I had intended for this post to be about the series The Heirs of Alexandria by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and David Freer, but I am still reading the fourth volume, Burdens of the Dead, which came out in June of this year. The series is set in 16th century Europe in an alternate world where magic works and demons are real. I’m a sucker for alternate history stories (maybe because I neglected history as a subject in school so the inaccuracies don’t bother me). I am also a big fan of Mercedes Lackey. I have read many of her books, but she is so prolific I can’t keep up with her! She has published seven titles in 2013 alone. I know many of the books she is credited with are collaborations with other authors, but as with the Heirs of Alexandria series, the quality of the writing does not suffer from the collaboration. My only problem with this series is that the complex plots and the number of characters are very difficult to keep track of, especially since I read the first one, The Shadow of the Lion, when it was published in 2003 and ten years between the first and fourth books is a long time for me to keep track of the characters. There is a glossary in the first book which is very helpful. The second book is This Rough Magic; the third is Much Fall of Blood. If you like swords and sorcery as well as alternate history, give these books a try.
Mercedes Lackey first caught my eye with her Bardic Voices series, and from there I started reading her books about Valdemar. In looking at the series list on her website, I am amazed both by the number of books she has written and by the number I have read. Lackey does an excellent job of weaving music and magic together when she creates a world. The Lark and the Wren, the first book in the Bardic Voices series begins with Rune, a talented young fiddler playing for the Ghost of Skull Hill for her life. She keeps him entertained until dawn, and he grants her her life. She then joins with a group of gypsy bards and discovers that she not only has musical talent, she has magic.
It is almost impossible to describe the world of Valdemar. Some of the most important people in Valdemar are the Heralds. Each herald is chosen by a companion, who just happens to look like a horse — a very white horse with blue eyes. Companions, however are nothing like true horses; they are telepathic and communicate directly mind to mind with their “chosen.” The main function of heralds is to ride circuits in the kingdom to preserve the peace. They hold court if there are arguments to be settled and generally keep things running smoothly. There are also bards and healers in Valdemar. All of the above are considered to have “gifts,” but the people of Valdemar do not think that there is any magic in Valdemar. There are many books set in Valdemar, but you do not have to read them all to enjoy the series. You can start with the first of any of the sub-series under the Valdemar Universe and still enjoy the stories.
I also recommend her Five Hundred Kingdoms books and the Elemental Masters series. In the Five Hundred kingdoms, fairy tales and Fairy Godmothers are very, very real. If you are a princess and see a spinning wheel, don’t touch it! If you’re surrounded by dwarfs, don’t eat that apple! The Fairy Godmothers are not at all like the ones in Disney movies. They keep the kingdoms running smoothly and try to prevent these scenarios from turning into real problems. They are a fun twist on traditional fairy tales with plenty of romance and a little magic.
The Elemental Masters series focuses on young people with newly emerging powers (what else?). Each person has an affinity with one of the four elements: earth, fire, wind or water. Older wizards discover and train these newbies, trying to do so before the new powers create a disaster. These are set in Victorian Europe, mostly the British Isles. If you have never read a book by Mercedes Lackey, but like fantasy and magic, just pick a series and jump in. Some of her books are dark and others are lighthearted, but they are all enjoyable to read.