…There was a Valdemar?
Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series was a great favorite of mine in my teens. Her stories and characters showed me that people who weren’t like me were still people regardless of appearance, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. They were well-crafted, fun to read, and populated by characters I found it easy to identify with and like.
Beyond is the Valdemar origin story. Refugees—led by Duke Kordas Valdemar–fleeing from a corrupt and oppressive empire escape into the wilderness, hopefully far enough away that the horror show from which they’re running can’t or won’t follow.
Her depiction of Imperial life and culture felt sketchy to me, though that might be because only the viewpoint of the protagonists was ever used. Very little of the Empire is ever actually shown. Most of what the reader discovers about life under the Emperor is revealed through exposition and Kordas’s thoughts and reactions.
The story was largely character driven. Some thought was clearly put into world-building, but most of the “energy” of the book seemed to center on character development and character interactions. There was otherwise very little physical action—almost no violence or fighting, and most conflict was conveyed through dialog or internal musings rather than at swordpoint.
The plot was fairly solid, with few twists or turns. The grand escape plot did become more complicated for Kordas as he encountered additional victims of the Emperor’s corruption in need of rescue. Lackey managed to juggle it all, though, until the grand climax, where it appears she dropped the ball. Kordas says he’s going to do something that turns out to be crucial not only to tying up the end of the story, but explaining why no Imperials ever come after the defectors in the centuries that follow. However, the reader never sees this happen “on-screen.” Kordas announces his intent, issues a warning to bystanders left in the area, and then all hell breaks loose. I re-read the section several times trying to work out what I missed, but I couldn’t find it. I still scratch my head when I think about it.
In all, Beyond was a good read, albeit with some flaws. If you like character-driven stories with lots of dialogue and intrigue, then chances are you may enjoy this story. I certainly did, even if I’m still puzzling a bit over the end. I’m already looking forward with great anticipation to the next book in the series.
Author: Lackey, Mercedes
Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.