Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Valdemar 08: The Oathbound (Lackey)

Rating: 5
Year: 1988
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Back to the Lackey. Number 8, first in the "Vows and Honor" trilogy, with 18 to go--

Oh, CRAP. I just re-counted. I said there were 26...there are 27 that I've got (knowing her she's already scribbled a dozen more books in the past week)...which means 19 more to go.

Okay, okay...deep breaths...don't panic...it's just one...extra...book...*huff huff huff* Think positive thoughts...it's not 19 Alan Dean Foster books in a row...it's not the entire 19 books of "Star Wars: New Jedi Order"...okay, I feel much better now.

Tarma shena Tale'sedren (Tarma, of the Hawk Clan) and Kethryveris of Pheregrul are on a long, slow, wintry ride back to Tarma's homelands, the Dhorisha Plains. Thankfully, we're not expected to remember those names, and can call them "Tarma" and "Kethry." This is a Lackey book, so "Kethry" gets the shorty-nickname of "Keth." Someone always seems to get a shorty-nick. We can pretend that it's along the lines of "John" for "Johnathan" and like that, but it always feels fake when Lackey does it, for some reason. Maybe it's because that's usually the only nick-name anyone gets in a Lackey story, other than affectionate descriptives--"Peacock" for a vain young man, "Greeneyes" for Kethry, but we rarely see something crass like a village butcher named "Muttonchop" or a sheep-herder nicknamed "Shaggy" for the one time he got caught. Tall men don't get nicknamed "Tiny."

So anyway, it's winter, and they're headed south to the Plains so Tarma can reclaim her Clan's banner. She's the sole survivor of a vicious raid: every man, woman, and child died at the hands and swords of a band of robbers. Her Goddess gave her the means to avenge herself and her Clan, making her one of Her Sword-Sworn. Tarma set out to find the robbers, met Kethry, and the two of them teamed up and killed all the bad guys. Now, it's been more than a year since Tarma took up her sword, and she must soon raise her banner...or her Clan will be declared dead.

Kethry is the other half of this odd couple; she's a mage and sworn blood-sister to Tarma. Her magic sword "Need" carries a compulsory spell: its bearer must help women in distress. To that end, the sword will make a non-fighter into a master swordswoman, grant some magical protection to a non-mage, and heal an injured woman of life-threatening wounds. But Need serves only women.

They make it to the Plains--but both soon realize that Tale'sedren will not flourish as a Clan of two. They need to make a reputation--and money--for themselves and their Clan so the right sort of people will want to join them. They return to the road to work as freelance mercenaries.

From there, the book is a straightforward "road" story; they move from job to job, mostly as caravan guards or escorts for wealthy travelers. Need awakens several times, forcing them to ride to the rescue of a woman wrongly accused of murder, then to face a powerful demon seeking godhood. One of my favorite parts is a scene where Kethry dispenses justice on a murderous rapist by casting an illusion upon him, making him look like the sort of woman he and his band of thieves would victimized. She keyed the illusion to the senses: anyone touching him would see, feel, and hear a woman.

Then she released the bastard--without telling him a thing. He returned to his camp and received the same treatment from his own men as his victims did.

Nice bit of justice, that.

After reading the two "Back to the Future" and two "Alien" books, Lackey's almost a relief. It helps that the "Vows and Honor" books are amongst her better efforts. She's not quite as fussy (it seems like the more recent books are the worst in that regard), but there are still plenty of the "in no way" qualifiers that define her style. The story flows well, the characters are interesting and compelling, and the book isn't too long--these are things "Brightly Burning" lacked in spades. There aren't many short books after "Vows and Honor" in the Valdemar series--just the "Talia" trilogy a few books along from here. After that, we go from 300 pages to around 500 per book.

About the only issue I've got isn't really an issue. The book has a feel of being a series of short stories tied together--some mild continuity lapses, sometimes flowing, sometimes a stumble when Lackey stops to remind us of things, but not enough to matter.

Nickname watch:
Kethry (Keth)
Kavinestral (Kavin), Keth's brother

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