Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Oathbreakers

Oathbreakers
Mercedes Lackey
Vows and Honour: Book 2

Some misguided person reviewing The Oathbound disdained that it was short-stories and claimed Oathbreakers was ‘more of the same.’

They could not be more wrong. Oathbreakers is a novel, and quite a well constructed one. It’s a good book. And every last section hangs together as part of a novel, not a short story. It is, in fact, the only Tarma and Kethry-focussed novel.

Oathbreakers establishes Tarma and Kethry as vital members of a prestigious mercenary company, Idra’s Sunhawks. We begin with the Sunhawks on campaign. We are introduced to Idra and various other members, we get an idea of how war and politics operate in this side of the world. We are given a lot of references about Valdemar that puzzled me until I remembered it was foreshadowing: Valdemar is somewhat involved, though the bulk of the story is set in Rethwellan.

For you see, Idra is actually a Rethwellian princess, and when she is called home to help decide which of her brothers should be king, and then vanishes, it’s up to Tarma and Kethry to find out what happened…

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

Compared to, say, Brightly Burning and even The Last Herald-Mage (in parts), Oathbreakers is a grittier, more adult story. This is because Tarma and Kethry are older characters, established mercenaries, and their story is quite serious: what happens to Idra is not pretty. Gang-rape, abuse, and then suicide because of the torture… the theme of this book is vengeance, and there’s a certain bloodthirstiness to be expected.

This particular novel echoes the main theme of the first short story Misty wrote about Tarma and Keth: rape and revenge. Although Idra’s revenge in only enabled by Tarma and Kethry, because she is dead for most of the book.

I always really enjoyed this book—it’s satisfactory wish fulfillment for the female-identified or sympathetic, but more than that, it’s well-plotted and adventurous. However, it falls a bit flat on the character development front. Surprisingly so, because other Velgarth books often concern themselves with character over the exterior villain-plot. By the Sword doesn’t even have an overarching villain-fueled plot.

Oh, there’s ostensibly some character development: Tarma becomes… more open? when the Star-Eyed facilitates an understanding between her and Herald Roald. But I didn’t really see Tarma need that to begin with. Kethry falls in love with Jadrek, but I never felt it. I was just told it. I like Jadrek well enough, but where was the development? Definitely told, not shown. Although less picky people might enjoy the romance. I felt like her real development was her transformation to an Adept-class mage, and Jadrek was the necessary ‘stud’ shoehorned in so that Tarma’s clan gets children.

This book doesn’t really provoke thought or sorrow—it isn’t deep. However, it is a deliciously vicious romp. I wouldn’t ‘highly recommend’ it, or claim it as fine art, or whathaveyou, but I think it might be one of my favourites.

Something I really appreciate is that, at first, everyone in Rethwellan wanted to throw their lot in with Raschar, even Idra: Stefan was a rake. Subversion!

TV Tropes reminded me of something interesting: Rethwellan has a long-lost sword that is supposed to choose the king. It makes its appearance in an almost-hilariously understated way: it’s found on an out-of-the-way corpse, it’s had all its jewels stripped by passing travellers, and left behind because the blade is so flimsy. Keth takes it only because she thinks it might be magic. It picks out the good brother, but by this point, even though it’s instrumental in getting Stefan to change his mind and choose to overthrow his bad brother Raschar, that’s already a foregone conclusion. It was only a matter of time before Stefan chose to throw his lot in with Rethwellan. It’s a sweet little joke about sword-in-the-stone stories.

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2 responses to “Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Oathbreakers

  1. Again, I haven’t read the books in a decade, but I actually liked that I never got a feel for why/how Kethry fell in love with Jadrek. Then again, I never felt like I actually “got” Kethry – I always felt a little like an observer in her story. And as an observer, I like that *I* didn’t fall in love with Jadrek. He seemed nice enough, but not for me. But it’s Kethry’s choice, and she’s happy, and that’s that.

    • That’s fair. I find that several Tamora Pierce relationships affect me the same way (Mark hasn’t read them and I’m not sure if you’re ok with spoilers? So: Orxn/Qnyr, Xry/Pyrba). I often simply dislike the way the relationship is shown, but I’m usually ok with the relationship existing. It just doesn’t entertain me, but I appreciate that the characters are into it, and they’re all stable, nice relationships. Which I suppose we don’t often get in fiction. I can see why a lot of people would therefore react very positively to seeing that representation!

      I do wonder if not ‘getting’ Kethry (I know what you mean, I think, the narrative is more intimate with Tarma) is a problem of Lackey’s tendency to tell instead of show.

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