Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: The Oathbound

The Oathbound
Mercedes Lackey
Vows and Honour: Book 1


The Oathbound
is really a collection of short stories disguised as a novel. Amazon reviewers say it is ‘choppy’ and I would agree. There’s lots of repetition, because we’re constantly being reintroduced to the characters. But I usually just ignore that, because I enjoy the stories so much.

The stories follow Tarma and Kethry. One is an asexual swordswoman, the other a sorceress, and they are travelling mercenaries. I don’t really want to go into too much detail, because I don’t really have much to say. I think Tarma and Kethry are great examples of strong female characters, their stories are a great romp, and Oathbound is fun. Go read it, ignore the editing, and enjoy the fun.

However, this is the place to get specific, so:

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

While the repetition is annoying, the characters more than make up for it. Tarma has a great sense of (often bawdy) humour, for all she’s asexual, looks like a sword, and has such a tragic past. Kethry is… adorable. She’s feisty, patient, and wise. Their oaths are interesting, and lead to some hilarious jokes, like Kethry being compared to a broodmare since she has sworn to bear enough children to begin repopulating Tarma’s butchered Shin’a’in clan. Also the minstrel Leslac, while he doesn’t show up much in this collection, is pretty funny. Threes is one of my top favourite songs to listen to.


The Shin’a’in are fleshed out nicely at the beginning, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. There’s a nice scene with the Tayledras Moonsong that I enjoyed even though it really does nothing for the book apart from a little bit of clumsy foreshadowing. But hey, as I’ve stated before, I don’t really like a book that’s just one fast plot; I like scenes that flesh out the world and characterizations, especially in the fantasy genre that often does try to whip through its plot quickly.

I’ll probably talk about Tarma and Kethry short stories more in the review about Oathblood, because Oathblood is unabashedly short stories, including a couple that are here in Oathbound. Here, I’ll just talk about the unique story(s) that doesn’t show up in Oathblood: the ‘saga’ of Thalhkarsh the demon-godling.

Overall, this was a fun romp. Thalhkarsh is an amusing sex-obsessed demon that wears the appearance of a man so handsome women (and some men) run to him. He’s not pleasant. I say ‘amusing’ because his stories involve incompetent wizards, body-switching and its accompanying silliness, and overall the story is… light. You don’t think too hard about it. I’m having trouble thinking hard about it. The story is primarily entertaining with a refreshing dose of strong, believable female characters. And one badass priest who believes everyone can be reformed, even a demon.

However, at thirteen this story was titillating. Around a decade later, this story is… rather less. Thalhkarsh is almost impossible to take seriously, because we don’t really get any details beyond vagueness about what he does. The story self-censers itself so that I don’t really get any gist of his evil beyond sweeping statements that he uses people and crushes them. But it’s so glossed over. It’s possible that these days, we all have a jaded palate. But I certainly don’t want to be grossed out more than necessary, re: sex and gore. I just think slightly edgier details, not even shock-value details, just matter-of-fact ones, would have contributed to verisimilitude and raise the stakes for the reader. Then again, maybe the purpose was just glossed over silliness with no further intent to move the reader in mind. I just feel like the author herself just wasn’t comfortable enough with the material to make it real.

Honestly, that’s my only real complaint and I don’t even take it that seriously. I don’t think Tarma and Keth are ‘high literature’, whatever that means, but I do think they’re a great example of what strong female characters in high fantasy settings can be.

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