Book Review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey
I started reading Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books when I was a horse obsessed young teenager three decades ago. Thinking back on it, of course I started reading them because of the pretty white horses on the covers, but I kept reading them because I loved the very human stories of her characters, and they were definitely formative in my adult beliefs of right and wrong, who is ‘worthy’ of living a valuable and productive life, and all around generally how to behave like a decent human being.
I can’t say I’ve read EVERY Valdemar book in the decades since I first picked up Magic’s Pawn and was astounded to read an openly gay main character in print, but I’ve read the vast majority of them. And like every other fan of Valdemar, I’ve wondered about the founding and the mysterious, long-ago Baron Valdemar who fled a cruel empire with his people and founded a magical kingdom. Well, Lackey has finally decided it’s time to deliver Valdemar’s beginnings.
Kordas Valdemar is known for breeding superb horses and not much else. The book actually opens on quite a confronting scene of Kordas assisting a mare in labour with a breech foal… I can definitely see anyone squeamish noping out here, so maybe consider that before you start reading.
A lot of Lackey’s Valdemar books would probably fall into the Middle Grade or YA Fantasy designation, with young protagonists chosen as Heralds and growing into maturity during the course of the series. And while Delia, Kordas’ young sister-in-law, gets quite a lot of POV page time here, it’s Kordas who gets the most page time. His age isn’t specified precisely but simple math tells me he’s got to be about 30 if not a little more, and the book is correspondingly adult. There’s a moderately gruesome murder, people use swear words a lot, not to mention the explicitly described horse birth scene. This is adult fantasy, even though there’s no sex in it.
Maybe Lackey’s aware that most Valdemar lovers have been adult for years, I don’t know… but if her target audience is adults, the moralizing is on the clunky and unsubtle side. Valdemar has always been super liberal, and I don’t see any of the long term fans picking this up not knowing that. Seriously, did we really need a page and a half of Kordas giving a speech about why he thinks enslaving non-human sentient beings is bad - to one of said non-human sentients??? I’m really not sure new adult fans would be won over by this clunkiness… and I think teenagers would be rolling their eyes, if not already put off by the gory horse birth!
Kordas spends a lot of time struggling with the immutable truth that he can’t save everyone, much though he feels the urge to try. Lackey has always been heavy on the minute detail of what everyone is up to and their motivations but after the third iteration of ‘oh no, this other marginalized group are in trouble, I need to save them, how am I going to manage this’ I started to feel like I wanted some actual action and the plot to move on a bit. It does feel like there’s a bit too much filler here, in parts.
I’ll pick up the rest of what I assume is going to be a trilogy because I’m a long-time fan and I want to know what happens. I don’t think I’d recommend this to readers who aren’t familiar with the world of Valdemar, however. It’s not Lackey’s best work. (I’d say start with the Arrows trilogy, if anyone was wondering). I’ll give it three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.