Mercedes Lackey,
Exile's Valor
(DAW, 2003)

More than anything, the young Queen Selenay longs for love. While the council pressures her to marry, Selenay hopes for a chance at romance. Then the dazzling Prince Karathanalan arrives from Rethwellen and the queen falls instantly in love with him. But does he have another agenda? Will he submit to the role of consort in a country where only heralds can rule?

Setting the brilliant fantasy world of Valdemar apart from all others are the Companions. Each mystic horse chooses a gifted youngster to become a herald, upholders of righteousness throughout the kingdom. These horses and their chosen heralds have a bond deeper than lovers, which triggers magical gifts in the country's beloved heroes.

Along with her originality, Mercedes Lackey's amazing characterization brings everyone in her world to life with startling vividness. Her books are beloved by young adults and adults alike, as they reflect the world of growing up with uncanny accuracy. Lackey is now quite prolific, producing four books a year (she has more than 50 published) and editing plenty of fantasy anthologies.

Alberich is the chief narrator of this story. An exile from the hostile country of Karse, he is the new herald weaponsmaster sworn to defend Selenay from all enemies, including her new husband. Alberich and Selenay share this story, as Alberich tracks a mysterious conspiracy among the nobles back to its source. Even as he seeks to define his role in Selenay's new court, Alberich prepares a group of herald trainees for a secret task in defending the queen -- and enlists the court's most unlikely spy. Alberich also finds the time for romance, shyly kindling sparks between himself and klutzy herald-chronicaller Myste in an endearing first romance.

Exile's Valor takes an unusual place in the world of fantasy trilogies and epic series. It is the direct sequel to Exile's Honor, the book in which Alberich becomes a herald and Selenay becomes queen. The book Take a Thief follows these two novels, dwelling briefly on Alberich while introducing the thief Skif (although this one was published before either of the Exile books). All three of these books have too many references to later events, and leave too many dangling threads to stand completely alone.

At the same time, the main story of Exile's Honor stands alone. Alberich tries to solve a mystery, while Selenay marries the man of her dreams and finds conditions attached. Both plots conclude completely, with a rushed yet satisfying ending. While long time Lackey fans (or at least fans who have read The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy) will find plenty of enlightening references to the future, this knowledge is not necessary to enjoy the book. Returning readers will happily greet characters who die in later books, while new readers can enjoy a perfectly fun independent story.

Alberich's sardonic humor, tossed back and forth between him and his companion, brings the story to life. At one memorable moment, the two of them watch a tragic romance of star-crossed lovers in the theater and both comment on the silliness and implausibility of it all. In the end, the sports game that Alberich has invented will be all that stands between danger and Alberich's queen.

Although barely qualifying as stand-alone, this story is a welcome addition to the Valdemar series, reviewing the early story of Queen Selenay and her most devoted protector. Mixing Alberich's sardonic humor with Selenay's very real angst about growing up, this book creates a strong story that all Lackey fans will enjoy.

- Rambles
written by Valerie Frankel
published 8 May 2004

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