Mercedes Lackey,
Brightly Burning
(DAW, 2000)

I must confess that when I first saw Brightly Burning, Mercedes Lackey's newest Valdemar book, I was not enthused, especially when I read the book flap and discovered that it was another "abused/maltreated child grows up to save the world" story. She's told that story one time too many. So I laid it aside, not sure when, or even if, I would read it. Then one evening, I picked it up to move it, opened it to take a peek and was instantly hooked.

Brightly Burning takes place during the reign of King Theran, some 300 years after the time of the Last Herald-Mage and before Valdemar's "present" (The Heralds of Valdemar, The Mage Winds, The Mage Storms trilogies). It is the story of Herald Lavan Firestorm, a Herald who is merely a legend during the reign of Queen Selenay (the "present").

Lavan (Lan) Chitward is the son of prosperous parents, his father a cloth-merchant, his mother a fine needleworker. When they leave the small village where Lan grew up to move to Haven, Valdemar's capital, Lavan suddenly finds himself miserable. He has no friends, he can't seem to make any, and he is completely misunderstood. To top it off, his parents send him to a school where the eldest students are allowed to treat the younger students as they see fit, including verbal abuse, stealing and vicious beatings. There, in a fit of fear and rage, Lan's dangerous Gift for firestarting manifests itself.

Upon waking in the Healer's Collegium, he finds that he is to be trained as a Herald, one of Valdemar's elite corps of messenger/judge/warriors. It seems that extreme talents such as Lan's manifest themselves when Valdemar needs them most, and Valdemar needs Lan now because she is on the brink of war with her hereditary enemy Karse, whose priesthood burns Heralds alive. And when the dreaded war comes, it will be up to Lavan Firestorm to save Valdemar.

Yes, Lackey has told this same basic story before. Among her maltreated youngsters are such characters as Talia (The Arrows of the Queen) and Vanyel (The Last Herald Mage). And yet, with Laven Firestorm she manages to make it all just as compelling as the first time, which is the mark of a good storyteller.

One of Lackey's strengths is the depth of her characterizations -- at least of the Good Guys. Lan and his friends are real people, fully drawn. They have joys, fears, loves, pettinesses and jealousies. The Karsites, at least in this installment in the Valdemar saga, are little more than faceless Bad Guys, but unlike some of Lackey's other books where she explores the Bad Guy's motivations and point of view, Brightly Burning is told solely from the point of view of the Good Guys, namely Lan and his friend Herald Pol, the only two viewpoint characters.

Brightly Burning is a solid and enjoyable entry to the Valdemar series. It is aimed at an audience of adults and young adults, but would also be suitable for mature children. Previous knowledge of the series is not really necessary, so this would make a good entry point into Valdemar for those readers who may not be familiar with the Heralds and their world.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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