By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBy the Sword by Mercedes Lackey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBy the Sword by Mercedes Lackey

In publication order, By the Sword (1991) is the ninth novel in Mercedes Lackey’s VALDEMAR saga, but if you haven’t read any VALDEMAR novels before, don’t let that stop you. By the Sword can stand alone and it’s a fine place to enter Lackey’s universe. There are several beloved VALDEMAR characters in the novel, but it doesn’t matter if you meet them now or later. In general, the VALDEMAR saga is divided into several different trilogies and a few stand-alones and anthologies. You should read the three books of each trilogy in order but you don’t necessarily have to read the trilogies in any sort of order. (I hope that made sense.)

By the Sword is about Kerowyn, the granddaughter of the sorceress Kethry who we met in the VOWS AND HONOR trilogy (The Oathbound, Oathbreakers, and Oathblood). Fans of VALDEMAR will recognize Kerowyn’s name from other trilogies (MAGE WINDS, MAGE STORMS) but I won’t say who she turns out to be so as not to spoil this story.

We meet Kerowyn when she’s a teenager running her family’s household in Rethwellan after the death of her mother. She doesn’t like women’s work and would prefer to be out riding and hunting, but she’s the lady of the house and wants to respect her father’s wishes even though he treats her like a domestic servant. However, her brother is about to be married and when his young wife joins the household, she will be the lady of the house, leaving Kerowyn free to pursue her own interests. (Ironic aside: I love how Lackey frees Kerowyn from her women’s work by pushing it off onto another woman.)

But tragedy strikes at the wedding feast and Kerowyn’s new sister-in-law is kidnapped. With her father dead and her brother injured, it falls to Kerowyn to pursue the kidnappers and rescue the bride. When Kerowyn seeks help from her powerful but aloof grandmother, Kerowyn is set on a path toward a future that she never expected. We follow her for decades. Most of that time she spends as a mercenary soldier, wielding the sword Need which her grandmother used to carry. But finally we see where Kerowyn fits into Lackey’s larger universe.

By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAs it should, By the Sword feels like a VALDEMAR novel with the same kinds of settings, characters, plot, and themes we’ve seen so many times before. Some of the events are the same ones we’ve seen from other characters’ perspectives in other novels.

Most VALDEMAR fans will probably love By the Sword. The novel is long (over 19 hours in audio format), but it covers such a large span of time that for the most part it moves quickly, if unevenly. There’s plenty of plot. A lot of stuff happens to Kerowyn and we get more glimpses into other favorite characters’ lives, too.

Tantor Audio’s edition of By the Sword has been released today in audio format. Amy Landon is not my favorite narrator. She has a beautiful voice, but there’s something about her cadence that I find a bit hypnotic, as in sleep-inducing. Her performances get very high ratings at Audible, though, so this seems to be my personal problem. It gets better when I increase the playback speed. One other complaint about the audiobook is the cover art which is far far inferior to the Jody Lee painting of the print edition. I’m sure Tantor doesn’t have the rights for Jody Lee’s art, but they could do better than that!

Originally published in 1991. Audio edition published in 2020. 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 ancestral home was attacked, her father slain, her brother wounded, and his fiancée kidnapped. Drive by desperation and the knowledge that a sorcerer had led the attack, Kerowyn sought her grandmother Kethry’s aid, a journey which would prove but the first step on the road to the fulfillment of her destiny. For facing her family’s foes would transform Kerowyn into an outsider in her own land, a warrior bound to the spell blade Need, and a mercenary forced to choose between loyalty to her comrades in arms and the Herald of Valdemar, whom she had rescued and who in his turn had helped to awaken her to the true meaning of love and to her own unique powers of magic.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.