Vows and Honour: Book 3
Oathblood is the odd duck of the Valdemar books. It’s the only book that is unabashedly short stories, not covering up like The Oathbound. (There are Valdemar anthologies, but they are generally written by other authors, sanctioned fanfic: good fun, but not under discussion.)
I think the best way to read the Tarma and Kethry books are to start with the first story in Oathblood: ‘Sword Sworn’, first published in Sword and Sorceress III. I actually scrounged through the library to find S&S III, so I could read ‘Sword Sworn’ before The Oathbound, and then was somewhat embarrassed to find that I could have just read Oathblood. ‘Sword Sworn’ tells the tale of how Tarma and Kethry met, and is in Tarma’s POV, and is mostly her story.
After you read ‘Sword Sworn’, put down Oathblood, and read The Oathbound and Oathbreakers before continuing.
The rest of the short stories jump around the continuity a bit. I think they’re laid out in a rough chronology. I skipped the ones that were in The Oathbound, as I’d already read them.
Like in The Oathbound, I don’t have a whole lot to say. In general, I’m not a fan of short stories, but I can and do enjoy them some of the time. I will always take a short story anthology featuring recurring characters over one that is all over the place.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
Misty introduces each story with a blurb, and really stresses that Tarma and Kethry are subversive heroines. I particularly like ‘A Tale of Heroes’—arriving after the fearsome monster is slain, Tarma and Kethry end up rescuing the chambermaid, who the monster-slayer raped during his celebration feast. The maid is less perturbed by the rape and more by being put out a job, and Tarma and Kethry take her with them, only to find out she is entirely unsuited to being an adventuring merc. So they find her a home with a man they know who has many children and no wife—and it’s a match. I like those little stories, the behind-the-drama-dramas.
My other favourite is ‘Spring Plowing at Forst Reach’. In general, I love the chaos of Forst Reach, whether in Vanyel’s time or Tarma and Keth’s. This one is just a hilarious story of warhorses put to the plow, and the drama comes out of the Forst Reach denizen’s helplessness in face of disgruntled horses. Tarma’s Shin’a’in horse sense—and the way she uses her battlemares against one troublemaking gelding—makes for a total riot. I love fantasy that uses the complexities of horse behaviour as a plot point.
The other stories are all solid. Some I find uninteresting since I’ve read them so often in the past, and I feel like short stories don’t always have the same staying power as novels—once you arrive at the twist, the surprise is over, and with it the impact. Unlike a novel, I can’t go back and glean more with successive rereadings. Or not to the same extent. I’d say, if you like subversive fantasy heroines, read Oathblood for sure. The stories are all interesting and I think their subversion is still relevant, even after twenty years. Because strong female characters are still the minority, and so is fantasy that focusses on domestic or less grand or epic (however you define it) set ups.