By the Sword
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Published By: DAW Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Years ago, when a friend bought me The Heralds of Valdemar Trilogy as a get well gift, I could never have predicted what a Mercedes Lackey fan I would become or how intrigued I would be by all things Valdemaran. Every time I see a book based in the Valdemaran timeline, I simply must have it to complete the collection and add to my knowledge of the history of the kingdom of Valdemar. Such was the case when I found the novel By the Sword.
This novel revolves around Kerowyn, a young girl forced into her destiny after her family is attacked and her father murdered at her brother‘s wedding ceremony. With the help of a mystical sword, Kerowyn hunts down the attackers and rescues her brother’s would-be bride. From that point on, Kerowyn realizes that she is made for a different destiny than what befalls most maidens in a noble household. Especially given the “gift” she has of hearing the thoughts in others minds. It is that realization that pushes her toward her sorceress grandmother, Kethry, and Tarma, the mercenary who has been her grandmother’s friend and companion for decades.
Believing that Kerowyn has no aptitude for magic, it is decided that she will train under Tarma - trained to become a fierce fighter and scout worthy of any mercenary unit. She eventually falls in with the Skybolts, a well-established mercenary unit with an excellent history. Kerowyn becomes a respected member of the scout unit and an asset to the team. Unfortunately, Kerowyn’s fate is not an easy one. Her unit is decimated by Karsites disguised as border bandits and Kerowyn finds herself separated from her fellow mercenaries. When she stumbles upon a band of Karsites who have captured a Herald of Valdemar, can Kerowyn afford to turn her back on their victim? Or will her sense of honor overcome her mercenary training?
Having read many of the Valdemar novels written by Mercedes Lackey, By the Sword threw me for a loop. In the previous novels I had read, the main character almost always finds themselves in the midst of some tragedy and usually ends up being saved by being chosen by a Herald’s Companion. However, this is not the case with By the Sword. Kerowyn’s tragedy didn’t result in her being Chosen. She fought off her attackers with little more than kitchen tools. When she went on her journey to find her sister-in-law, all she had was the magical sword her grandmother had given her. By the end of two hundred pages, I realized that Kerowyn’s tale was not that of a Chosen one and her journey as protector of the kingdom of Valdemar.
This was entirely new to me and thus made the novel that much more intriguing. Especially since there had only been the vaguest of mentions of Valdemar throughout those first two hundred pages. A novel set in the Valdemar timeline with very little mention of the kingdom was very interesting indeed. And so, I kept reading.
By the Sword, as can be guessed by the name, is filled with action as Kerowyn plunges into battle after battle, as a civilian, a scout, a civilian again and, eventually, a Captain. Each battle fought is never won easily and there is always a bit of mystery to be solved. Kerowyn’s interaction with her fellow mercenaries is inspiring…her interaction with Herald Eldan is something altogether different.
Once again, in this novel, Mercedes Lackey is offering up a message - people are different and, by virtue of those differences, unique. No one should look down on someone simply because they are different and no one should be ashamed of what makes them unique to the rest of the world. People should revel in their differences and see these differences as gifts bestowed upon them by a higher power.
By the Sword is a long novel - almost 500 pages to be exact - but well worth the read. The action and intrigue coupled with the mystery and a bit of romance make this novel interesting. The fact that it is written in a style that is unlike any of the other novels in the Valdemar series makes it unique. The fact that it eventually links up to The Heralds of Valdemar Trilogy is something I’m sure will make fans of that series very happy indeed.
For more Mercedes Lackey novels, check out: