The Oathbound: Features a female sword-and-sorcery duo

 The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Oathbound (1987) is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s VOWS AND HONOR series, a trilogy in her larger VALDEMAR saga. You don’t need to be familiar with VALDEMAR before picking up The Oathbound.

The story focuses on two heroines who suffered traumatic events, re-made themselves, and are on separate quests for revenge. Tarma is a clanswoman from a nomadic tribe that got wiped out by raiders. She became an elite warrior and has sworn to avenge her people. Kethry fled an abusive marriage, went to magic school, and became an extremely powerful sorceress. She has a sword named Need (those familiar with other VALDEMAR novels may recognize it) that compels its master to go to the aid of oppressed women. Together, Tarma and Kethry are a formidable sword-and-sorcery duo.

In The Oathbound, we learn the backstories of Tarma and Kethry and we witness their bonding as adopted sisters as well as Kethry’s pledge to help Tarma rebuild her clan. The women also want to start a school to train others in sword and sorcery.

But first they must earn some wealth and prestige so they can attract others to the clan. To that end, they’ve hired out as mercenaries. Also, Kethry, who is still fertile, needs to find a suitable mate so she can bear the clan’s first child. These plans take them on a tour around Lackey’s universe (fans will be familiar with some of the locales they visit and people they meet) as they hire on with various employers and right all the wrongs they encounter (men abusing women).The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

I have read 24 books by Mercedes Lackey and only one of them received a rating of more than 3 stars from me and that was probably because it was the first one I read (Arrows of the Queen). I gave it 3.5 stars. There’s a bit of a same-ness problem with Lackey’s work. All of her books are easy reads that don’t require much effort or contemplation, but these are not “beach books.” They tend to be mostly dark and humorless (or, at least, I don’t appreciate Lackey’s sense of humor). There’s torture and/or rape and/or pedophilia in nearly every one of them! It seems like there are always long boring passages describing the way the magic system works, the source of the magic, or the way characters train to use magic. I tend to skim these sections — it just isn’t that interesting to me. Also, I think every one of Lackey’s books includes at least one laughably over-the-top villain.

The Oathbound feels like most of the other VALDEMAR books I’ve read. It has all the features mentioned above. Notably, there is a lot of rape, including gang-rape and rape used as punishment. Many readers will find this aspect of the book quite horrifying.

The Oathbound feels unfocused at times — our heroes seem to have multiple goals (revenge, gain reputation, rebuild clan, find mate, help abused women) that sometimes conflict. It feels like Lackey wasn’t sure who she wanted Tarma and Kethry to be. That may be why The Oathbound feels episodic, more like a collection of short stories than a novel. (It is also possible that the novel started out as a collection of stories.)

One interesting feature of the book is an asexual character. Though she’s a woman, Tarma doesn’t really seem to identify with either sex and doesn’t seem to have any sexual feelings at all. And, of course, I should clearly say that a female sword-and-sorcery duo, published in the 1980s, was groundbreaking.

I read The Oathbound because Tantor Audio recently released an audiobook edition. It’s 11 hours long and narrated by Christa Lewis, an award-winning voice artist. I have never been a fan of the “high class/aristocratic” English accent (I’m not sure what to call it) that she uses for Kethry. She uses this voice in every book, I think, and it has finally begun to irritate me, but I am pretty sure this is my problem. I do like her other voices and I don’t hesitate to recommend this version.

The Oathbound is followed by Oathbreakers and Oathblood. The good news is that I’ve read Oathbreakers and I liked it a lot better than this book.

Published in 1987. Audio version published in 2019. The first book in the Vows and Honor trilogy unites swordmaster and sorceress in a quest for revenge in this thrilling epic fantasy. 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 the forms of death-dealing combat, she took to the road in search of her enemies. 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 that drew her to those in need, Kethry was led to a fateful meeting with Tarma. 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, swordsmaster and sorceress set forth to fulfill their destiny….

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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.

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7 comments

  1. I really like the second cover, with the bird and the more stylized women.

    I have the same trouble with Lackey. She’s just not for me.

    • With few exceptions, the Tantor audiobook covers are horrendous. That’s why I always try to include the cover for the print version in my review.

      I doubt I will ever give a Lackey book more than 3.5 stars.

      • Well, tastes differ, right? She’s got a huge fan-base who love what she does, and that is great. We’re just not in it.

        I do like that with these books and the Diana Tregarth(?) books,which were urban fantasy before that name had been applied, she popularized female MCs who were tough fighters.

  2. April /

    I enjoy Mercedes Lackey about 3.5 stars on average too. The thing I think I keep coming back for is the predictability – I pretty much know what I’m getting into when I pick up one of her books. There are a couple that still surprise me (Magic’s Pawn had so much torment for the main characters in it that I came close to just giving up on it even though I knew there would be somewhat of a happy ending. I think those happy endings are what draw me in. The world is so full of nastiness these days that I crave happy endings in my books like potato chips and chocolate.

    • I can understand that! I sometimes like to be able to just switch off my brain, too, and an easy predictable story where the good guys overcome the bad guys can be appealing at those times.

      Tantor Audio is putting out all of her books now, so I’m still reading them. I’m currently reading Exile’s Honor and it has started off well.

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