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Brightly Burning
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 406 pages

Jody A. Lee
Brightly Burning
Mercedes Lackey
Born in 1950 in Chicago, Mercedes Lackey (née Ritchie) graduated from Purdue in 1972. After some years as an artist's model, lab assistant and security guard, she embarked on a career in computer programming. Active in writing and recording folk songs, Lackey has published close to 50 novels and collections since her first book, Arrows of the Queen, was published in 1985. She won the Lambda award for Magic's Price and the Science Fiction Book Club Book of the Year for The Elvenbane, co-authored with Andre Norton. Besides an interest in scuba diving, Mrs. Lackey is also a licensed bird rehabilitator, specializing in wild birds.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Flights of Fantasy
SF Site Review: The River's Gift
SF Site Review: Owl Knight
SF Site Review: The Black Swan
SF Site Review: Owl Flight
SF Site Review: Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
Mercedes Lackey Bio
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
The World of Velgarth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

Occasionally, I get really tired of hearing about the latest pork-barrel spending bill, or allegedly corrupt politician being re-elected, or abuse of power going unchecked, or rampant genocide in some war-ravaged country. When I do, I reach for a Mercedes Lackey book -- something from her Valdemar series. The reason for this is simple: in Valdemar, good and decent people always win. They may have to suffer nobly on their way toward victory, and they may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good, but the villain is always defeated.

The land of Valdemar is a peaceful kingdom, governed by benevolent rulers with the aid of the Heralds and their Companions. Heralds are people blessed with Talents, discovered and Chosen at an early age by a Companion, and trained in the duties of being Heralds and in the use of their Talents. Talents include such things as mindspeaking or farsight or foresensing. The Companions are intelligent spirit entities (who look a lot like big, bleached horses with blue eyes) who began manifesting in Valdemar a thousand years earlier, in response to a King's plea to the gods for help in protecting the kingdom.

Brightly Burning is the story of Lavan Chitward, a youth of 16 just moved to Haven, the capital city of Valdemar, with his parents and siblings. His parents are engrossed with climbing the social ladder within their respective Guilds, and the move to Haven marks a big step up for them. Lavan's sibs are also thrilled, and intent on following their parents in the Cloth Merchant and Needleworkers Guilds. Lavan isn't sure exactly what he wants to do, but has very definite opinions on what he doesn't want to do -- and following in the family trade tops the list.

Unhappy at home, and obviously not fit to be a cloth merchant, Lavan is sent off to a day school collectively run by the Guilds for the children of Guild members. This school is straight out of a 19th century British public schoolchild's nightmares -- indifferent teachers and Headmaster have left the enforcement of "discipline" to the oldest children, who are headed by a clique of sadistic rich kids. Lavan, being the new kid, and small for his age, is the new target for the seniors' attentions. If this weren't enough trouble for Lavan, he has been getting intense feverish headaches during times of stress, which grow worse as the torment in school intensifies.

Although children gifted with Talents in Valdemar usually manifest around puberty, it is not unknown for some children to come into their powers late, and as a response to intense stress. However, Lavan's awakening Talent is rare, and so is not immediately recognized for what it is. Lavan's awakening Talent is also very dangerous, and could lead to disaster before the Companions and Heralds can find him. And the Companions and Heralds have other things to worry about at the moment, as the peaceful kingdom of Valdemar teeters on the brink of invasion by the fanatical armies of their enemies.

Brightly Burning makes the 23rd book set in or around the Land of Valdemar. I've heard complaints, mostly from my wife, that the plot of any of the Valdemar books goes as follows: A troubled youth, in a bad situation, struggles hard to do right. They are saved, usually from the brink of disaster, by being Chosen. They struggle nobly, learn how to be even more good and decent, and becomes a Herald. The new Herald is pitted against a despicable foe in order to protect the greater good, suffers nobly, and succeeds, maybe dying, nobly, in the attempt. Please don't mistake my tongue-in-cheek "plot summary" for disdain, as I have read (and re-read) 21 of the Valdemar books. My wife takes it as continuing evidence that I will read anything.

The reason I read these books, including Brightly Burning, is simple -- I find them enjoyable. There are times when I really don't care if the ultimate outcome is a given -- the enemy army is destroyed, the evil blood-mage is defeated, the kingdom is saved, etc.  I enjoy reading about how it happens. At some level, I inevitably get involved with the good and decent characters, want to see them triumph, and want to see how they get themselves out of the mess they're in. The characters in a Valdemar book are almost like an idealist's antidote for the moral ambiguity that the real world surrounds us with daily. You won't find any Mercedes Lackey heroes or heroines cheating on their spouses and having affairs with interns. You won't find them allowing the annexation of the Sudetenland, or making alliances with Stalin in order to fight Hitler -- in Valdemar, they'll go it alone against them both, thank you very much. There are no significant shades of grey in a Valdemar book -- you know almost immediately who the good folk are, and you learn how reprehensible the bad folk are. But be warned, the good and moral folk of Valdemar do not conform to "Family Values" as put forth by our friends in the U.S. Religious Right. Do not buy these books if you are not ready to accept the occasional homosexual hero or heroine. Sex and sexual orientation are not a big thing in the Valdemar books -- don't expect steamy sex scenes -- except that those characters who cannot accept a homosexual character as an equal also just happen to be villains.

So, if you are the kind of person who enjoys seeing the underdog win, if you like to see those who struggle (nobly, of course) against the unscrupulous and the cheats and the bigots and the ignorant and the evil get rewarded in the end, then I suggest you read a Valdemar book. I would not start with Brightly Burning, because there is just too much of the workings of Valdemar, its Heralds, and the Companions in this book which Lackey takes for granted that the reader already knows. It's better to read these books in the order they were written by Lackey -- starting with Arrows of the Queen, even though the plot of Brightly Burning takes place 300 years novel-time before the trilogy begun in Arrows of the Queen. Most of the Valdemar books are presented in trilogies that read pretty quickly, and don't keep you up all night pondering subtle nuances, shadings, and hidden meanings.

Copyright © 2000 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars.

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