Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, anthologies
Series: The Founding of Valdemar #1, Valdemar (Publication order) #46, Valdemar (Chronological) #4
Published by DAW Books on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
The long-awaited founding of Valdemar comes to life in this new series from a New York Times bestselling author and beloved fantasist
Within the Eastern Empire, Duke Kordas Valdemar rules a tiny, bucolic Duchy that focuses mostly on horse breeding. Anticipating the day when the Empire’s exploitative and militant leaders would not be content to leave them alone, Korda’s father set out to gather magicians in the hopes of one day finding a way to escape and protect the people of the Duchy from tyranny.
Kordas has lived his life looking over his shoulder. The signs in the Empire are increasingly dire. Under the direction of the Emperor, mages have begun to harness the power of dark magics, including blood magic, the powers of the Abyssal Planes, and the binding and "milking" of Elemental creatures.
But then one of the Duchy’s mages has a breakthrough. There is a way to place a Gate at a distance so far from the Empire that it is unlikely the Emperor can find or follow them as they evacuate everyone that is willing to leave.
But time is running out, and Kordas has been summoned to the Emperor's Court.
Can his reputation as a country bumpkin and his acting skills buy him and his people the time they need to flee? Or will the Emperor lose patience, invade to strip Valdemar of everything of worth, and send its conscripted people into the front lines of the Imperial wars?
Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. Come to think of it, that kind of applies in the story, too, as there are certainly times when Kordas Valdemar is not having any fun at all, but time is flying because he and his duchy have way, way, way too much to do to get the hell out of, not exactly Dodge, but out of the corrupt Eastern Empire before it either wipes them out or topples from within under the weight of its own corruption.
I read what became the first book in the very long running Valdemar series, Arrows of the Queen, when it first came out back in 1987. My initial paperback copies crumbled to dust long ago, but I still have the Science Fiction Book Club hardcover omnibus edition of that original trilogy. It feels like that was a lifetime ago and very far away.
I remember the series fondly, because at the time it was published there wasn’t much like it at the time. It was female-centered, it was a heroine’s journey, the worldbuilding was deep and fascinating and felt like a place that one would want to live. It all just worked and I loved the whole thing and seem to have read the first 30 books or so before it fell under the wheels of “so many books, so little time”.
So it had been a long time since I traveled to Valdemar, but remembered it so fondly, that when the eARC for Beyond popped up I was, well, beyond interested. I love foundational stories anyway, and here was a foundational story for a world I still sorta/kinda knew. That it was set at a time in that world’s history that hadn’t really been touched on before meant that I could pick back up here and not feel the compulsion to go back and read the 15 or so books in the series that I missed before reading this one.
Not that I might not take a look at them afterwards! But events later don’t usually impact events before – and Beyond was certainly before pretty much everything else.
So here we are, in the far past, before Arrows of the Queen or Magic’s Pawn, and, as it turns out, headed beyond the borders of the Eastern Empire that Valdemar and his people came from. This story is the story of the leave-taking, and very much the story of why they left.
And it’s a doozy. If you have fond memories of Valdemar, as I very much did, Beyond is a fantastic way to go back. If you’ve never been, it’s a terrific time, and place, to start.
Escape Rating A-: One of the things that I remember from my previous reading is that, in spite of more than a few crises along the way, Valdemar as a place felt livable. Like Pern and Celta and Harmony but surprisingly few other fantasy (or fantasy-ish) realms, the world seems to be functional. Not that humans aren’t more than occasionally idiots – because we are – but the foundations seem to be solid and the place seems to work, more or less, most of the time.
The story in Beyond is the beginning of the story of why Valdemar mostly works. The Eastern Empire is the horrible warning of what happens when bad follows worse in endless succession for centuries. At the point we meet Kordas Valdemar, it’s not a matter of if the empire will fall, its when – and how much collateral damage that fall will do.
What we have, in a way, is kind of a fix-it fic. Not that Kordas can “fix” the empire, because it is way too late, the corruption is much too thorough. There have been too many generations trained and “nurtured” in the belief that all the corruption is the way that things are supposed to be.
Rather, this is the story of a whole bunch of people from all walks of life who have said, “enough” and have the means and the method to find a way out. Beyond is the story of a PLAN, definitely all caps on plan, and the implementation of that plan. It’s about the last coming together, of the getting of all the ducks in their rows, and of all the things and people and events that conspire to make it happen AND that get in the way.
And I loved the two-steps forward, one-step back of the whole thing. The meticulous organization running headlong into the desperate measures. And I especially loved the people making it happen in spite of the odds and the risks and the strong possibility that it will all go pear-shaped.
Which it kind of does, but in the best way possible.
So if you enjoy watching a plan coming together, if you like watching people work hard and sweat much in order to bring off the work of decades, if you don’t mind just a bit of villain monologuing and love a story of unlikely heroes, Beyond is a delight.
Especially if you’ve never been to Valdemar or are, as I was, looking for an excuse to go back.
The one thing I missed in Beyond that was part of the magic of the original series are the magical, fascinating, horse like Companions. I kept waiting for them to appear because they were such a marvelous part of the original stories. There are beautiful and intelligent horses, because that’s what Valdemar-as-a-duchy was famous for, but no Companions – at least not yet.
Therefore, it made me very, very happy to learn that Beyond is the first book in The Founding of Valdemar trilogy. The Companions are coming, and I can’t wait for them to get here!