The Heralds of Valdamar are probably Mercedes Lackey's best-known works, but they are also the one that I never really got into.
The Elemental Masters series was an interesting exploration of re-told fairytales, but my favourite is a three way tie between the Dragon Jousters Quartet, the Tales of 500 Kingdoms series, and the Bardic Voices series.
Each series brings an interesting angle to something that appeals to my personal taste, though perhaps not to everyone else's. Take away from it what you will.
Dragon Jousters Quartet
Based heavily off Ancient Egypt, one of my many interests, this series follows the adventures of Kiron, introduced as the serf Vetch, the son of farmers who had been on the currently-losing side of a war between Tia and Alta.
Taken to work in the Dragon Jouster's Compound by the Jouster Ari, the history of this world, and it's similar-yet-different cultures is skillfully woven through the narrative,
Even among the hated Tians who enslaved him, we are shown through Vetch than many of them are just as much victims of the war as he is, reluctant to participate, but unable to stop it. With Ari's friendship and longing for a kindred spirit, Vetch finds a Tian he cannot hate. With Ari's unwitting help and teaching, Vetch becomes only the second person to hatch and raise a dragon.
But a dragon cannot stay secret forever, and for Vetch, discovery would mean death.
With Ari's help, this time willing and deliberate, Vetch escapes with his dragon, Avatre, bound for his homeland of Alta.
Book 2 begins with Vetch, now Kiron, in Alta, a homeland somehow as foreign to him as Tia was.
After drawing attention by saving the youngest children of an Altan Lord, Aket-ten and Orset, Kiron is enlisted into the Altan Dragon Jousters as a trainer and eventual captain of a new style of Dragon Jouster.
But there are dangers in Alta, too, and these are ones that Kiron is entirely unfamiliar with. The Magi, magic users beholden to no one except (nominally) the rulers of Alta, are a threat far more insidious than anything Kiron has ever faced. Powerful, Ambitious and Corrupt, serving nothing but their own gain, Kiron must find a way to defeat them if the war is ever to end.
Even if he has to end the Dragon Jousters to do so...
By Book 3, Kiron has led the Dragon Jousters to a settlement in the desert, out of the Magi's reach.
But the danger is not over, the Magi are more powerful than ever before, and only Kiron's Wing of Jousters stand between them and destruction.
Kiron must re-build the Dragon Jousters, with new training and new traditions, even as they work to save what remains of both Alta and Tia.
There is also a sub-plot of his growing relationship with Aket-ten, the first female Jouster. Aket-ten comes from a completely different world than Kiron, as a noblewoman and a priestess-in-training. With the kind of power that the Magi seek for their own ends, she is both valued and vulnerable.
Book 4 concludes the series with the two warring kingdoms united into Altia, with all the problems that come with such a drastic change.
Kiron has gone from a young serf boy, to being Lord of the Jousters, and all that entails. Politics and responsibility must be juggled with love, and while the Magi are gone, there is a threat that the Magi once held back, that now rises to take their place.
Overall, "Dragon Jousters" was a fun fantasy series that, while it lacked the deeper messages of some of Mercedes Lackey's other works, was still engaging. I really enjoyed the deeper look at cultural clash, diaspora, and relationships, both familial and romantic, that tended to take more of a background in other series.
I ran out of time and space to complete the articles on my other two favorite series, but look for those in the near future.
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