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REVIEW: Foundation by Mercedes Lackey

Dear Ms. Lackey,

book review When I was a young teenager, I devoured your Valdemar novels.   They were my favorite books and I was a very loyal reader.   I eventually outgrew them, as it sometimes happens, but I still look back on them fondly.   You write a special brand of animal companion fantasy about ostracized, misunderstood teens and the magical white horses that love and accept them that just speaks strongly to a certain audience.   As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained a healthy amount of respect for that power.   There was a time when I couldn’t read a Valdemar book; when I outgrew them, I really outgrew them to the point of feeling elitist disdain.   (I think we all have those stupid moments of reading snobbery.)   But I like to think I’ve since moved past that, so I was cautiously optimistic when Jane mentioned she received a copy of your latest Valdemar novel for review.

I was pleasantly surprised.   This book was a return to early Valdemar books.   Part of the reason why I outgrew the Valdemar books was that later books took on a more epic, worldchanging tone, and if I’m honest, that wasn’t what I read them for.   If I wanted epic, worldchanging fantasy, there was Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, not to mention the fact that this was around the time a little book called A Game of Thrones by a certain author named George R.R. Martin was first published.   The strength of the Valdemar novels has always been the journey of a misunderstood, often neglected and abused, teen and how they grew up to be someone great and important, whether that be the greatest herald-mage in history or the monarch’s own herald.   So I was very, very glad Foundation went back to its roots.   I think the few years away from the Valdemar world did you get because it brings a certain liveliness that wasn’t there in the later books.   I don’t think it’s unfair to say you may have gotten tired of the setting and simply wanted some time away.   Maybe that’s not true, but that was my impression as a reader.

Foundation follows the story of Mags, an orphaned child of bandits who grew up working as glorified slave labor for a jewel mine.   It’s a hard life but in the tradition of the Valdemar series, he’s Chosen by the Companion, Dallen, and taken to the Valdemar capital, Haven, to become a herald.   It turns out Mags has an incredibly strong mindspeaking (telepathic) gift.   (Heralds aren’t actually heralds as we know them.   In this world, heralds are sort of like the servants of justice for Valdemar and have any number of psychic gifts, ranging from telepathy to telekinesis.)

But times are changing in Haven.   The traditional way of training heralds was one of master and apprentice.   Unfortunately, many heralds died in the wars and many, many more trainees are being Chosen in alarming numbers that the demand for teachers far outstrips the supply.   It’s also just not practical.   While a one-on-one master-apprentice may have worked in the past, a one-on-six ratio does not, especially when there’s a lot of unrest.   Valdemar’s borders have been expanding because new lords are swearing fealty to Valdemar’s king in order to gain protection from neighboring, more hostile countries.   As a result, there’s some unrest in Haven and among the heralds, between those who want to adhere to the old ways and those who want to try the new: build a collegium and train heralds in the classroom before sending them out into the field for on-hands experience under the guidance of a mentor.

While there are bigger plot threads being set up in the background — the foreign merchant’s unknown machinations, the aforementioned conflict between those who want the collegium and those who do not — the strength of this novel rests in Mags’s personal story as he goes to school, learning to be a herald.   I liked the fact that while there is no question that he was abused, Mags was very matter of fact about it and doesn’t wallow in his brooding angst.   This may seem like a coldhearted thing to say but I think anyone who’s read other Valdemar novels, especially from The Mage Winds trilogy on, knows that there sometimes is a tendency to overindulge in internal monologues that can be trying for a reader.   I know I used to get annoyed with those chapters.

I thought Mags’s friendship with Lena and Bear were great contrasts.   No one expects anything of Mags because he’s a half-illiterate, ignorant, country bumpkin.   On the other hand, Lena is the daughter of one of the most famous bards in history and Bear comes from a family of gifted healers.   The expectations upon them are huge.   I also like the way Mags is being trained to be a spy by the King’s Own Herald.   Not the flashy sort we sometimes encounter in fiction but the real sort: unremarkable, unmemorable, lurking in the background, just listening and filing information away for later.

I won’t lie and say Foundation is groundbreakingly original.   It’s not.   To be honest, I don’t think this book even has a plot as I usually define it in the context of fantasy novels.   If anything, it’s set-up for things to come.   Some readers will be annoyed that Mags is yet another abused protagonist but I’ve read enough of your work to realize that’s part of your formula when it comes to animal companion fantasy.     That will be a dealbreaker for many readers, both old and new, but I also think this is probably one of the least angsty presentations of abusive backgrounds I’ve ever seen in your books.

While there are small references to things that have happened in other Valdemar books, there’s nothing that requires readers to have prior knowledge.   Those references are more like winks to those who have read other books set in this world.   The book also lacks those things that started to irritate me in later books.   There are no all-consuming lifebonds.   There are no unbelievable diplomatic agreements between grassland nomads and religious fanatics.   There are no grand-sweeping conspiracies from a lurking, evil Eastern Empire, although there are hints of something larger to come in future books.     At its heart, this is a very simple coming of age story about a boy who has his eyes opened to the world and learns that he has all the potential to change it.   B

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

24 Comments

  1. SusanL
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 04:17:01

    Thanks for this review, Jia. I have a soft spot for Valdemar and didn’t know Ms Lackey had another book out.

    ReplyReply

  2. Li
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 05:04:39

    Oh yay! I haven’t loved the later Valdemar books, so I’m so glad you say this is reminiscent of the earlier ones. Thanks for reviewing!

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  3. Keishon
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 08:18:53

    Jia can this novel stand alone?

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  4. Jia
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 08:28:25

    Story wise, it stands alone well.

    Setting and worldbuilding wise? I’m not entirely sure the explanations behind the heralds, their purpose and roles, and their abilities really come across clearly. I don’t think a new reader will be hopelessly confused but I think there’s a good chance they won’t get a full grasp either.

    That said, the Valdemar setting, in general, is low tech, almost generic fantasy so it’s not crucial for understanding either.

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  5. Michelle
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 09:23:47

    I’ve read the first few books in Mercedes Lackey’s World of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series published by Luna and really enjoy them. (I’ve just dabbled in fantasy and am by no means an expert on the genre.) I’ve wanted to read some of her other stuff, but the number of books are overwhelming. Where should I start? I’d be interested in any recommendations lackey fans have to share.

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  6. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 09:26:44

    I loved the earlier Valdemar books, too. Think I’m going to pick this one up.

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  7. HeatherO
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 10:48:33

    Michelle,

    I would start at the “Arrows” trilogy. These are the first 3 books in the Valdemar series, and are some of the best, IMO.

    Book 1: Arrows of the Queen
    Book 2: Arrow’s Flight
    Book 3: Arrow’s Fall

    If you like those, I would recommend continuing the series in publication order. (Which can be found via her website.) She went back and wrote prequels about earlier characters after this point, but IMO you have better understanding and enjoyment reading the series in the order in which they were written.

    Another good (non-valdemar) series is her Dragon Jousters series.

    Book 1: Joust
    Book 2: Alta
    Book 3: Sanctuary
    Book 4: Aerie

    A good fantasy series set in a world much like ancient Egypt — only with dragons.

    Lastly, if you liked Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms books, I would highly recommend her Elemental Masters series — this also incorporates twists on fairy tales in a clever way. The books are loosely tied together by virtue of being set in the same time period and local (Victorian), but they feature different characters, etc, in each one.

    Book 1: The Fire Rose (Beauty and the Beast)
    Book 2: The Gates of Sleep (Sleeping Beauty)
    Book 3: The Serpent’s Shadow (Snow White)
    Book 4: Pheonix and Ashes (Cinderella)
    Book 5: Wizard of London (The Little Princess — I think! This one is not quite as clear cut in the fairy tale/story.)

    Gee, can you tell I am a Lackey fan?

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  8. Jia
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 11:21:47

    Lastly, if you liked Lackey's 500 Kingdoms books, I would highly recommend her Elemental Masters series

    I think she has a new one in that world coming out soon. I can’t remember the title but I heard it’s a take on Puss in Boots.

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  9. Lady of the Review
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 11:51:34

    Ack! A new Valdemar book & I didn’t know? Oh, that’s just wrong! I may be 32, but I still love the Valdemar series (except for that horrid Owl fiasco). Now I know what to go look for! Whoot! I feel like I’ve been waiting for a new Valdemar book FOREVER!

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  10. Jia
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 12:09:16

    (except for that horrid Owl fiasco).

    LOL

    I can’t say I disagree.

    ReplyReply

  11. Michelle
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 13:26:49

    HeatherO,

    Thank you so much for your recommendations. They’re very helpful. I really do like to read series in a row, and I think I’ll get the first book from the three series and see which one I like best.

    -Michelle

    ReplyReply

  12. Val Kovalin
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 14:26:30

    Hey, Jia, very comprehensive and informative review! I’m probably never going to read a Valdemar book: the combination of “animal companion” and “abused teen” is already making me break out in an allergic rash.

    But I’ve heard a lot about them and was curious to know more without actually having to venture in as a reader. A good review can serve as a “Cliffnotes” to those of us who want to know and then just pass on, and I appreciate your review as such. :)

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  13. Nalini Singh
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 15:42:04

    I must get this! I absolutely love the Valdemar novels. Thanks for a great review, Jia.

    ReplyReply

  14. SusanL
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 16:09:35

    Don’t diss The Owl books ! ;)

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  15. orannia
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 16:29:48

    Thank you so much Jia! I didn’t know a new Valdemar book was out. I loved them when I was a teen, and every so often I pull them out and re-read them.

    Question, one thing that has stopped me from reading the latest Valdemar books was the language used for the dialogue. I found that with Skif’s books his speech patterns were….interpreted by unusual spelling, etc. While this can work for some people I find my overly analytical brain attempts to work out what the word means rather than just reading it, which throws me out of the story. The one thing I love about reading is that I can escape from ‘here’ and go ‘there’. I guess what I’m trying to ask is whether the dialogue in the book flows?

    Thank you!

    orannia

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  16. Jia
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 16:43:29

    Mags does use what I interpreted to be “country” dialect, but he’s the only major character to do so. I don’t recall any unusual spellings but I do remember things like “shinies” instead of gems, things like that.

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  17. Val
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 17:04:53

    Jia,

    It’s out already – called Reserved for the Cat and it’s fun. Very fun. I enjoyed it.

    ReplyReply

  18. Nicole
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 17:49:37

    Ooooh, I’m picking this one up from the library tonight. Can’t wait to read it as it’s been awhile since I read a Valdemar book.

    ReplyReply

  19. Mary Winter
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 20:08:57

    Thank you for your review. Magic’s Pawn was my introduction to fantasy at a very tender age (a hot guy and a horse on the cover, who could lose?), and I fell very much in love. But, like you, grew very disenchanted, especially around the time of Take a Thief. As to the Owl fiasco, well, my cockatiel is Kuari, but um, yeah. :) I have this one on my “to buy to reward myself for a month well done” :) Thanks!!!!!

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  20. anny cook
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 23:26:02

    Well, actually I loved them all. Don’t know what that says about my reading tastes, but I own all the Valdemar books and read them at least once a year–including the OWL books which I really liked. Heh.

    ReplyReply

  21. SonomaLass
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 13:16:08

    Valdemar is a very special place for me — it’s my older children’s favorite fantasy series (my totally identifies with Elspeth, which I try not to take personally, and my son is a Vanyel groupie). I really like Lackey’s world building — the consistency of it, and how she’s able to move into new territory (different cultures, different time periods) and it still hangs together. And things move forward, conflicts get resolved, and lots of couples have very romantic “endings” that don’t end, because the couples have to keep functioning. Unlike some authors I could name (I’d be looking at you, Robert Jordan, but you’re dead).

    Lately I’d rather re-read the earlier books than risk a new one (no, not an Owl fan), but I think I’ll take a chance on this one as a present for the kid.

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  22. readerdiane
    Oct 10, 2008 @ 22:37:48

    My daughter and I were talking about how much we loved the Arrow books and our next favorite were the Sword & Sorceress books. Maybe they were our favorites because they featured strong females/
    I would love to see her take the series on from where she left off because I certainly had some questions unanswered.
    Her world building is fantastic. I have read her books in chronological order and published order. I would still start with the Arrow series.

    This book was good-stayed up late to finish but not my favorite.

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  23. Chrissy
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 14:05:13

    Oh huzzah!! I really don’t like most of the stuff coming out for young adults these days. I broke my teeth on good high fantasy and classics, and I miss stuff like the Valdemar books and McCaffery’s Harper Hall books.

    YUM!

    ReplyReply

  24. Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey – Review
    Oct 15, 2010 @ 18:10:59

    [...] Dear Author says (of Foundation): [...]

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