Beyond, by Mercedes Lackey

June 4, 2021 Book Reviews 1 ★★★★

Beyond, by Mercedes LackeyBeyond Series: Founding of Valdemar #1
Published by DAW Books on June 15, 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop
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four-stars

The long-awaited founding of Valdemar comes to life in this new series from a New York Times bestselling author and beloved fantasist.

Within the Eastern Empire, Duke Kordas Valdemar rules a tiny, bucolic Duchy that focuses mostly on horse breeding. Anticipating the day when the Empire’s exploitative and militant leaders would not be content to leave them alone, Korda’s father set out to gather magicians in the hopes of one day finding a way to escape and protect the people of the Duchy from tyranny.

Kordas has lived his life looking over his shoulder. The signs in the Empire are increasingly dire. Under the direction of the Emperor, mages have begun to harness the power of dark magics, including blood magic, the powers of the Abyssal Planes, and the binding and "milking" of Elemental creatures.

But then one of the Duchy’s mages has a breakthrough. There is a way to place a Gate at a distance so far from the Empire that it is unlikely the Emperor can find or follow them as they evacuate everyone that is willing to leave.

But time is running out, and Kordas has been summoned to the Emperor's Court.

Can his reputation as a country bumpkin and his acting skills buy him and his people the time they need to flee? Or will the Emperor lose patience, invade to strip Valdemar of everything of worth, and send its conscripted people into the front lines of the Imperial wars?

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Finally, Valdemar’s origin story

I have been a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books since the first trilogy came out in 1988-89. And I have been waiting for the story of Valdemar’s founding for nearly as long. So I was over the moon when I found out that she was finally writing Valdemar’s origin story as a trilogy. I went into Beyond with very high expectations.

It didn’t entirely live up to those expectations—it’s not quite as gripping or well-paced as the best of her earlier books—but it satisfied many of them, and left me eager for the rest of the story.

In Beyond, we get to know Kordas, Duke of Valdemar (not Baron, a fact which gets explained later in the book): a conscientious, intelligent, compassionate leader of a backwater dukedom, who is both idealistic and pragmatic. We get an in-depth look at the Empire about 1000 years after the Cataclysm: both its politics and the ways it relies on magic. We find out why Kordas plans to take his people into a (not entirely) untamed wilderness. And we get rather more than some readers will want about the logistics involved in planning and executing that escape. (Personally, I found those sections interesting; I always like to know how things work.)

Beyond offers intrigue, danger, and suspense, but also plenty of moments of humor, friendship, and compassion. Kordas is the main POV character, but there are also a number of scenes from his young sister-in-law Delia’s perspective. (Both are presented in third-person limited.) Other important secondary characters are Kordas’s wife, Isla; his seneschal, Hakkon; and his herald, Beltran; fans of the series will recognize Beltran’s name from the origin story as related to Talia in Arrows of the Queen. There are other Easter eggs for fans, but some involve spoilers, so I’ll let you discover them on your own.

There is a lot going on in this book, and some of it was completely unexpected—which is both good from the perspective of telling a good story, and logical from a “historical” point of view. The origin story as we know it from several of the earlier books had undoubtedly changed and been simplified as it morphed from history into legend, so it’s not surprising that not all the details match up, and much occurs in the “true” tale that is not remembered in those origin myths. In Arrows of the Queen, Davan says “There was a whole lot about all the hardships they went through, and I can’t remember that part too good,” which gives Ms. Lackey plenty of scope for expanding the story… and there was already enough in the two-or-three-page tale Davan relates to expand into a whole trilogy.

One of Ms. Lackey’s strong points as a writer, besides her ability to tell a compelling story, is her skill at portraying everyday life as well as the big, important events. Some readers may find this an annoyance and a distraction from the action of the story, but for me, it makes it easier to immerse myself in the world of the story, to feel and hear and see and even smell the details of the world in which the characters (and I with them) live and move. In Beyond, many of these details are centered around just how you prepare to move thousands of people into the wilderness and keep them safe when you get them there—those “logistics” I alluded to earlier. If Duke Kordas is “idealistic and pragmatic,” this novel is imaginative and pragmatic: Lackey imagines a great migration, then works out and explains exactly how such a thing could be worked. For some, this may come across as “padding;” for me, those details make the entire premise of the novel more real and believable.

That said, there are a few things that could have done with a bit more explication, particularly the guns. Fans have been speculating about those ever since the cover reveal, because there are no post-Cataclysm projectile weapons in any of the novels, other than bows; there are no cannon in the canon. (Sorry; I couldn’t resist!) Something like pistols and rifles or mortars do exist in the Empire, but the explanation of how they work is a bit vague, and one can only extrapolate the reason why they no longer exist. As for why no one, in all the long history since, has reinvented something similar… that point is completely ignored, at least so far.

Ms. Lackey is not given to cliffhanger endings, so although the trilogy still has two books to go, Beyond does end at a relatively satisfying point in the story arc. Nonetheless, I’m going to be waiting impatiently for the second and third books! If you’re already a fan of the series, I think you’re going to really enjoy it… and the potential is there to love it as the trilogy goes on.

If you aren’t already familiar with Valdemar, though, I don’t recommend Beyond as a starting place. While the story and characters are interesting for their own sake, a lot of the fun for me was in spotting the links and resonances with the later Valdemar and Empire I know from all the previous books. To get the most out of Beyond, at a minimum you should be familiar with the Arrows trilogy, the Mage Winds trilogy, the Mage Storms trilogy (which is where you’ll learn about the Empire), and The Black Gryphon. You might also want to read By the Sword between the Arrows and Mage Winds trilogies, since its latter third sets up the situation in the Mage Winds trilogy. Luckily, you’ve got two years to catch up on the series before this trilogy is complete. And, wow, have you got a treat in store!

four-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Seasons 2021: Spring

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