Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: DAW Books
Publication Date: October 7, 2008
The long-awaited brand new novel in the bestselling “Valdemar” series.
In this chronicle of the early history of Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey’s bestselling world, a thirteen year- old orphan named Magpie escapes a life of slavery in the gem mines when he is chosen by one of the magical Companion horses of Valdemar to be trained as a Herald. Thrust into the center of a legend in the making, Magpie discovers talents he never knew he had and witnesses the founding of the great Heralds’ Collegium.
Foundation by Mercedes Lackey is the first book in the Collegium Chronicles which is a series set within the Valdemar universe. As such, it takes place in the country of Valdemar. Here, people live in relative peace thanks to the Heralds and their magical, horse-like Companions. Heralds serve as the monarch’s peace keepers, and they are Chosen by their Companions. The Companions are intelligent, horse-like beings with magical and telepathic abilities. Being Chosen generally awakens some abilities, called Gifts, within the person chosen as well. Herald Trainees are sent to Haven, the capital of Valdemar, and the Herald’s Collegium for training in combat, Gift use, and any other education they may need to fulfill their duties once awarded full Herald status.
The story begins with a thirteen-year-old boy named Mags, which is short for Magpie. Mags earned his name due to his ability to spot gems at the mine sluices when others would see nothing. He has lived nearly his whole life at Cole Peters’s mine, and like the other orphans and unwanted children Cole Peters has accumulated, he works half his day in the mine and half at the sluices. Mags and the other children are treated extremely poorly. They are barely taught to read and write over their meager, watery soup every day. They are forced to cram themselves into mineshafts to chip away for “sparklies” in the hopes of earning enough food to eat. They sleep all piled up in a pit underneath the barn, and it isn’t unusual for some of them to die from the conditions they’re exposed to.
All Mags has room in his mind to focus on every day is survival, so it’s no wonder he had never heard of Heralds or Companions until one showed up at the mine to Choose him. He is finally allowed to leave after another Herald shows up to help the Companion Dallen. Then, he is whisked off to the nearest Guard outpost to be cleaned and allowed the time to heal and grow more accustomed to his new life. When he makes it to the Herald’s Collegium, he begins the process of changing from a half-feral child into someone with friends and a purpose rather than someone focused on mere survival.
This journey doesn’t come without its obstacles, though. When Mags first arrives in Haven, he only knows what things are through Dallen’s secondhand memories. Dallen even has to help keep Mags calm so he can attempt to integrate himself into his new life. So many things that people take for granted are great gifts to him. He constantly talks about how shocked he is that he never has to worry about a full belly or a warm bed or being clean every again. Sure he has to work hard, but it’s for a cause he’s coming to believe in more and more.
Mags’s trauma is at the forefront in most of the book. Mercedes Lackey does a great job of demonstrating how long-term abuse and neglect can affect a child. Mags even demonstrates symptoms of PTSD, which is totally understandable considering his treatment at the mine. There’s a specific incident that really drives this home for the reader. Mags has to live out in a room in the Companion stables due to construction of the Collegium. The Collegium is a new idea for the Heralds, and not all Heralds are happy with this new way of training. When one such Herald spots Mags alone in the stables and discovers he lives there alone, the Herald immediately jumps to the conclusion that Mags must be up to no good and shakes him harshly. Mags reacts by running into his room, locking the door, and cowering in the corner in fear until Dallen can calm him down.
While these reactions of his are frightening, Mags doesn’t let them hold him back. He makes friends with Lena, a Bardic Trainee, and Bear, a Healer Trainee. He discovers he may not be very good at book-work, but he’s is a natural with weapons work and riding. Mags even manages to befriend an influential merchant in town, and he begins training with the King’s Own in spy craft. He still struggles with everyday interactions, but he grows and learns throughout the book.
The Collegium Chronicles are some of my favorite books in the Valdemar series. Following Mags’s journey from feral child to competent, confident Herald is so satisfying to read. There’s just something I love about stories about people overcoming overwhelming odds to succeed. Mags not only manages to get a handle on his trauma, but by the end of the book he’s a hero to boot.
I gave Foundation by Mercedes Lackey five out of five stars. I have read this book multiple times, and I feel like I may reread the Collegium Chronicles every year. Mags’s is resilient, steadfast, and persistent boy who overcomes a horrible childhood to take steps towards his goal of becoming a Herald. With the help of his friends and Dallen, he manages to be a hero when he’s needed, without hesitation. I’d recommend this book and series to anyone who wants a good story about an underdog in a fantasy setting.
Have you read this book? What about other books in the Valdemar universe? Let me know in the comments!