Now for a more in the fantasy-slash-action-adventure-type genre. Mercedes Lackey is one of my favorite authors and has been since junior high, and she has written a lot of books. Like, a lot. Her Valdemar world has series upon series, and I’ve been hard pressed to pick the best book to feature for the blog as all of her female characters are pretty legit. We already featured one of her fairytale retellings (The Black Swan) earlier, but By The Sword is sufficiently different and sufficiently awesome that it made the cut.
By The Sword is the length and action-packed tale of Kerowyn, a young woman who can efficiently and effectively managed any problem thrown her way. After her mother dies, she manages the entire Keep and its lands without much help, when her brother’s wedding feast is attacked and his bride carried off she rides out and saves her. She spends several years training with her adoptive grandmother (a heroine from another series) and joins a mercenary company, which she eventually becomes captain of. Then in the very last ten pages, she is Chosen to become a Herald (very noble and essentially good people who are the topic of most of the Valdemar novels). Needless to say the book is just shy of 500 pages.
Fortunately, Kerowyn is a great character who excels at kicking butt, but spends a lot of time worrying about how much she enjoys it, and how much she doesn’t enjoy normal things like reading or sewing or fancy dresses. And later in the story she realizes how lonely it is to be a captain, where you can’t risk showing favoritism within your troops, nor can you be friends with anyone outside your company that you might end up crossing swords with. She’s even got a magical sword that protects women, but that becomes a problem when she runs up against female opponents and suddenly finds her sword arm frozen. Not that Kerowyn’s story is anything close to realistic, but just that she as a character offers less idealistic insight to what life as a female warrior might actually be like.
And while she is honorable and beautiful and kind to bunnies and all that, she makes no bones about what she’s really about: she’s a warrior, and a good one, so why shouldn’t she get paid? “It makes sense for people who are good at fighting to go out and do it—because if they’re good at it, that means the fewest number of other people die.” As a mercenary, and a good one, she isn’t always fighting on the “good” side, and some of the people she kills are innocent of everything except being one of the “enemy.”
But this isn’t a dour book by any means: I’ve read it at least five times by now, and when I get to my favorite quotes I have to read them aloud because they’re so clever. Kerowyn’s brand of humor is certainly on the wry side, but she finds plenty of amusement in her plethora of adventures. Though the book can be a little clunky at times, it is always engaging, and Lackey zips her protagonist along from one adventure to the next. This book reads like Tamora Pierce for big girls.
By The Sword is a stand-alone work, but for more of a grasp on what exactly is going on, I recommend also reading the Vows and Honor trilogy (featuring the adventures of Kerowyn’s grandmother and her oath-sister when they were mercenaries) and the very first Valdemar series that Lackey wrote, The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy (featuring the adventures of Talia and more explanation on Heralds).