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Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey


The Swordswoman
She was Tarma, Born to the Clan of the Hawk of the nomadic Shin'a'in people, she saw her entire clan slain by brigands. Vowing blood revenge upon the murderers, she became one of the sword-sworn, the most elite of all warriors. And trained in all forms of death-dealing combat, she took to the road in search of her enemies...

And the Sorceress
She was Kethry. Born to a noble house, sold into a hateful "marriage," she fled life's harshness for the sanctuary of the White Winds, a powerful school of sorcery. Becoming an adept, she pledged to use her talents for the greatest good. Yet, unlike other sorcerers, Kethry could use worldly weapons as well as magical skills. And when she became the bearer of a uniquely magical sword which drew her to those in need, Kethry was led to a fateful meeting with Tarma.

The Oathbound
United by sword-spell and the will of the Goddess, Tarma and Kethry swore a blood oath to carry on their mutual fight against evil. And together, swordmaster and sorceress set forth to fulfill their destiny.

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Tarma and Kethry are two of Lackey's more memorable characters, conceived in a time when sword and sorcery was one of the popular flavors within the fantasy genre. They were first given life in short stories that were published in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies, and a few of those stories have been incorporated into this novel. As such, this book tends to be slightly episodic in nature, particularly through the central portion of it, and it's fairly evident where a few of the short stories were pasted in, likely with only light edits to keep it consistent with the timeline of the rest of the novel. Still, these two women are interesting enough characters to be worth reading even in short snippets, and I enjoyed revisiting this tale of their early days together.



Both women are presumably somewhere in their early to mid 20s when this book starts, though their exact ages are never given. While young, they both have already been through a lot in life and their experiences have made them somewhat older than their years. Mature, practical, and intelligent, they complement one another well and would at time seem to be a nearly unbeatable team. Still, they have their weaknesses and shortcomings just like everyone does, and one thing that makes this book more than just a series of short stories cobbled together into a novel is the fact that there is a continuing thread of narrative built around how they grow as individuals and as a team. While they seem to be a natural fit with one another, they find in time that they must still work on their relationship at times in order to ensure that they both remain equal partners and that neither one overly shelters or cossets the other.

Besides seeing how Tarma and Kethry manage to gel together as a team, in reading this from the perspective of knowing how events play out in later years in the various regions of Velgarth, I was struck by how essential many of the things that happen with them are to enabling the things that are to come in the world. There are so many things that happen to them or because of them that if they hadn't happened, or had turned out differently, it would have had major ramifications for the story down the line. Several key pieces of the puzzle that is the Valdemar/Velgarth saga are introduced here, so pay attention, for things that don't seem important at the time can prove to be critical later on. But then, that's true of most all of these early books in the saga.

Overall I feel this book has aged well and is still as enjoyable today as it was back when it first came out. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys old school fantasy, particularly of the sword and sorcery variety, and also to those who like reading about strong female protagonists. I would recommend either picking up a copy of Oathblood which has the story of how Tarma and Kethry first met or finding that story in some other form to read before you start this book. It's certainly not necessary to do so, but it is nice to have that background if you can. I give this book somewhere between 3½ and 4 stars probably, rounding up to give it the benefit of the doubt, for it definitely isn't the best of the most exciting of the saga for all that it is quite good. Certainly you don't want to miss this one if you're reading the rest.

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