author: Mercedes Lackey
published: 5 February 1991
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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.
By the Sword is one of my favorite books in the Valdemar saga, mainly because of the main character, Kerowyn. She is everything I love my fantasy heroines to be. She’s flawed but tough. She’s logical and practical-minded, more than capable of taking care of herself and others, and she has strong principles.
I also love that it is a bit of a departure from most of the Valdemar books. Kero is a character born and raised in a country other than Valdemar, with different values and perspectives. There is also a lot more magic than there is in most of the books set in Valdemar, as at this point in the world’s chronology, there are no longer any mages in Valdemar. The perspective is so different, since those outside of Valdemar are a bit leery of the Gifts of Heralds, and of the Heralds themselves.
Nor can it be denied that this is a bit of a feminist novel. After saving her sister-in-law, Kero thinks about how women are “supposed” to be… dainty and delicate and womanly. And she bucks against those ideals. Later, after losing her virginity, she reflects on how unsatisfactory it was, feeling as if she deserved more. With the long history of women and the idea of sexual pleasure, this was refreshing. The novel is also a commentary on women’s equality in all aspects of life… respect, jobs, pay, etc.