By the Sword, by Mercedes Lackey

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Publication Date – March 1, 1991

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Granddaughter of the sorceress Kethry, daughter of a noble house, Kerowyn had been forced to run the family keep since her mother’s untimely death. Yet now at last her brother was preparing to wed, and when his bride became the lady of the keep, Kerowyn could return to her true enjoyments – training horses and hunting.

But all Kerowyn’s hopes and plans were shattered when her anscestral home was attacked, her father slain, her brother wounded, and his fiancee kidnapped. Drive by desperation and the knowledge that a scorcerer had led the journey which would prove but he first step on the road to the fulfillment of her destiny.

Thoughts: Mercenary life and fantasy warfare never really interested me that much until I read this book. Why? Because up until that point, so many fantasy novels that I’d read showed either the overblown or the gritty tactics of warfare from the viewpoint of someone who’se brilliant, talented, a star general, and little to no backstory on how he got there. If there was that backstory, it consisted of said leader always having had a talent and getting promotion after promotion within the military with ease.

By the Sword tells a slightly different story. For one thing, the hero of the piece is a heroine, still leading battles with aplomb but with the slight twist on the story by virtue of them being female. Which may be nothing to look twice at by today’s standards, but there was less of a focus on heroines back in the early 90s, often unless it was to prove a point. Kerowyn doesn’t need to prove a point that she’s as good as a man by pointing it out at every turn. She does it by being a competant and talented leader who earns respect rather than demands it.

Secondly, although Kero is said to have a natural aptitude with swordwork and tactics, she still goes through gruelling training to perfect that talent, and what’s more, the reader gets to see it. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to look sideways at pieces like I mentioned before, where the hero is the hero simply because they are, and where little is shown regarding them actually working for and earning the respect and skills that they command.

Internal inconsistancies in this novel as it relates to the rest of the Valdemar novels are, thankfully, at a minimum, which is in no small part due to the fact that the only time it really relates to what happened in other novels is at the beginning when Tarma, Kathry, and Warrl are around, or toward the end when it involves Valdemar and Heralds. It’s a good standalone book in the series for that reason.

Though I have to admit, I do find it a bit sad when I can say that it’s partly good because the errors are kept low. I love Mercedes Lackey, I really do, but the amount of timeline mistakes made through the series… Do not want.

Stylistically, this book is on par with most of what Lackey was doing at the time. Between then and now, her work still has gone on to be polished, but the feel of By The Sword style is much the same as what you’ll find in just about any of her later Valdemar books, which for me, is a good thing. There’s a reason that I class these books as the literary equivalent of comfort food. For all their errors and imperfections, I still love them to death, adore the world created and the stories told in it, and wouldn’t want to be without them.

As a standlone, this is a book that can be skipped over without missing any major plot points, since some of Kero’s backstory is mentioned again in subsequent Valdemar novels. On the other hand, it is a good tale of progression, with good messages about not taking crap from people who are flinging it, about standing up for what you believe in even if others think you’re a little nuts, and about not just keeping quiet and accepting what others have decided for you when you’re just plain not suited to it. The overall theme is about living your own life and not somebody else’s, and that’s a theme I can really get behind.

Recommended for fans of the Valdemar/Velgarth novels, for those interested in more of Valdemar’s backstory, though I wouldn’t recommend starting your journey into Valdemar with this one, since it hints at and mentions far too much that Lackey expects you to already know about Tarma and Kethry. If I hadn’t already read the Vows and Honor series, I suspect I’d be frustrated at not getting the full story but instead only getting vague mentions of what came before, especially in the way that they’re delivered.

(And as an aside, I am in love with the French cover for this novel!)

2 comments on “By the Sword, by Mercedes Lackey

  1. A very thoughtful review.
    I'm a fan of Lackey, and I completely agree with you about this book in the timeline. It fits in perfectly as a back-story novel, but wouldn't work for readers new to the series.

    A suggestion for military fantasy with back story about how the lead studying tactics etc: The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher.
    High on character and fantasy, with a play-by-play development into military moves.
    Good stuff.
    I can see we read tons of similar fantasy, so I'm now following you :) Visit me back at

  2. Great review, but I have to disagree on one small point: I think this is the perfect book to introduce a reader to Valdemar/Velgarth. I know because this book was my introduction to Lackey years ago. :)

    I would never have chosen such a novel for the reasons you stated above but, frankly, I was browsing the bookstore and thought the cover looked fun with an obviously strong female character. I was immediately hooked and went on to read the entire series and most of Lackey's non-Velgarth novels.

    By the Sword remains one of my favorite fantasy novels and I always recommended it as an introduction to Mercedes Lackey.

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