re basically magic horse friends. Once Companions reach a certain age (they’re all born like normal horses, except for the ‘leader’ Companion, who always Chooses the monarch’s right-hand Herald), they go on Search, looking for their Chosen. This is usually a child or young teen, who– upon being Chosen– attends the Heralds Collegium to learn everything they’ll need to know to function as a Herald. The books often show the character(s) Choosing, some of their time at the Collegium, and then their entrance into whatever main conflict is going on for that book (often some border war with Karse, or political intrigue within Valdemar itself).
Some of the books deal with other countries in the same world, and often pull in Heralds as characters. There are books about Rethwellan, Karse, and the Pelagir Forest. The books span a very large segment of time, in terms of the world’s history.
I started reading these during my ‘magical animal friend’ phase, which also included McCaffrey’s Pern books and Pierce’s Tortall books. I quickly became enamored of the ‘verse and read nearly all (it might actually be all) of the books. As with any large selection of books, some are better than others. For the most part, though, I like the Heralds of Valdemar, and I’ll read them without hesitation (though I do often refrain from purchasing until I’ve deemed them worthy).
Even though the books are usually found in the adult scifi/fantasy section (rather than YA), and have some sexual content, I kind of think that high schoolers and maybe younger college students are the closest fit in terms of audience impact. A lot of the stories are about young people finding their place and growing into themselves– coming-of-age stories, sort of– via their being Chosen and becoming Heralds. Which isn’t to say that adults can’t enjoy them, but there’s also some level of YA-interests addressing going on.
In some respects the universe is very old-school-fantasy. There’s the swords-and-sorcery bit with Valdemar, the evil empire of Karse, and the secret mystical woodland-dwelling Tayledras. Good guys wear white, of course (though hilariously some characters in the ‘verse facepalm at the idea of wearing all white “here I am please shoot me” uniforms). It’s a bit cliched in some of its world-building, admittedly. But you can still have fun with (most of) the books.
Depending on the book, there may be descriptions of torture, sexual abuse, physical abuse/bullying, or homophobia.