Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: The Founding of Valdemar, book 1
Publisher: DAW (June 15, 2021)
Kindle edition, 368 pages
Fantasy, Adult fantasy
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?
Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, specifically The Last Herald-Mage series and The Arrows of the Queen, were some of the first adult fantasy I ever read, and really got me into the genre. I haven’t read any of the most recent Valdemar books, but I was so excited to see this prequel series about the founding of this fictional country I’ve come to know and love that I just had to pick it up.
Like some of the other more recent releases by Mercedes Lackey, this book seems to be missing a certain spark that her earlier books had. It was an enjoyable read, but I was aware that I was reading a book the entire time. It didn’t pull me in and transport me into the story – like all of the pieces were there but it didn’t have the breath of life in it that stories really need to come alive.
Still, this was a great read and I read it pretty much straight through, only putting it down to sleep. The book is written in the third person, alternating between following Kordas, the Duke of Valdemar, and Delia, his young sister-in-law. Both Kordas and Delia spend a fair amount of time in their own heads thinking Big Thoughts – like, PAGES of internal monologue. Each time was like slamming into a wall of thoughts that just pushed me entirely out of the story. Getting past their wordy internal monologues, I really loved the plot of this book. Valdemar is a duchy in an empire ruled by an evil Emperor, and there’s plenty of subterfuge and spying and plots within plots here. I don’t want to ruin anything, but what Kordas uncovers when he goes to the imperial palace is really intrigung, and I look forward to seeing how the new plot lines that are opened mid-story are resolved later in the series.
If you’re new to the world of Valdemar, the concept of the mind magic (vs mage magic) isn’t really well explained in this book, like there’s some assumption you’ve read other books in the series and are already familiar, so that may be a bit of a stumbling block for new readers. Perhaps it will be better explained in the next book, as the “Gifts” only came into play a very small amount in this first book.
This is the first book in The Founding of Valdemar series. Some of the main plot lines wrap up nicely by the end of the book, so you could read it as a stand alone if you’re not interested in continuing the series. I, however, and excited to see what new adventures book two will hold!
A digital ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for review. All opinions are unbiased and my own.