Mercedes Lackey,
Exile's Honor
(DAW, 2002)

Mercedes Lackey's latest book, Exile's Honor, takes us into the recent past. This book carries readers though the secrets of the Tedrel Wars, often mentioned but never seen. Princess Selenay appears in her trainee life, before Queenship is thrust upon her. This stand-alone tale flows through the eyes of Alberich, once the enemy of Valdemar, now forced to defend its royal family.

Alberich captains a company of sunguards in Karse. His gift of Foresight allows him to see the immediate future -- a useful talent, but its discovery would condemn him to death. Alberich's visions multiply until the priests learn of his powers. Burning to a brutal death in the priest's fire, Alberich is rescued when his white horse leaps through the flames to save him.

The horse is actually a Companion, mystical guardians of Valdemar and Karse's deadly enemy. Companions choose worthy people to become Heralds -- adolescent boys and girls who will dispense the King's justice. For the first time, a Companion has chosen a full-grown man from the enemy country of Karse.

For Alberich, the struggle to find acceptance has only begun. More difficult still is his inner reconciliation. He swore to serve his people of Karse and the Sunlord. How can he follow a different set of oaths? Has he abandoned his people when they most need him, only to join with their deadly enemies? Alberich finds his niche as Weaponsmaster, teaching young Heralds how to survive. He slowly makes friends, as Princess Selenay appoints him as her bodyguard. Yet the Karsites have hired the ravening Tedrel Mercenaries and plot the destruction of Valdemar in an apocalyptic war. How will he reconcile his two homelands, and his conflicted honor?

While this book is a prequel to the immense Valdemar series, new readers will also enjoy it. This book will remind veteran readers of numerous other Valdemar books; Lackey freshens this story by telling Valdemar's lore from an outsider's point of view. The novel precedes Take a Thief, introducing many of the same characters. The story seems unfinished, though its next chapter arrives in Arrows of the Queen and subsequent books. As the story reveals Alberich's past, it reveals the lives of many important characters in the world of Valdemar, especially the country's future queen.

The ceremonies in the book draw themselves out quite a lot, for such a small chapter in Valdemar's history. The author's moments of foreshadowing existing books are fun for past readers but almost too explicit. (Although perhaps the story of Selenay's marriage and her daughter's birth wait for future volumes.)

The writing style of Exile's Honor is quite superb, viewing Valdemar through the eyes of a conflicted young man. The plot abounds with action together with difficult choices and the issue of faith. While some readers may find the nods to later books slightly distracting, this story is warm and powerful with great depths of heart. A truly satisfying read.

- Rambles
written by Valerie Frankel
published 14 December 2002

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