Valdemar’s Heralds are an ancient order. Chosen from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages, these unusual individuals are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women. They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more. Trained to be emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counsellors, and even warriors, their unique inborn talents make them indispensable to their monarch and their realm. Sought and Chosen by mysterious horselike Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures. With their Companions, the Heralds of Valdemar ride circuit throughout the kingdom protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.
Another December, another Valdemar anthology. It’s become a bit of a tradition at my house that one of the books I get for Christmas is the new Valdemar anthology. And every year I spend an enjoyable day or two during my Christmas holiday visiting the world that got me hooked into fantasy for good. This year was no exception to the rule and it was a good visit to Velgarth. Lackey is my literary chocolate, my comfort reading and she never fails to disappoint in that respect.
Last year I was disappointed at the lack of new names among the contributing authors. And while the majority of this year’s authors are return contributors – half of which feature recurring characters – there are two new authors to this anthology series: Daniel Shull and Jennifer Brozek. While Shull was an unknown author to me – and I haven’t been able to find any more info on him, not even in the author bio’s in the back of the book – and Jennifer Brozek, who I had heard of before. Shull’s story A Healer’s Work, a look at the Healer’s life and the way magic’s return after The Mage Winds trilogy affects both Healers and Heralds, was very enjoyable and I hope to see more of his work in the future. Brozek’s Discordance focuses on Bardic Collegium’s occupants and how rejection can affect a teenager and cause him to use his talents to bad ends. I enjoyed this look at the other side of the coin. Most stories in these anthologies are about those who do get Chosen or are Gifted enough to either get into a Collegium or find another good purpose for their gift. Discordance and, to a lesser extent Lackey’s own Simple Gifts and Edghill and McCune’s Catch Fire, Draw Flame, deal with those who go rogue with their Gifts.
Surprisingly, this year there weren’t any complete duds for me—yes, some of the stories were more enjoyable than others to me, but there weren’t any stories that I actively disliked. I really enjoyed returning to some of the returning story settings. I absolutely love Kate Paulk and Sarah Hoyt’s Ree and Jem stories, so I was glad to get two more of them on this outing, Heart’s Peril and Heart’s Place, even though the latter made me a little sad. Ree and Jem are lovely characters, so much so, that I’d love to have a whole book about them! Other perennial favourites are Herald Jors and his Companion Gervais. In Tanya Huff’s Family Matters we get a lighter tale after last year’s tragic adventure. I loved Jors’ theatrical little cousin Annamarin and I left the story with a smile. Another fun return visit was that of the Dann family of Haven watchmen in The Watchmen’s Ball. I always enjoy Fiona Patton’s writing and I really like her tales about the Dann family. They’re a fun bunch and again it’s nice to have a tale from the perspective of regular people, not connected to any of the Collegia or the Court.
My favourite stories from a non-recurring setting were those by Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Kristin Schwengel and Ben Ohlander. Vaughan’s In an Instant, in which Selenay and Daren acknowledge their Lifebond, though very short, was poignant and packed a punch. I really loved this seemingly small, intimate moment, which in actuality is something that is life-changing, not just for Selenay and Daren, but their Companions as well. Schwengel’s Warp and Weft was awesome. It is a very cool look at post-Mage Storm Tayledras life and how they go about restoring the Pelagirs and how magic works after the Storms. Finally, Fog of War by Ben Ohlander really impressed me. I loved how this didn’t feature a Herald with a very powerful version of a know gift, but one who’s gift is rather numinous and who is very, very good at what he does. Plus it was a grittier, darker story than we usually see in the Valdemar universe, which was refreshing.
The titular story Under the Vale by Larry Dixon is less of a short story and more like a scientific essay describing the technical underpinnings of a Tayledras Vale. This was very informative to read and learn about and it makes me curious about all the notes and research Lackey and Dixon have lying around their office! I hope this will be a returning feature in the anthologies or that they would consider publishing these sorts of essays in a follow up to The Valdemar Companion.
Under The Vale is one of the better Valdemar anthologies so far. However, they are not for the casual reader; more and more they’ve become snacks for the dedicated Valdemar fan. As such, I really enjoyed it, but a casual reader would be better served by starting with one of the earlier trilogies, such as The Heralds of Valdemar series or the Last Herald Mage trilogy, or by starting with the first book of the current trilogy, Foundation.