Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
The Heralds of Valdemar is a Fantasy novel series written by Mercedes Lackey. The series is linked by its setting rather than focusing on a core group of characters; it covers roughly 3,000 years of history, all told. It is written mostly in the form of trilogies that do focus on a particular character, although there are a handful of independent novels as well.The majority of the series revolves around The Kingdom of Valdemar and its protectors, the eponymous Heralds of Valdemar. Heralds are heroes of one stripe or another called to defend Valdemar from the current Big Bad. Sometimes they have to go on The Quest for the MacGuffin that will save Valdemar, other times they have to root out The Mole or discover whatever Applied Phlebotinum solution they need to save the day. Almost always, it's a Coming-of-Age Story as well.An important aspect of the Heralds of Valdemar is their Companions. Companions are, in essence, Cool Horses with human-level intelligence and telepathy. They deliver the Call to Adventure to new Heralds by instinctively seeking out and recruiting youngsters with latent Gifts and good hearts, and always find the one person for whom they were meant Because Destiny Says So. This usually happens at just the right time to get the newly Chosen trained just before the kingdom needs them.Mercedes Lackey is also an award-winning filksinger, songwriter and lyricist, which means Valdemar also has a rich folk music tradition of its own. Most of the books list complete lyrics for the songs referenced within, and several books have companion albums containing this music as well as other songs inspired by the events and characters within, all published by Firebird Arts and Music.Now has a character page, which is under construction! To contribute, please click here!
open/close all folders
Major novels in the Valdemar series, in roughly chronological order:
The Mage Wars: The prehistory of the Valdemar 'verse, including the eponymous war between Great Mages Urtho and Ma'ar that resulted in the Cataclysm and its aftermath, and the exile of the Kaled'a'in. Features the mighty Black Gryphon, Skandranon.
The Last Herald-Mage: A trilogy that details the tragic life and ultimate Heroic Sacrifice of Vanyel Ashkevron, the most powerful Herald-Mage Valdemar has ever known. Features one of the first, if not the first, openly gay yet unambiguously heroic protagonists in fantasy literature.
The Collegium Chronicles consisting of Foundation, Intrigues, Changes, Redoubt, and Bastion (October 2013), following roughly fifty years after The Last Herald-Mage, featuring a young orphan named Mags and detailing the founding of the Heralds' Collegium and associated traditions.
The Herald Spy, a sequel to the Collegium Chronicles with an adult Herald Mags. The first book, Closer To Home, came out in October 2014.
Brightly Burning: A stand-alone novel detailing the short-lived life of Lavan Firestorm, a Firestarter and legend in Valdemar, who went mad and used his fire powers to incinerate the Karsite army and the surrounding land following the death of his Companion, the only being keeping him and his powers sane in the first place.
Vows and Honor: A duology, based on Mercedes Lackey's first published short stories, covering the adventures of Tarma and Kethry, mercenary warrior and mage, and their geased spellsword Need. The first novel, Oathbound, is a episodic collection of stories only loosely tied to the main continuity, but Oathbreakers firmly places it in and around Rethwellan and Valdemar. A third book, Oathblood, was published consisting of Tarma and Kethry short stories.
Exile's Duology: Tells the story of Alberich the Weaponmaster, who came from Karse, historical enemy of Valdemar. The first book, Exile's Honor, deals with Alberich's Choosing and how he settles in as a Herald, plus the events of the Tedrel War, the Tedrels being an entire nation of corrupt mercenaries that Karse hired. The second book, Exile's Valor, deals with Alberich's time in the years following the war and Queen Selenay's disastrous first marriage.
Take a Thief: Forms a rough trilogy with the previous two novels and tells the story of the young thief Skif, his Choosing and life as a Trainee, and his role in breaking up a slaver ring.
The Arrows Trilogy: Innocent farmgirl Talia is rescued from an Arranged Marriage and, with her empathic powers becomes the Queen's Own Herald, just as an old ally of the kingdom turns traitor and starts a deadly war. This was the first published trilogy set entirely in Valdemar.
By the Sword: A standalone novel introducing Kerowyn, mercenary and inheritor of Need (from Vows and Honor), who comes to lead her own mercenary company and eventually rescues Valdemar from a savage Hardorn attack.
Mage Winds: Elspeth, the Royal Brata decade earlier, has come of age and is foretold to become Valdemar's first Herald-Mage in six hundred years. But she's not about to be controlled by destiny and ends up unexpectedly making allies of the magical Hawkbrothers, just as an ancient enemy returns and threatens to destroy both the Tayledras and Valdemar.
Mage Storms: In the aftermath of Hardorn's defeat, Valdemar has an uneasy assembly of newfound allies, including their historical enemy, Karse. Karal, a young Karsite priest and aide to the ambassador, must navigate the resulting political intrigue while a new threat arises from the Eastern Empire. But even this struggle may be moot in the face of the return of the three-thousand year old Cataclysm.
The Owl Trilogy: In the aftermath of the Mage Storms, young Darian, reluctant apprentice wizard, finds his life altered when his village is attacked by barbarians and he is forced to flee, finding sanctuary and tutelage with the Hawkbrothers. As he grows into his responsibilities, he finds himself an ambassador to the northern tribes.
Anthologies and other works:
Sword of Ice: And Other Tales of Valdemar
Sun In Glory
Crossroads and Other Tales of Valdemar
Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar
Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar
Finding the Way and Other Tales of Valdemar
Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar
No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar
The Valdemar Companion: A Guide to Mercedes Lackey's World of Valdemar — Nearly everything you wanted to know about Valdemar, plus a Valdemar novelette.
Heralds, Harpers and Havoc (1988): Songs inspired by the Arrows trilogy
Magic, Moondust, and Melancholy (1989): Includes two songs related to the Vows and Honor/By the Sword books
Oathbound (1990): songs from the book of the same name
Oathbreakers (1991) likewise
Shadow Stalker (1994): songs from The Last Herald Mage
By the Sword (1994): songs from the book of the same name
Lovers, Lore, and Loss (1995) more songs about the Arrows trilogy
Owlflight (2000): based on the trilogy of the same name.
Sun and Shadow (2000): songs about the legendary Sunsinger and Shadowdancer
Abdicate the Throne: Elspeth, from the position of Heir, to take on the mantle of the first Herald-Mage since Vanyel's time.
Achievements in Ignorance: Valdemaran mages pull off a lot of this in and following the Mage Winds trilogy, simply because they're too new at magic to know what ought to be impossible. This also leads somewhat paradoxically to the use of Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, when the artificers start getting involved. It turns out that one of the things they don't know about magic is that there are some things they can't proceed to learn about magic! Mages of more intuitive traditions, Firesong especially, are not amused.
Action Bomb: A mage using the Final Strike technique effectively becomes one of these.
Action Girl: Most female Heralds. Jeri, Elspeth, Tarma, and Kerowyn are excellent examples. Myste is the only confirmed non-example.
Advanced Ancient Humans: Both magic and science were much more advanced back in Urtho and Ma'ar's era. They had literally rerouted the ley lines to help power things like permanent Gates. Urtho appeared to understand biology and genetic engineering to a great degree. Also, amongst the all the Lost Technology in the vault under his ruined tower there were a number of weapons of mass destruction that were explicitly stated to be non-magical. At least one was implied to be an atomic bomb!
After-Action Patch-Up: Kero and Eldan have one in By The Sword after their first meeting, since said meeting involved her rescuing him from a Karsite priestess who was about to torture him. It leads to Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex in fairly short order.
After the End, of a sort: An event in the distant past called the Cataclysm violently reshaped large sections of the planet, and is generally responsible for most of history since it occurred.
Alien Non-Interference Clause: Kal'enel and whatever god(dess) is behind the Companions hold to a rule that humans are to solve their own problems wherever possible, and divine intervention is to be restricted to situations where they can't succeed on their own; for this reason, the Companions aren't allowed to get their hooves into humans' relationship problems unless they're asked for help. The gods are not above breaking this rule if they think it necessary, however.
Even Vkandis Sunlord, the least subtle example amongst the gods, allowed and endured rampant corruption within his priesthood for centuries. He only interfered directly in time to give his people chance to survive cataclysm.
The Alliance: Between Valdemar and several neighboring kingdoms.
Amplified Animal Aptitude: Shin'a'in warsteeds and most bondbirds are not quiteIntellectual Animals, but are notably smarter than normal horses and birds thanks to extensive magically-augmented breeding programs. Some of the warsteeds' behavior, particularly as it regards their ability to learn and follow commands, is described as being more like that of a dog than a horse.
Angst Coma: Vanyel in Magic's Price. Talia gets her coma in Arrow's Fall the old-fashioned way, but stays in it due to angst, requiring Dirk and Rolan to join forces and coax her out via their psychic bonds with her.
Animal Eyes: Nyara and An'desha have these, as the last physical remnants of their transformations at the hands of Mornelithe Falconsbane.
Arranged Marriage: Talia gets told on her thirteenth birthday by her father's wives that she is old enough for marriage and that one will be arranged for her from the offers her father received. This prompts her to declare that she doesn't want to be married and would rather be a Herald, and then she runs out of the house, to be Chosen shortly later. Also, in the first book of the Collegium Chronicles, Healer Trainee Bear goes home for the winter holidays only to be told that marriage has been arranged for him with a neighbor girl. He wants nothing to do with this, and three books later gets out of it by eloping with the actual girl he loves, Bardic Trainee Lena.
Ascended Demon: Attempted in The Oathbound, when Thalhkarsh is Brought Down to Normal and captured by priests. There is no indication of whether or not the project succeeded, as she isn't mentioned again in any other book.
Asexuality: Tarma, and the other Shin'a'in Swordsworn, due to religious vows. The Shin'a'in Goddess is both merciful and practical, however — rather than force her adherents to torture themselves, she simply puts in a mental block preventing them from feeling any sexual desire for anything in the first place. But hey, they are all volunteers. In Tarma's case, it's necessary at first to keep her from being emotionally crippled due to her Rape as Backstory.
Author Appeal: Mercedes Lackey has a number of interests that work their way into her novels.
Falconry. She's actually worked in raptor rehabilitation, which is largely the reason why we get things ike the Hawkbrothers and their bondbirds, the gryphons, and the avian humanoid tervardi.
Equestrianism. Companions are the most obvious result, but Shin'a'in warsteeds are a slightly less wish-fulfillment version of it too.
Music. Many characters are musical in some fashion, most notably the bards, who use Magic Music. Many others are not, however — Dreadful Musicians are fair game for humor, as in other Lackey works.
May-December Romance is another one that recurs throughout her work. (Lackey herself is 16 years older than her husband, which may or may not have something to do with it.)
Author Avatar: the character Myste is an obvious author self-insert; to make it clear how obvious, "Misty" is the author's nickname. And to make it even more obvious, Myste's position in the court is Herald-Chronicler, aka 'court historian', aka 'she writes down everything that's happening'. And she gets the hottest, most badass guy in the series, can't forget that. (She is also plump, Blind Without 'Em, and totally useless at any sort of fighting whatsoever, which dials down the potential Sue quotient considerably. Guess who else is plump and Blind Without 'Em?)
Automaton Horses: Mainly averted (see Shown Their Work), but justified with the Companions, who use node magic to augment their endurance and can therefore run much faster and for much longer than any ordinary horse. They do still need to rest and eat eventually, although they are also much more capable of taking care of their own needs than ordinary horses.
Baby-Doll Baby: In Arrow's Flight, Talia encounters a Weather Witch whose child drowned when she wasn't attentive enough. She has gone mad from grief and guilt and is convinced that a rag doll wrapped in a blanket is her son.
The usual explanation for why Companions Choose who they do, when they do it and why people with the Gifts that will be needed always seem to turn up in time to get them trained before they have to be put to use. Between advanced psychic powers, powerful wizards, and activist gods, these people have turned Because Destiny Says So into a science.
Lampshaded in Arrow's Fall, among other instances. To paraphrase: "The Firestarter we desperately needed to win this battle just happened to spend the night with a ForeSeer, who had a prophetic dream and kicked him out of bed just in time to get here? How does that happen?" To directly quote: "Pure, dumb Heralds' luck."
It's justified in The Last Herald-Mage as a magical web binding Heralds and their Companions that operates below the conscious level. Vanyel deliberately enhanced this web and tied it to the Heartstone he created beneath Haven. In Mage Storms, the workings of the web and its spells are explained completely.
Being Watched: Weaponized when Vanyel arranges for any non-Herald mages entering into Valdemar to be monitored by minor air spirits called vrondi, causing the mages to feel that they are being watched all the time. Unsurprisingly, this makes people extremely anxious to leave — even driving those who can't (or won't) leave insane — and Valdemar is not bothered by magic for several hundred years.
Beware the Nice Ones: Herald Talia is one of the nicest, kindest, and (literally!) most empathetic people in the world. But she has a point beyond which you just don't push it, and if you do... see the Mind Rape entry below.
Urtho, in The Black Gryphon. An interesting example because he didn't want to be a leader, but was forced into it because he was the only one who would stand up to Ma'ar. In Mage Storms, we learn that the historical view of Urtho varies among the Shin'a'in, the gryphons, and others.
Solaris, in Mage Storms. As the first genuine High Priest of Vkandis in centuries, she has some pretty awesome powers but is only shown to exercise them once.
Binding Ancient Treaty: Established between Valdemar and Rethwellen at the end of Oathbreakers, then somehow forgotten by Valdemar by the time of By the Sword, when Valdemar needs Rethwellen's help fighting Hardorn. Kero, whose grandmother Kethry was vital in the events that forged the agreement, provides a gentle reminder of its existence.
Bishōnen: Vanyel and Firesong in particular. Especially Firesong, who is described as though he stepped right out of a medieval fantasy anime.
Blood Magic: One of the most potent forms of magic, this is based on the principles of Cast from Hit Points with a side of Sympathetic Magic: blood is both a literal and symbolic sacrifice and a rich source of power. It's also a lot easier to handle than node magic, to the point where even people without mage gifts can use primitive forms of it. Of course, it's also addictive and evil, because unless it's a voluntary sacrifice, you're taking it from other people without their consent. For this reason, it also carries strong overtones of cannibalism — once you've practiced blood magic, it forever stains your soul.
Bond Creatures: The Companions, most prominently; also the bondbirds of the Tayledras. The Firecats of Karse may answer to this trope too. They're more independent-minded than their cousins the Companions, but still ultimately attached to one person.
Talia, quite comprehensively, in both Arrow's Flight and Arrow's Fall, albeit for separate reasons.
Vanyel throughout the Last Herald-Mage series. Each book puts him through a separate Trauma Conga Line.
Brick Joke: In Magic's Promise, due to his father still thinking that All Gays Are Pedophiles, Vanyel ends up making a pledge that all children in Forst Reach are safe from his advances so he can spend time with a newly befriended nephew without him getting any ideas. In frustration of having to make the pledge in the first place, he ends up including "every damn thing down to the sheep". At the very end of the book, he's drinking with one of the few members of his household without any wrong ideas about homosexuality and he indirectly gets asked about his sex life. Celibate for three years at that point, Vanyel replies in irritation that it's been so long that both his (male, but much older) drinking buddy and the sheep are starting to look like options to him.
"Stick to the sheep, they don't snore."
Broken Bird: Winterhart of The Black Gryphon was a nascent Empath as a teen, but nobody noticed it. When the court of the High King was murdered by agents of Ma'ar with the aid of a fear-inducing artifact, she was particularly vulnerable and fled in terror, with psychic wounds that persist until Amberdrake breaks through her shell and helps her deal with them.
Burn the Witch!: Until Solaris' reforms, this was the fate of any magically or psychically gifted Karsite not chosen for the priesthood. Specifically this is why Alberich is now a Valdemaran Herald rather than a Karsite Captain; his Companion had to rescue him from a burning barn after he too obviously used precognition to save a villagefrom a bandit raid.
Bury Your Gays: One of the more notable inversions of this trope occurs in The Last Herald-Mage. The tragic suicide of Tylendel, Vanyel's first love, sets him on the path to become the titular last Herald-Mage, and the gods even return Tylendel to him as Bard Stefen, and then reunite them after death in apology for his suffering.
Vanyel to his father in Magic's Pawn, regarding his atrocious mistreatment of Vanyel in an attempt to prevent him from "turning gay".
Skandranon to Urtho in The Black Gryphon, regarding the latter's functional enslavement of the Gryphon race. He relents when he learns Urtho's true motives.
Bear gets to do this twice during the Collegium Chronicles. The first time is by proxy; he rakes his father's spy over the coals knowing a full report will be on its way to Dad before the day's out. The second time, direct to his father, it's this trope combined with You're Not My Father.
Call to Adventure: Delivered without fail by Companions; their Chosen may jump at the Call or try to refuse the Call, depending on their situation at the time. All accept eventually, though on one notable occasion the Call repudiated one of the Called.
Cannot Tell a Lie: Inflicted on Duke Tremaine by High Priest Solaris in payment for his murder of her friend. Also occurs when the Truth Spell is invoked. This is also true of mindspeech in the series, most of the time.
Canon Discontinuity: In the first two Arrows novels, it is mentioned that a Companion repudiates his Herald about once every couple of centuries. Starting with the third, the only repudiation to have occurred is with Tylendel in Magic's Pawn.
Canon Welding: The Tarma and Kethry stories pre-date the original Arrows trilogy — Oathbreakers established that they had all taken place in Rethwellan and other kingdoms south of Valdemar, thus linking the two series.
The Cassandra: Talia is The Empath and has a one hundred percent flawless record at reading people. If anyone had taken her suspicions about Lord Orthallen seriously in Arrow's Fall, it would have averted a lot of tragedy. To his credit, Orthallen sows rumors about her reliability and tries to alienate her from her friends precisely to keep her off-balance and disbelieved.
Cast from Hit Points: Mages who are low on Mana can do this. The ultimate version is known as a Final Strike and is invariably suicidal for the mage attempting it. It's also possible for mind-mages to overstress their Psychic Powers into unconsciousness or even coma.
Celestial Paragons and Archangels: The Grove-Born Companions are essentially archangels in horse form. The Firecats of Karse and the Avatars of Kal'enel also qualify.
The Chains of Commanding: Urtho suffers from this more noticeably than any other major ruler. The war with Ma'ar forces him to some rather extreme (and for him, amoral) acts that he profoundly regrets.
Changing of the Guard: As noted above, the focus character changes between trilogies. (Did you expect the same characters for all 3000 years?) Certain villains (most especially Ma'ar) put in appearances throughout the series, and a number of protagonists have persisted as well, largely by Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence.
Changeling Fantasy: Of a sort. Heraldic Trainees plucked away by their Companions from massively abusive childhoods usually find their "real" home and family in the Heraldic Circle.
The Oathbreaking ceremony is mentioned in passing early in the first part of Oathbreakers, and unsurprisingly is a key part of the novel's resolution. Any piece of lore that Jadrek mentions also inevitably pays off at some point over the course of the story, most notably the legend of the Sword that Sings.
Urtho's personal portal into the High King's palace in The Black Gryphon. In a similar vein, the Antimagic box he has Skandranon "bomb" Ma'ar's forces with. The latter also serves to establish the explosive potency of magic nullification.
Karal's power is to be a "Channel", a very rare ability that can't even be trained. It's established right away in Storm Warning, which is good because he ends up using this ability at the climax of each and every novel in that series.
Talia is taught the Heralds' arrow-code in Arrow's Flight, and the fact that the exposition is depicted in full is a pretty clear forewarning that she will have need of the code's direst signals. Sure enough, she has need of the signal for "catastrophe, situation helpless, do not attempt rescue" in the next book.
Chekhov's Gunman: Several characters Talia meets in Arrow's Flight, particularly the trader Evan, play a part in advancing the plot in later books.
The Chessmaster: The gods, collectively, are the setting's ultimate chessmasters, manipulating the entire history of Velgarth from the Cataclysm onward to ensure that humanity can prevent a repeat performance when the Mage Storms hit.
Chronic Hero Syndrome: Deconstructed with Need, which forces Chronic Hero Syndrome upon its bearers with no regard for any sense of proportion or self-preservation, before she wakes up in the Mage Winds trilogy. Played straight by Heralds, for whom it's more or less contractually obligated. It shows up among the Healers, too, especially during plague situations.
Circuit Judge: One of the primary everyday functions of the Heralds.
Need. Even Kerowyn, who refuses to allow Need to have the kind of hold over her that it did over her grandmother, isn't entirely sure she could get rid of it if she really needed to, and — considering the pain she went through the one time she almost lost it — generally isn't willing to find out.
A short story in Oathblood has Tarma and Kethry getting a cursed coin that requires serious action to get rid of.
Color-Coded Characters: Heralds (white), Bards (red), and Healers (green) wear distinct, Highly Conspicuous Uniforms because being highly visible is part of their jobs. It's also observed that the colors in question are difficult to counterfeit: red and green dye are expensive and white cloth is hard to keep white. Each group's trainees also wear distinctively-colored (but less conspicuous) uniforms: Heraldic trainees in grey instead of white, Bardic trainees in rust-red instead of scarlet, and Healers in pale green instead of forest green.
Color Me Black: In Oathbound, Tarma and Kethry foil a bandit party that's been preying on caravans, killing the men outright and slaying the women after the bandits rape them. They kill the bandits, but save their leader. Said bandit leader gets transformed by illusion magic into a buxom blond woman, stripped naked, and sent back to his/her fellows. This comes back to bite the duo later, when the leader, having survived the experience, joins forces with the demon Thalkarsh.
Combat Pragmatist: The main philosophy of both Alberich and Kerowyn — forget grace, beauty, and dignity; just attack for maximum damage with whatever you've got on hand.
Coming-of-Age Story: Many of the series' heroes are teenagers at their first appearance, and the stories follow their growth into adulthood as much as their progress on The Quest.
Alberich is sentenced to be burned to death for saving a village from bandits. Why? Because he learned that the village would need to be saved through ForeSight, which marked him as a witch in the eyes of the Karsite priesthood.
Alberich himself does this afterwards because he's been "rescued" by his sworn enemy, which earns him the undying(ish) hatred of his countrymen. He gets over it later.
The Confidant: The Monarch's Own Herald, less formally known as the "King's Own" or the "Queen's Own", serves as the Monarch's most trusted and intimate counselor, able to give the unvarnished truth when necessary. This is done for the precise purpose of averting the usual emotional isolation of the Monarch's position. Unfortunately, the system totally fails when Selenay becomes Queen; Talamir, the King's Own Herald to her father, sees her as a little girl rather than as a monarch and has difficulty relating to or communicating with her, which leads directly to her disastrous marriage and subsequent fallout. When Talia is Chosen, Selenay is profoundly relieved that she finally has a Queen's Own who can truly be a confidant to her.
Conjunction Interruption: When a character begins to say something, and he opens with "But," that is almost invariably a cue for someone to interrupt him. One exception occurs when the character starts with "But," and pauses himself, unable to think of anything further to say.
Savil Ashkevron, in the Last Herald-Mage trilogy. She's an elderly Herald-Mage who acts as Vanyel's instructor and mentor. It's her death that finally pushes him over the edge and turns him into a revenge seeker.
Need is (or was) a mage-smith in her original mortal life. Faced with the destruction of all she held dear, and being too old to fight effectively, she sacrificed her body to bind her soul to a sword so that her favorite student could take it up and wield it to seek justice.
Cool Sword: Need, in spite of her unique drawbacks.
Covers Always Lie: Played straight with some books and averted with others. The most notable aversions, in that once you've read the book, you can recognize the exact scene on the cover, are The Silver Gryphon, Magic's Promise, Brightly Burning, Exile's Valor, Arrow's Fall, and Storm Rising.
Crushing Handshake: Alluded to in Take A Thief — when Skif and Deek agree to work together, Skif is impressed that Deek doesn't try this.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Karsite church and its god Vkandis have a distinctly Medieval Christian flavor to them. This comes complete with monotheistic worship, a hierarchical church complete with a pontiff and an emphasis on scripture.
Cue the Flying Pigs: Early in By The Sword, Kerowyn reflects that finding a man who could accept her and her chosen lifestyle for what they are would be as likely as her horse talking to her. When she ends up in Valdemar in the last third of the book, it's not hard to see where this is going.
Deadly Decadent Court: The court of the Eastern Emperor, to the point where "master assassin" is considered a respectable entry on a prospective Emperor's resume, and one of the main characters reflects that being cursed to be unable to lie is the single most horrific fate that could ever possibly befall an Imperial nobleman.
Death World: The Pelagirs are not a nice place to wander without native protection. Leftover magebuilt living weapons and other critters from a magical war two thousand years back, check. Flora/Fauna/People mutated by either the wave of magical power unleashed by the Cataclysm that ended said war or the abnormally high level of background mana even since, check. People both crazy/misanthropic enough to live there and Bad Ass enough to survive, check. The most consistently benevolent people there (the Hawkbrothers, pledged to their goddess to decontaminate the place) will give intruders exactly one chance to properly justify their presence or flee before using lethal force.
Defector from Decadence: Admittedly Herald Alberich did not defect so much as get shanghaied but the end result remained thus. He protests it, too, once he recovers from his mad dash for freedom journey. He even considers - for a few moments anyways - having his bond between himself and his Companion severed. He doesn't go through with it, mostly because of the mention that it would leave both of them badly damaged but it seems a close thing, even so.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Kerowyn, who is not so much cold as very narrowly focused. Played arrow-straight in The Black Gryphon, with Winterhart. Played for Laughs in Oathbreakers with the bard Leslac, who thinks he can pull this on Tarma. He's badly wrong.
Deus Angst Machina: Winterhart's backstory in The Black Gryphon, thoroughly justified by the Crapsack World setting at the time. Amberdrake, too, although he deals with it differently. Vanyel's upbringing is equally angst-ridden but is mainly told in the story.
Dirty Mind-Reading: Talia's Empathy leads to Sex by Proxy through both her Companion Rolan and the Herald-Trainee who has the room next to hers. Consequently, when she graduates to a full-fledged Herald, she chooses the topmost room in a tower of the Herald's Collegium as her residence. She remarks to Kris after their tryst that she may have been a virgin, but she wasn't naive.
Distressed Damsel: Happens on occasion - Dierna in By the Sword and Lady Myria in The Oathbound play it particularly straight - but in most cases the damsel in question does more than just sit around waiting for rescue. In one notable incident from the Oathblood anthology, the kidnapped girls manage to leave a scent trail for their rescuers to track them by, and then poison their kidnappers to slow them down for the rescue team to catch up, without being suspected until it was much too late.
Divided We Fall: The Tayledras and Shin'a'in do this, as they have diametrically opposite ideologies regarding the use of magic. It takes a direct order of their Goddess to get them to start working together. Also, in Mage Storms, Valdemar's nascent alliance is on extremely shaky political grounds and frequently suffers from this problem.
Don't Ask, Just Run: In Brightly Burning, foreseers see Lavan’s final firestorm just in time and all the Heralds start frantically calling the retreat to get their army out of the way before all hell breaks loose.
Doomed by Canon: Vanyel Ashkevron and Lavan Firestorm, both of whom have the conclusions of their stories told in Arrows of the Queen, the very first novel of the series.
Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Inverted somewhat with Stefen, who does not resemble Tylendel all that much but is more or less confirmed to be his reincarnation, making his lifebond with Vanyel not so much a replacement lifebond as a re-lifebond.
Dreadful Musician: Used for comedy in the supplementary filk song "It Was A Dark And Stormy Night". Both Tarma/Kethry and Kerowyn are also pursued throughout their careers by bards trying to sing (frequently awful) songs about their "heroic exploits". In Tarma's case, it's particularly hilarious because the bard in question, Leslac, believes himself the one to Defrost the Ice Queen, proving that he did no research about the Swordsworn.
Dreaming of Things to Come: Some Foreseers have prophetic dreams. Vanyel has a recurring one which he deals with throughout his trilogy, predicting his ultimate confrontation with Leareth. He originally thought he'd resolved the prophecy in Magic's Pawn, but the dreams come back in Magic's Price.
Dripping Disturbance: In Exile's Valor, Selenay is already having trouble sleeping due to grief over her father's death, and the drip in the royal suite's bathing room isn't helping matters.
Driven to Suicide: Tylendel. Vanyel and Talia both make good tries at it, too. Bard Stefen is interrupted before he gets his chance.
Drowning My Sorrows: Dirk, in Arrow's Fall, due to being wracked with guilt for having procrastinated on teaching one of his trainees a Dangerous Forbidden Technique which might have saved her life. She died trying to save infants from a fire while on her intern circuit. And of course, the one person who could help him resolve it, Talia, is in a Love Triangle with him and Kris. He doesn't snap out of it until he collapses completely.
Early-Bird Cameo: Vanyel, Stefen, and Lavan Firestorm are all mentioned, and Herald Eldan makes an appearance (by description only) in the very first trilogy published.
Early Installment Weirdness: The Arrows trilogy includes a detailed description of Heraldic arrow code, a coded system of communication which is heavily used by Heralds and serves a plot-critical purpose on several occasions. This code is never mentioned again in subsequent books.
Particularly in the Mage Storms trilogy when it seems as if The End of the World as We Know It is going to happen no matter what anyone does to stop it, and the eventual victory comes at a heavy cost for the heroes.
Bard Stefen gets a personal version — he can join Vanyel in the Forest of Sorrows, but only if he works the rest of his life trying to dispel the stigma against "ordinary" Heralds.
The Empath: Empathy is a standard, if uncommon Psychic Power, generally found among Healers. Exceptional individuals who can project this ability are called MindHealers — the most notable examples being Talia and Amberdrake. There are also a rare few evil empaths, said to leave a trail of twisted minds behind them.
The Empire: The Eastern Empire. An easy to miss reference in one book names it the Aurinalean Empire, but it's never mentioned again.
Enemy Mine: Valdemar and Karse, which have been enemies time out of mind, unite against the threat of Ancar.
Ethical Slut: Many Heralds lean toward this. As few are willing impose themselves on a spouse that would end up taking third place behind Duty and a Companion, friendly encounters with their colleagues are often seen as preferable. Also, it's mentioned that, since Heralds can pretty much expect to die in the line of duty, many prefer to become hedonistic and "anything but chaste" in their off-duty hours rather than try to form a strong bond with a single person when either of them may never come home again.
Hulda infiltrates the courts of both Valdemar and Hardorn by posing as a nursemaid and seeking to corrupt their rulers' respective heirs.
Lord Orthallen straddles this and The Evil Prince. Despite being a senior member of the privy council and a close personal friend of three generations of the Valdemar Royal Family, he either instigated or was heavily involved in at least four plots against the crown over the course of 20 years while avoiding suspicion almost completely until the day of his death.
The Evil Prince: Ancar of Hardorn. To a lesser (or at least less competent) extent Thanel of Rethwellan, Prince-Consort of Valdemar.
Excalibur in the Rust: In Oathbreakers, the long-lost Singing Sword of Rethwellan that is used to identify the country's rightful king is discovered to be none other than a rusty, dirty old sword that Kethry picked up along the wayside.
Fantastic Honorifics: "Siara" is the default honorific, when its not clear what the right one would be.
The Fagin: A Loveable Rogue type. Skif falls in with a group of young thieves led by an adult man (Bazie), who is unfortunately crippled; he gives them food, shelter and lessons (both educational and in how to be a good thief) in exchange for helping him out with his daily life and stealing for him.
Famed in Story: The story of Kerowyn's first heroic exploits follows her throughout the rest of By the Sword, rather to her chagrin. She follows in the footsteps of her mentors, Tarma and Kethry, whose mercenary careers are plagued by tales of their "heroic unselfish deeds". As they put it, it's tough to get paying jobs when people expect you to help them out of the goodness of your heart. Their kyree companion Warrl evidently became this as well; another kyree is introduced later whose favorite phrase is "my famous cousin Warrl!" Vanyel also gets quite a bit of this in Magic's Promise and especially in Magic's Price.
Fantasy Contraception: Female Heralds (and presumably, other women who venture afield) employ an herbal concoction that reduces or eliminates "moon days" and also has contraceptive properties.
Fate Worse Than Death: Inflicted by Kethry on Idra's brother in Oathbreakers, as punishment for the betrayal of his kingdom and the brutal rape and murder of his sister.
Faux Affably Evil: Lord Orthallen straddles this as well, most vividly seen (or not, rather) when he was acting as Selenay's confidant.
Fighting for a Homeland: A common theme across the series is that, while some mercenaries are scum, most hired fighters just want to get enough money together to buy some land, marry, and settle down. Tarma is a particular example, as her long-term goal is to build up enough fame and fortune to reestablish her Clan.
Filk Song: There are eight albums of songs written by Lackey. In the early series, the last book in each series had the song lyrics printed in the back as well as information on where to order cassette tapes of the songs.
The First Cut Is the Deepest: Vanyel after losing Tylendal. His deeply romantic (and deeply in denial) mother likes to tell young women "he lost his first love tragically" — fortunately by the time Stef comes along she seems to have accepted things.
Fisher King: After years of misrule by Ancar, who ruined the land with magic, the people of Hardorn insist their new king go through a ceremony to become this so he won't even think about repeating the attempt.
Fish out of Water: Newly-Chosen Heralds almost always have to go through a dramatic adjustment phase when they arrive at the Palace for training.
Forged Letter: In Brightly Burning, a forged letter is used to lure Lavan out where the assassins can get a shot at him.
Fostering for Profit: Dialogue from Foundation hints that Cole Pieters may have been doing this with Mags and the other orphan children he had working in his mine. Since families with working children get a yearly stipend from the Crown if they have a child Chosen (until he or she becomes a full Herald), Cole Pieters could have continued it if he had been smart about things. However, he tried to obstruct Dallen from Chosing Mags, which resulted in him being found out.
Freak Lab Accident: Vanyel has strong mage-potential but it takes a freak accident involving the backlash from a collapsing Gate to unlock his powers, transforming him into the third most powerful mage in history and granting him almost every other Gift in the book as well.
Friend to All Children: Tarma. Kids know it too, running to her for protection even though she's usually the scariest-looking one in the room.
Full-Frontal Assault: In The White Gryphon, Hadanelith, a Serial Killer and Mind-Rapist, conducts a series of assassinations against prominent members of Haighlei society... by climbing into their windows nude. This has several purposes: it shocks the victims, who are mainly high-class females, into being unable to resist; it avoids leaving evidence in the form of scraps of clothing or shoe-prints; it helps frame the White Gryphon delegation since no Haighlei would ever consider such an act; and it amuses him.
Geas: The magic sword Need, before it awakens, compels its bearers to go to the aid of women in trouble. Many of Tarma and Kethry's adventures are due to this effect, but Kerowyn uses her Mindspeech to get it to back off a bit so she can make her own choices in life.
Glory Seeker: Tarma, quite unhappily. A wiser Shin'a'in cautions her that if she wants to attract quality persons to repopulate her clan, she'll have to rebuild its reputation personally.
Gods Need Prayer Badly: In The Oathbound, the demon Thalhkarsh attains a godlike state by drawing power from the worship and sacrifices by his followers. Averted in that there's no indication that the real gods (or the One, depending on how you look at it) need worship.
Grim Up North: For Valdemar, the Northern Wastes; Valdemar itself is this for Rethwellan and Karse.
Groupie Brigade: Herald Alberich takes advantage of one of these in Exile's Valor. When he realizes that the actor Norris is trailing him, he goes into a large inn and "happens" to mention the fact that Norris is outside to a roomful of young ladies ... then dives for cover as they charge outside and mob Norris.
Healing Hands: The Healers generally have this as an ability, though it's stressed that it has limitations and it's best to use normal medicine as much as possible.
Healing Shiv: Need, though close contact or even physical proximity is just as effective.
"Hell Yes" Moment: In OwlKnight, Darian and his companions are up against a snow-drake when heading northwest to find his parents. Things seem impossible, until Healer Keisha fires an arrow hitting it at the right spot. To Darian's amazement, Keisha runs right up to face the snow-drake, followed by younger sister Herald Shandi who shouts the Trope expression.
Heroic BSOD: Just about every major hero in the stories has at least one.
Vanyel, after the Gate backfire gives him Adept-level magic and nearly kills him (grief and self-pity).
Talia, when her Gift goes wild and nearly kills herself and Kris (self-loathing).
Talia again, after being imprisoned in Ancar's dungeons, subjected to rape and torture, and attempting suicide (despair).
Amberdrake, after Skandranon apparently fails to return from a mission (grief).
Karal, after Ulrich's death (grief), and Altra the Firecat (grief and guilt that he couldn't save both Karal and Ulrich).
Heroic Fatigue: It is not uncommon for Heralds to experience this, however Vanyel suffers worse than most. Throughout the second two books he is in almost constant state of overwork, starting with returning after an entire year of filling in for five other Herald-Mages simultaneously on the battlelines.
Heroic Sacrifice: Several. The Final Strike technique (used most notably by Vanyel) is basically a prepackaged Heroic Sacrifice in the form of a suicide-weapon-of-last-resort for mages, using all their energy at once in a huge explosion.
Hidden Elf Village: The Hawkbrothers' Vales are these, until the events in the Mage Winds bring them out.
Highly Conspicuous Uniform: Heralds (white), Bards (red), and Healers (green) all wear these in their normal duties. In each case it's because it's their job to be highly visible, even when being visible is sometimes a liability, like on the battlefield.
Two Heralds of note refuse to wear Whites, and both are Weaponmasters who come from a different country: Alberich and Kerowyn. Kerowyn calls it her "just shoot me" uniform and only a royal decree can get her into one. For his part, Alberich also prefers "grays" but will occasionally don Whites in order to disguise himself, as his reputation for disliking them is so well established.
In the Mage Winds series, the Hawkbrothers (specifically, their hertasi helpers) take such a dislike to Elspeth's Whites that they literally steal them until they can come up with something better. She insists on them remaining white, but they at least manage to make her the most stylish Herald in the history of Valdemar.
Honest Advisor: The position of Monarch's Own Herald exists so that the ruler always has at least one completely honest, absolutely trustworthy friend.
Horsing Around: There are several instances, including the famous gray stud of Forst Reach and a beautiful but brainless horse in Oathbreakers.
Hypocrite: At the end of the Mage Winds trilogy, Valdemarian agents travel into Hardorn with the express purpose of assassinating Ancar, Hulda, and Mornelithe Falconsbane, because of the threat they pose to Valdemar. Later, in the Mage Storms trilogy, the new leader of Hardorn attempts to assassinate several envoys to Valdemar because of the danger their alliance could pose to Hardorn. The former is treated as necessary and just, while the later is treated as heinous and evil, when the only real difference between the two situations is that the former was done by the protagonists to the Big Bads of two trilogies, and the latter by an Anti-Villain to a pair of purely strategic (and sympathetic) targets.
I Call It "Vera": Generally averted — most fighters in the Valdemar 'verse are too much of a Combat Pragmatist to become sentimentally attached to any one weapon. Played straight with "Need," an Empathic Weapon, and various musical instruments. Lamshaded by Alberich in the Exile duology: he bans such weapons from the training salle.
Idiot Ball: Near the end of the Mage Winds trilogy, Elspeth, princess of Valdemar, goes undercover in enemy territory. Among the weapons she brings? A knife emblazoned with the Valdemaran crest. A throwing knife. Which she uses for its intended purpose, on an envoy of the Eastern Empire — just as he's Gating back home. As one of her companions notes, "very subtle, Elspeth."
Skif: So the envoy arrives falling out of a gate with a knife that has the royal symbol of Valdemar carved on its pommel embedded in his throat. Why not just send the Eastern Emperor a note? 'Your father won the Horse Faire. Your mother tracks rabbits by scent. Love and kisses, Elspeth of Valdemar!'
Gets almost ridiculous in Winds of Change. Darkwind likes Elspeth, Elspeth seems interested in return. Then Firesong shows up and Elspeth seems slightly more interested in him than in Darkwind. Firesong notices and has a talk with both of them "Sorry, I'm Gay and happen to like Darkwind. But I know Darkwind likes Elspeth, so I won't try anything". But Elspeth is in the middle of learning about Tayledras customs, so her thoughts after the talk are "Could Darkwind be Bi the Way and interested in Firesong?" (he's not).
The one between Dirk, Kris and Talia was one also. Talia did have an affair with Kris during her internship, but it had ended by the time she realized she actually liked Dirk. Dirk picked up on remanents of their past relationship, deduced they were still together, leading to his attempt at I Want My Beloved to Be Happy.
Incorruptible Pure Pureness: One of the Heralds' defining traits. It's worth noting that the potential for this has to exist in order for the Companions to Choose them in the first place, and many a Herald with a troubled past has had to reconcile it before fully embracing his/her destiny. Also, Heralds are not completely incorruptible, but it is observed that evildoers couldn't possibly offer what it would take to do so. In the entire history of the kingdom, only one Herald has ever been repudiated: Tylendel, who wasn't corrupted but instead went mad and attempted a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
The Infiltration: Tarma's role in Oathbreakers is to get inside the court in Rethwellan to uncover the truth of what happened to the King's sister. She does, and it is not pretty.
Instant Expert: One of Need's powers is to make its bearer a master swordfighter if they are not already experienced in martial combat, turning a Squishy Wizard like Kethry into a Magic Knight. In the hands of a completely unskilled bearer, the effect goes even further.
Intellectual Animal: Companions, most notably; also gryphons, Firecats, kyree, and hertasi, all of which were either divinely or magically created. Some of the smarter bondbirds also qualify - for example, Hyllar the hawkeagle, who demonstrates a capable grasp of abstract concepts such as "acting" and "sarcasm."
Intergenerational Friendship: Talia's close bond with her equestrian instructor Keren in the Arrows trilogy. Perhaps even moreso, her equally close friendship with the elderly and mostly retired Herald Jadus in Arrows of the Queen.
Skif and Nyara are only sort of an example, since Nyara was originally human before her father altered her. Later her Cat Girl features are reverted until she's almost completely human in appearance.
Lavan Firestorm and his Companion do have a lifebond as well as a Companion bond; this is necessary to anchor his sanity.
There's something of a deconstruction or justifiedaversion of this issue in the Mage Storms trilogy, where the true nature of most Companions (reincarnated Heralds) is revealed. The Companions go to great lengths to conceal this secret to avoid exactly the situation where a Herald is forced to confront a former loved one in a ... slightly different body.
Just Between You and Me: Hadanelith in The White Gryphon does this after having Amberdrake and Skandranon captive. Skan lampshades this in the beginning by asking, "Good gods, does every half-baked villain have to boast about what he’s going to do before he does it? Can’t you just kill us so we don’t have to endure your boring speech?” Hadanelith retorts that he wants them to know everything so that they can suffer in not being able to thwart his plan. Skan and Amberdrake then proceed to feign boredom instead of interest to keep Hadanelith talking.
Keystone Army: Several, mainly out of Hardorn. The "keystone" in most cases is the mage whose spells are keeping the massive conscript force controlled — take him out and the army collapses.
Firesong, deliberately. He views showmanship as an inherent part of his art and when the opportunity comes to play at being a carnival charlatan, he hams it up with gusto.
Hilariously, Hyllarr the bondbird hawkeagle, who with only a little prompting from Darkwind proves more than willing to shamelessly ham up his injuries to get Starblade's sympathy.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Occasionally inflicted on Heralds by their Companions to preserve their Masquerade as being nothing more than supernaturally intelligent horses. Also, Vanyel's scheme to keep magic out of Valdemar is partly based on a massive node-powered amnesia spell that compels its inhabitants to forget that magic exists, or ever existed except in legend.
Ley Line: The basis of the magic system is Life Energy, which bleeds off of living things and collects into "streams" and "rivers" of energy called ley lines that eventually flow to another plane. Where two or more ley lines meet, they form a node, an extremely powerful magical energy source.
Like Brother and Sister: Skif and Talia swear blood brotherhood after their failed teenage romance. Interestingly, they mean it, and any UST becomes moot after Talia acknowledges her lifebond to Dirk. Also occurs between Talia and Kris, although they were lovers during her internship.
All Heralds learn a "truth spell" which has this effect. Many can also perform an upgraded version which forces the subject to tell the truth.
Gryphons, Empaths, and powerful Mindspeakers such as dyheli can detect falsehood without resorting to magic. Occasional individuals, such as Hearld-Chronicler Myste, seem to have the ability as an independent Gift, as well.
Locked Room Mystery: The short story "Keys" requires Kethry to solve one of these. To add tension, Tarma is stuck outside fighting single combats with every warrior in the keep until she dies or Kethry figures it out, whichever comes first.
Lonely at the Top: A common theme used for anyone in a position of authority, such as the various monarchs in the series. Selenay in particular had this problem, which is part of which allowed her to be so easily seduced by Prince Karathanelan. Rank-and-file Heralds largely avoid it, having their peers for company, but particularly powerful ones (whether politically, like the monarchs, or personally, like Herald-Mages in general and Vanyel in particular) do suffer from it.
Vanyel: Heralds are all lonely; we’re different [...] Herald-Mages are one step lonelier than that. Then there’s me.
Love at First Sight: Supposedly this is true of all lifebonds; By the Sword provides probably the most dramatic example.
Love Makes You Crazy: Inverted with Lavan Firestorm, whose lovebond to his Companion kept him sane. When she died, he burned a mountain pass down to bare rock, along with the invading army that was in the pass at the time. (And himself, of course.)
Love Triangle: A Type 4 between Dirk, Kris, and Talia. At least, that's what Dirk thinks; his reluctance to "break up" Kris and Talia, while the two of them are trying to set Talia up with Dirk, causes a tremendous amount of heartbreak.
Magic A Is Magic A: Gifts and true magic are portrayed fairly consistently, despite a bit of Early Installment Weirdness. Each novel in the series goes deeper into the underlying mechanics of the Valdemar 'verse and the actors behind it.
At the end of The Black Gryphon, the Cataclysm shatters magic over the entire continent and it takes years before things settle down enough that it's safe to use again.
Following The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, Vanyel's efforts to protect Valdemar from foreign mages and to ensure that "normal" Heraldic Gifts weren't seen as inferior to magic have the unintended side-effect of causing the country as a whole to forget that magic even exists. This gets revoked at the beginning of Winds of Fury, setting the stage for the return of the Herald-Mages.
At the end of Mage Storms, the Final Storm causes most nodes and ley lines to be drained and scattered across the land, depriving mages of most of their power. Again, it's stated that things will get back to normal eventually.
Magic Knight: Vanyel, Elspeth, and Darkwind are the most notable examples. Most Heralds and many Tayledras tend at least a little toward this. That said, true Magic Knights are rare, since keeping either martial or magical skills up to date is a full-time job, and doing both of them together pretty much precludes a social life.
Vanyel picks up quite a few epithets through between-books exploits; among other things, he becomes known as Vanyel Shadowstalker and Vanyel Demonsbane.
In Brightly Burning, Lavan Chitward becomes informally known in the Herald's Collegium as "Lavan Firestarter." (He is unaware that the name was actually bestowed on him by the King.) Down south on the Karsite border, he became "Herald Lavan Firestorm."
Masquerade: The Companions spend over a thousand years as partners to the Heralds without ever revealing their true natures: reincarnated Heralds, or even actual divine avatars in the case of Grove-Born Companions. This is deemed necessary as knowing it could cause the Heralds to worship or even become dependent on them, not to mention the trauma of knowing that a loved one came back in a forever-inaccessible form... or worse, didn't come back.
Masquerade Ball: In Exile's Valor, Selenay holds one when the official year of mourning is over for her father, partly as a way to see if Prince Thanel is serious about her.
Massive Numbered Siblings: In one of the short stories, the main character is the youngest of twelve children in the royal family (his mother kept having twins and triplets). All of them were Chosen, which is why he rides Circuit rather than being kept to the palace and capital city.
In the Collegium Chronicles, Herald Jakyr's parents belonged to a religion that believed in having as many children as possible for the Glory of God. He tells Mags that his parents had so many children that half the time they called them by the wrong names, and that according to the brother he still talks to, they never even noticed when he was Chosen and left. Jakyr ends the conversation by saying that "Just because you can have a quiverful of youngsters, it doesn't mean you should. Or any."
Hawkbrothers take a use-name upon reaching adulthood, almost always reflecting some aspect of their personality. When something dramatically changes their personality, they may take a Meaningful Rename.
The High Priest directly appointed by the sun god is named "Solaris", Latin for "of the sun."
Meaningful Rename: Contributing to the tendency of the Tayledras to have Meaningful Names is the fact that they sometimes change their names following life-changing events. For example, Darkwind was called Songwind in the backstory of Winds of Fate, but he changed it when the Heartstone was sabotaged. The Mage Winds trilogy manages to play this for a bit of humor when Starblade quips that he considered changing his name to Starshadow to reflect that he feels like a shadow of his former self... but there's already a Shadowstar and it would be too confusing.
Medieval Stasis: Rigorously enforced throughout the series, with the raw beginnings of Steam Age technology emerging around Mage Storms. Justified in the sense that most societies have Functional Magic to do the jobs that technology might otherwise handle, with some (like the Eastern Empire) going all the way into Magitek. Valdemar had mind-magic and healing magic, even though "true magic" had been blocked by Vanyel's ghost until the end of Winds of Change.
Men Can't Keep House: Keisha refers to this in Owlsight, when she thinks back to when the village women cleaned up Justyn's old cottage. She concedes that he kept the treatment areas clean, but the living areas .... Later, when she first sees Darian's home in the new Vale, she can't believe at first that a single male lives there because it's so clean. (Darian does not score any aversion points, since the hertasi clean the place for him.)
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Hoo boy. There's a reason most Mindspeaking Heralds won't poke around in another's thoughts without cause, and why many with untrained Gifts who haven't yet been Chosen have a miserable time.
Mindlink Mates: Lifebonded pairings, with all the angst and drama that typically accompanies the trope. Discussed in Winds of Fate between Stefen, Skif, and Nyara, and then again at greater length throughout the "Mage Storms" trilogy when Firesong (mistakenly) believes that having a lifebond would be the end of all disagreements and misunderstandings.
Kerowyn uses hers as little as possible mostly out of the fear that the people around her would not be able to trust her if they knew she could read their minds.
Most individuals with mind-gifts are either Heralds (and thus nigh-immune to corruption), or otherwise trained in a profession that comes with a code of ethical conduct. Twisted Empaths and telepaths are rare and horrifying.
Practically a hobby of several villains, most notably Mornelithe Falconsbane. It's established that anyone with strong Empathy is capable of this, but since most of them become Healers or Heralds, it's extremely rare.
Talia, while mostly using her Empathy to help other Heralds who have had traumatic experiences, has done this as well on at least four occasions. The first was when she simply overwhelmed the mind of a madwoman to knock her out. The second occasion involved taking the worst nightmares of a boy who tried to seduce Elspeth and forcing him to experience it, then threatening to make him repeat the experience every time he closed his eyes if he said a word to anyone about what had happened. The third was when she lashed out at a dungeon guard who was hoping to rape her. The most extreme use of her powers ever, Mind Rape in the most literal sense, happened when she forced a man who had raped his stepdaughters to relive what they had felt in a constant neverending loop, from which he could only be freed if he acknowledged that what he'd done was wrong.
Modest Royalty: Nearly every good ruler. High Priest Solaris would be one if her role didn't require episcopal pomp; the Emperors of the Eastern Empire wouldn't be one except for their philosophy that austerity is more intimidating than opulence.
Monochromatic Eyes: The Shin'a'in Star-Eyed Goddess, as implied by her name, appears as a woman with starfield eyes. Souls chosen to serve her, called Avatars, have the same eyes.
Mugging the Monster: Lavan Chitward was bullied at school by the older students. During one such session, his powers manifested and his tormentors paid the price.
Mundane Luxury: Used repeatedly with heraldic trainees, who are provided comfortable-but-not-decadent lifestyles; for nobility, it's a significant step down, but for others this trope is in full effect.
Talia was raised in a culture with extremely strict traditions, and gender roles in particular; she's initially overwhelmed by such concepts as "not being forced to marry someone she doesn't want to" and "being allowed to read during her free time". And "having free time", for that matter.
Skif, a former thief, is amazed that trainees recieve a modest stipend. The idea that anyone would just give them money is utterly foreign to him.
Mags, a child slave at a gem mine before he was Chosen, is probably the best example. He considers it the height of luxury to have food that is both wholesome and plentiful, not to mention clothes that are more than rags.
A borderline example. The Companions don't ask permission of their Chosen before they Choose them, and have, on a couple of occasions, forcibly seized the Herald-to-be and dragged him off against his will. However, the Omniscient Morality License is in play: the Companions never choose anyone who would not accept the Call to Adventure if they knew all the facts, and no Herald has refused to serve once he or she is made aware of the situation.
An in-story subversion occurs in Stefen's backstory in Magic's Price: as he relates to Vanyel, Bard Lynnell kidnapped him right off the street declaring that "you belong to Valdemar now." In fact Lynnell had recognized Stefen's extremely potent Bardic Gift and - being as undiplomatic as a sack of hammers - stopped only to confirm that he was in fact living on the street with no blood kin before grabbing him to pack off to the Bardic Collegium for training.
Owlsight features an implied aversion when Keisha sees a Companion coming and panics at the thought that she'll be Chosen and expected to leave her village without its only Healer and herbalist - only for the Companion to turn towards her sister instead. Whether she was really on the verge of being Chosen or just jumping to conclusions is left deliberately unclear. However, elsewhere in the series it's stated more or less outright that some people who would otherwise make very good Heralds are specifically not Chosen because there is some other role that it is more vital for them to play; Arrows of the Queen specifically notes that those with the Healing Gifts are almost never Chosen because they are needed far more as Healers than as Heralds. Ultimately, as in so many other things, Because Destiny Says So is in full effect regarding who does or doesn't get Chosen.
Needle In A Needlestack: Elspeth and company get into Hardorn by pretending to be over-the-top carnival hucksters within a larger caravan of same.
Never Accepted in His Hometown: Vanyel gets acceptance from his family eventually, but it takes a very long time. Talia and Kerowyn, meanwhile, get this trope in full - especially Talia, who is completely disowned by the Holding she came from (A pity nobody ever found humor in-universe about the fact that the Sensholdings disinherited their daughter for becoming the Queen's personal adviser).
Nice Guy: Karal, contractually due to being a priest, but this is his genuine personality and puts him in excellent standing with the good guys, as opposed to his political rivals and enemies who constantly underestimate him.
Nobility Marries Money: Kethry has a vicious version of this in her backstory: when she was twelve years old, her brother decided to fix his Impoverished Patrician status by marrying her off against her will to a rich and ambitious merchant with a thing for little girls. Kethry's old nurse managed to help her escape, but unfortunately not before the wedding night.
No Biological Sex: Kyree can be born male, female, or neuter. Famous kyree, including Warrl, tend to be neuter, since without any duty to have cubs, they're more free to leave the pack and go adventuring.
Non-Action Guy: Karal, in so many ways. It doesn't stop him from being The Hero of Mage Storms, though. Amberdrake too, in Mage Wars; his lack of martial skills becomes a plot point a few times.
The Oath-Breaker: The "Oathbreaker's Curse" is specifically invoked in Oathbreakers by Tarma and Kethry in order to get revenge on the king of Rethwellan for the brutal murder of his sister. In By the Sword, the Skybolts also identify Ancar of Hardorn as an oathbreaker, and only the absence of any mages (The initial ritual requires the participation of a mage, a priest, and a commoner) prevents them from invoking the same curse on him.
The Obi-Wan: Ulrich, Karal's mentor and Karsite ambassador to Valdemar, gets this deadly straight; he's killed by a magical assassination attempt halfway through Storm Warning, forcing Karal to take his place.
Any powerful magic user is going to wind up with blue eyes regardless of what they were born with as a side effect from the amount of magic they use.
All Companions have blue eyes, caused by channeling node-energy, which bleaches hair and eyes to white and blue, respectively. Their eyes are frequently mentioned, with newly Chosen Heralds usually spending a while staring into them when they first meet.
Lifebonds, supposedly very rare, are all over the earlier novels. Word of God says that Lackey realized this and backed off on them.
Companions bespeaking Heralds who are not their Chosen is said to be exceedingly rare. However, by the time of the Mage Winds trilogy, it seems they are entirely content to engage in Mindspeech with anyone who is not a Herald. On a similar note, Talia is the only Herald focus character in the series who can't communicate with her Companion with Mindspeech.
Offered the Crown: Grand Duke Tremaine, for Hardorn (with conditions); a couple of Valdemaran monarchs wound up King or Queen after accidents befell their predecessors, King Randale, for one. Strongly implied to have happened to King Valdemar, the original monarch and namesake of The Kingdom.
The setting has all manner of different gods and goddesses that various characters swear by; "Lady Bright" is popular among Valdemaran characters, while Kerowyn mostly swears by Agnira and sometimes one or both of her sister goddesses as well - occasionally very colorfully, when the situation calls for extra emphasis.
The Eastern Empire honors the "Hundred Little Gods" — all the former Emperors and their consorts. As Tremane remarks, there aren't exactly a hundred, but it makes a nice round number to swear by.
Older and Wiser: Tarma and Kethry in By the Sword; Talia in The Mage Winds, Kerowyn in and after The Mage Storms. Among others.
Omniscient Morality License: The Companions exhibit this tendency from time to time, especially in the earlier novels, although Elspeth calls them out on it in Mage Winds. It later becomes subverted as we learn more about what Companions are.
Companions generally operate on the unspoken rule that they will only advise their Heralds, and then usually only when asked. Many tangled interpersonal squabbles could easily be resolved if the Companions would just get their hooves into it and sort their Heralds out, but when called on it, the Companions themselves state that their humans are expected to solve their own problems whenever possible. Justified in the sense that they are effectively avatars of the gods and obey a general divine Alien Non-Interference Clause about not messing around with human affairs unless absolutely necessary.
The few times the Companions do directly intervene with their divine authority, they usually wipe the memories of their Heralds afterwards. Again, this is specifically to prevent the Heralds from coming to worship the Companions or rely on them to solve all their problems.
The Gods themselves are revealed to have been playing this game for millennia; nearly every single one of the myriad disasters and near-disasters that have occurred since the first Cataclysm was engineered for the specific purpose of putting in place all the pieces necessary to avert the second Cataclysm.
Only The Chosen May Ride: The Companions are magical horselike beings which bond to a particular human rider. The Companion always chooses the human, never vice versa. Being Chosen by a Companion makes someone one of the titular Heralds, who serve as a combination of Mounties, circuit judges, military scouts and Search and Rescue service, among other things. Heralds are considered to be intrinsically incorruptible, because the Companions don't Choose people who would take bribes or the like. It is also required that the ruler of the country be a Herald, and no one who has not been Chosen by a Companion is eligible to be ruler or heir.
In Exile's Valor, Prince Karathanelan assumes the Companions are just distinctively-colored horses and heads off to Companions' Field to break one of them to saddle. The only reason he survives to the novel's final fight scene is because Caryo goes easy on him.
Several Gods and Goddesses are worshipped; it's implied at some points that they may all be different faces of a single God and Goddess, which may in turn both be faces of The One, but the details don't always quite line up to support this. At least two gods - the Star-Eyed Goddess of the Shin'a'in, Tayledras, and Kaled'a'in clans, and Vkandis Sunlord of Karse and Iftel - are proven to exist and take active hands in the lives of their followers. Both are benevolent, but they're neither truly omnipotent or omniscient, and they can sometimes be jerks; their philosophy is that humans have a right and responsibility to solve their own problems whenever they can, but they aren't above abandoning that rule whenever they have an objective that needs to be accomplished. The big examples are the Laser-Guided Amnesia they use to protect their secrets, and Vkandis very unsubtly reorganizing his church hierarchy when he needed Karse on the Good Guys' team.
Several beings are worshipped that are clearly not a part of this pantheon. The Hundred Little Gods are the spirits of deceased emperors, although they grant no powers and may be fictitious; and Thalhkarsh is a demon who gains actual power from this. Demons and elemental spirits clearly come from somewhere, and it's unclear whether these are under the jurisdiction of the aforementioned gods or not. In addition, when the Star-Eyed puts in an appearance in Oathbreakers she comments with interest on the concept of Companions in a way that suggests that they're creations of an entirely separate facet of the Goddess.
Overprotective Dad: As part of the Changing of the Guard and shift in Character Focus throughout the various series, it's sometimes very amusing to witness how protective the previous protagonists get toward their offspring. The Silver Gryphon is almost entirely about this.
Parental Abandonment: Pops up from time to time, though less often than one might think. The most notable case is probably Darian of the Owl trilogy, for whom this is a major trauma.
In Oathbound, Tarma and Kethry arrange the rape of a bandit infiltrator by sending him back to his companions, stripped naked and magically disguised as a woman.
Kethry's master sorcery in Oathbreakers involves harnessing the combined anger of all of the Sunhawks over their captain's brutal murder. It is used in a way that barely straddles the line between good and evil; it's even stated that Kethry's greatest challenge is not to let the sheer power of all that rage overwhelm her, lest she fall to The Dark Side.
Talia's literalMind Rape of a (physical) rapist also qualifies; it was an act of calculated rage on her part, but she felt absolutely no remorse afterward, comparing it to shooting bandits and noting that if the man ever truly repents, he'll be freed.
Vanyel Ashkevron gives his life in a Heroic Sacrifice that obliterates a powerful mage and the entire army he was leading into Valdemar. Even prior to this, he is viewed with fear among his own people as he is said to be able to level the city of Haven should he ever so choose.
Lavan Firestorm, a Firestarter, reduces an entire army (and himself) to ash and sterilizes the pass they came through in his own Heroic Sacrifice.
The grand prize goes to Great Mages Urtho and Ma'ar of prehistory, who between their own vast powers and their Magitek WMDs managed to completely change the face of 99% of the known world in a magical Cataclysm so powerful that it echoed through time to recur 3000 years later.
Vanyel at the beginning of Magic's Promise, when everyone he meets tells him that he looks like hell. Justified in that he does.
Elspeth in Winds Of Fury gets, "We thought you were dead!" After a while her traveling companions are calling it "the standard greeting."
Kerowyn in By The Sword cannot go out in public without people singing the song "Kerowyn's Ride" at her.
Place of Power: Nodes, the intersection of Ley Lines and the most powerful sources of magic in the world. The Tayledras take it even further, having been taught by their Goddess to build Heartstones, which augment and focus the power of nodes to accomplish tasks no other mage can hope to duplicate. They teach Vanyel how to do it, which leads to him building a Heartstone beneath Haven.
Planning with Props: In Winds of Fate. It backfires rather badly, thanks to the characters' failure to clean up their props before their plan goes into action.
Dirk, Kris, and Talia's Love Triangle would have been a lot easier to resolve if they had just talked to each other about it. Unfortunately, Talia gets thrown headfirst into Haven politics, Kris goes on a spree of debauchery, and Dirk falls victim to Drowning My Sorrows over an unrelated incident. The whole thing doesn't sort itself out until after Kris dies and Talia nearly dies.
The beginning of Vanyel and Stefen's relationship got delayed in big part because Medren had failed to ever tell Vanyel that he and Stefen shared the same sexual orientation, while Stefen knew it. And if not him, plenty of other people, including Stefen himself, could have told Vanyel before Medren had to resort to get Withen (yes, Vanyel's homophobic father from the two previous books) to pull There Is Only One Bed on them during their stay at Forst Reach.
Skandranon narrowly escapes this fate while retreating from Ma'ar's tower through a human-sized Gate. As it is, the narrow passage takes off a few feathers. He later barely escapes being trapped forever in the Nether Planes when the Gate he uses to escape Urtho's tower collapses.
When Wild Magic transports Darian's parents to the far north, his father's foot is left behind.
Power Levels: Mages are rated by their maximum capacity for handling magical energy, which is apparently genetic and (mostly) unalterable. Journeymen can only use power from within themselves and ambient power from their immediate environment, Masters can tap Ley Lines, and Adepts can tap nodes. While they are in training, mages may be identified by ranks below their maximum potential (example: a "Journeyman" with "Adept potential").
It should also be noted that skill also counts. It's noted in one story that a clever Journeyman, by avoiding direct confrontation, can stymie even an Adept.
The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, set in Vanyel's time before magic vanished from Valdemar.
The Mage Wars trilogy, set in the time leading up to the Cataclysm.
Private Military Contractors: Various mercenary companies, such as the Sunhawks (Vows and Honor) and the Skybolts (By the Sword). Some are bonded and affiliated with a trade union (the Mercenaries Guild) which keeps order.
Promotion Not Punishment: Kerowyn in By the Sword has a long-term variant. When faced with an incompetent mercenary Captain who is planning a suicidal charge she breaks with her Contract – effectively exiling herself from her Company – and flees before her Captain has a change to retaliate. She clears it with the Guild and is excused, but is then only able to get a job as a tavern bouncer. Several weeks later she is jailed for attacking a drunken city guard in self-defence, but people speak up in her defence and she is released, although with no hope of continuing her job. When she comes out, she is faced with the remains of the Company who have finally caught up with her... only to be told that her leaving had prompted them to vote out their Captain and they want her as their replacement.
Psychic Powers: Mind-Magic or Heraldic "Gifts", which range from the relatively benign, like FarSight or ForeSight, to the potentially devastating, like Firestarting. Gifts often vary in strength, and many Heralds have more than one. Inside Valdemar, practically anyone demonstrating these Gifts seems to end up Chosen; outside, Gifts pop up randomly from time to time, but less commonly, and only one other nation is mentioned making use of them on Valdemar's level.
Punctuation Shaker: Glottal-stop apostrophes in the languages of the Kaled'a'in and Shin'a'in.
Put on a Bus: Bear and Lena disappear between the end of Bastion and the beginning of Closer To Home, with only a page to explain where they went.
Racial Remnant: The Tedrel Mercenaries are the survivors of nation of people. They became mercenaries and tried to get enough money to create a new homeland.
Rage Against the Heavens: Elspeth is really not happy at being yanked around by the gods and flatly rejects their Omniscient Morality License. It takes until the Mage Storms trilogy for the gods' avatars to finally level with everyone, because otherwise Elspeth is likely to slip her leash again and put the whole plan in jeopardy.
Rage Against the Mentor: Ancar, to Hulda, once it becomes apparent that she will not teach him any magic beyond Master level. Mornelithe Falconsbane capitalizes on this to foster rebellion in the young King. Of course, what she doesn't tell him (and Falconsbane has no intention of revealing) is that he lacks the potential to go beyond Master.
Rage Breaking Point: In a form of Teach Him Anger, Karal has to bring An’desha past this point to prove to him that he can release his emotions without losing control of his powers.
Reincarnation: Stefen in Magic's Price is more or less confirmed to be the reincarnation of Tylendel, and later books confirm that many Companions are reincarnated Heralds; in particular, Kerowyn's Companion Sayvil is implied to be the reincarnation of Vanyel's aunt Savil Ashkevron. (Word of God confirms this.) The Firecats of Karse are reincarnated ancient Sons of the Suns.
Renowned Selective Mentor: Darian certainly has this reaction when he finds out Firesong k'Treva has moved to k'Valdemar Vale specifically to train him.
A minor one; the magic system utilized by Kethry in Vows and Honor undergoes a major and mostly unremarked upon revision in later works. A somewhat bare justification given in-story is that some mage schools apparently don't know about Ley Lines and therefore don't teach their students about them. Another justification is that Kethry was dumbing down her explanation for her audience, as she didn't have time to hold an entire Magical Theory 101 session.
Another minor one is concerning the death of Selenay's first husband and father-in-law. The first time (by order of publication) it's mentioned, it's implied that they happened at about the same time. In By The Sword, it's stated that learning about Thanel's treachery and death caused his father to die of shock. In Exile's Valor, the death of Thanel's father takes place nearly a year before Thanel's death.
Yet another minor one, this one regarding Talamir's Companion. The Arrows Trilogy has an off-hand remark from the third-person omniscient narrative about Rolan being able to offer considerable expertise to Talia due to having been linked to Talamir since he was a student at the Collegium, but in Exile's Honor, Talamir had a different Companion, Taver, until the Tedrel Wars, well after he completed his schooling at the Collegium.
In By the Sword, Kerowyn says that the Mercenaries' Guild has placed several representatives in Iftel over the years, but none stuck because they found living there too boring. In the Mage Storms trilogy, Iftel is revealed to be populated by Kaled'a'in and a good many nonhumans such as gryphons, something that one would think at least one of those Guild reps might have found interesting enough to give them a reason to stick around.
In the Mage Winds trilogy, Skif tells another character that his mother had taught him how to pick pockets until she got killed by a rival thief. In Take a Thief, which centers on him, we find out that his mother had died of illness and he was left to the care of her brother, who used Skif as unpaid labor in his inn. He runs away and joins a group of boys learning the 'trade' of theft from a nice guy named Bazie, who lost his legs in the Tedrel Wars.
Tarma goes on one of these when bandits kill her Clan.
Tylendel does it after his twin brother is assassinated, leading to his repudiation, and Vanyel has a brief but thorough one in Magic's Price.
Lavan Firestorm performs an almost-literal version against a Karsite invasion in Brightly Burning — sadly, it is because his Companion had died and he is Taking You with Me.
Royal Brat: Princess Elspeth, thanks to Hulda's manipulations. It's even her unofficial nickname until Talia manages to civilize her.
Royally Screwed Up: Almost completely averted in Valdemar thanks to the requirement that the Monarch must be a Herald. In full force, however, in Hardorn, and occasionally in Rethwellan.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Monarch must be a Herald. Heralds are all Special-Forces-qualified. However, the Heir is noted as the only Herald under orders to stay away from any danger they can reasonably avoid; when faced with a conflict between this injunction and her duty as a Herald-Mage to take the lead against the forces of evil, Elspeth is only able to resolve the conflict by abdicating her spot in the royal line of succession. (She is only able to do this because there are othe heirs available)
Ruling Couple: Selenay and Daren of Valdemar. In fact, any Valdemaran royal spouse will become a co-consort provided that they are also chosen as a Herald. There are several examples of this in the back story. Daren, however, takes the title of Prince-Consort rather than King, which as a Herald he would be entitled to. One of the short stories justifies this as his not wanting the job, and also wanting to set himself apart from Selenay's regicidally ambitious previous husband (aka Daren's un-lamented late elder brother).
Safety In Indifference: At the start of Magic's Pawn Vanyel finally decides to cut himself off from all emotion as a way of dealing with his emotionally abusive father exiling him to a strange city. This is reflected by his ice dream, and eventually leads to him opening up to Tylendel.
Samaritan Syndrome: This is part of the Heralds' job description, but none feel it more keenly than Vanyel.
Sapient Steed: The Companions and some of the intelligent ridable creatures like dyheli.
Secret Legacy: The ruling line of Valdemar is directly descended from Vanyel, the last Herald-Mage, by way of the King's mistress at the time. This was done very intentionally and then covered up just as deliberately, as: (a) the King had a disease preventing him from siring children, (b) Vanyel was widely known to be gay, and (c) Valdemar was in significant political turmoil and needed to maintain the continuity of the Royal bloodline — and keep an alliance-marriage a viable option. This turns out to be an in-story Chekhov's Gun as, six hundred years later, Princess Elspeth inherits Vanyel's mage gifts and becomes the first new Herald-Mage since his death. It's implied that Herald Kris was a descendant of the same line.
Secret Relationship: Vanyel and Tylendel in Magic's Pawn, due to the fact that Vanyel's father finding out about them would be bad news for them. They go up to pretending to hate each other in public, which causes lots of mistaking of Vanyel's intentions by other people during the events that lead to Tylendel's death.
Elspeth, to the point where she gets Very Annoyed when people start mentioning Destinies. Need, naturally, approves — while Gwena finds it irritating to the extreme. But then, Gwena was the one trying to shanghai her into a Glorious Destiny, wherein Elspeth would be the first of the Herald-Mages to return to Valdemar after the last one died, several centuries ago. Interestingly, she does return to Valdemar as a Herald-Mage, albeit by a completely different path then the Companions had intended.
The trope is subverted in a number of ways: strong-willed characters like Elspeth, Vanyel, and Kerowyn swear up and down that they are going to fight the winds of fate, but they all end up more or less where they're supposed to be anyway.
Self Insert: In story, no less; the first time we meet Talia, she's daydreaming about having been a Herald accompanying Vanyel at his last stand. On a meta-level, Herald-Chronicler Myste is the author's avatar.
Sex by Proxy: Blessed with Suck, Talia experiences this with Companion Rolan and nearby Herald-Trainees. She chooses a tower room as her Heraldic residence to ensure her own privacy.
Shaped Like Itself: Early in The Black Gryphon, the narration describes the way Amberdrake feels after healing Skandranon: "In short, as if he had served his full roster of clients, then Healed a gravely injured gryphon."
Solaris is High Priest, not Priestess, of Karse. Her title is "Son of the Sun." In Exile's Honor, set a generation earlier, the little boy (Vkandis in disguise) mentions to Herald Alberich his daughter who will be his Son.
In the second part of By the Sword, some ten-plus years prior to Solaris, Kerowyn notes that the High Priest leading Karse in its war against Rethwellan is purportedly a woman pretending to be a man, complete with faux mustache, styling herself "the true-born Son of the Sun."
One country, never visited, but shown on the maps and briefly mentioned once or twice, is named Seejay (alternately spelled Ceejay). Also, there's the Terilee river, named for one of the administrators at Firebird Arts & Music, which carries a lot of stuff related to Valdemar.
The name "Orser", used twice (for a human non-Herald and a Companion) in the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, may be a reference to the great Canadian figure skater Brian Orser. (Figure skating...figures in a couple of scenes in other novels.)
At one point Karal inverts a classic line from Blake's 7:
The short story Moving Targets is pretty much a Fusion Fic with Scooby-Doo, complete with the sentence "I would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you meddling Heralds!"
Shown Their Work: Mercedes Lackey is an expert equestrian and falconer. Anything she writes about these subjects is as accurate as it gets, minus the magical trappings.
Shrinking Violet: Talia at first, due to crippling shyness. As she becomes a full Herald, she grows out of it.
Shrouded in Myth: Vanyel, to later generations of Valdemarans. Of course, he was indeed every bit as powerful a mage as the legends tell, if not more.
Several of the songs associated with the Herald-Mage trilogy are about adventures of Vanyel's that are unmentioned or only briefly alluded to in the books; the degree of bardic exaggeration involved is left to the reader to decide.
Silk Hiding Steel: Talia. The queen's Herald/personal advisor, she is patient, kind, and can fight with both a knife and a bow. Her style of close-range fighting is inspired by Skif's life on the street, and is implied to be entirely sneaky and dirty.
Averted in Valdemar, where one must be Chosen as a Herald, with all the Incorruptible Pure Pureness that implies, in order to be eligible for the throne. It is in fact key to the origin of the Heraldic Circle: King Valdemar, concerned that one of his descendents would eventually fall into this trope, prayed to every God he could think of for a way to ensure that his successors would always be worthy people, and was answered by the appearance of three Companions who promptly Chose him, his son, and his herald.
Played straight, meanwhile, with the King of Hardorn, who was a pretty good king and ally of Valdemar until his son Ancar killed him and took over, enslaving his people and starting wars with Valdemar and Karse.
Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Inverted. The priests of Karse spent several centuries drifting away from the true tenets of their god Vkandis, falling further and further into vile corruption and demon-summoning, while still invoking Vkandis' name to cement their theocratic rule. One fine midwinter's day, during the annual high holy ceremonies of their religion, Vkandis chose to actually answer an invocation. The following events earned him the Fan Nickname 'Vkandis The Unsubtle'.
Snake Talk: Most of the Gryphons. But not in any evil or sinister sense; it's due to their vocal anatomy.
Sorceror King: The backstory of the books features the conflict between reluctant leader Urtho, the Mage of Silence, and would-be world conqueror Ma'ar... along with it's world-shattering aftermath.
The Shin'a'in "Swordsworn" — including Tarma — become these after death, and help to train and advise living Swordsworn. The ghosts of Vanyel, Stefen, and Yfandes also act as Spirit Advisors briefly in The Mage Winds and The Mage Storms before finally moving on to "Bermuda".
Technically, the Companions themselves count, although they are embodied rather than incorporeal. So do the Firecats.
Squishy Wizard: Most mages, including Kethry except that Need makes up the difference in her case. It's mentioned that the reason for the squishiness of wizards is the time investment needed: "Fighter, mage, social life: pick two". Herald-Mages attain Magic Knight status instead by sacrificing the third one, and by getting the best and fastest possible training in both disciplines.
Strange Syntax Speaker: Herald Alberich speaks Valdemaran with Karsite word order. He was born and raised in Karse and only ended up in Valdemar after being kidnapped/rescued by a Companion, who eventually psychically fed Valdemaran vocabulary into his head... and only vocabulary.
Suspicious Spending: In one of the short stories, Tarma figures out who The Mole is by realizing that one of the guards is wearing jewelry and riding a horse that he shouldn't be able to afford (though this is only considered to be grounds for suspicion, not proof in and of itself).
Sword and Sorcerer: Tarma and Kethry are this precisely, although it's played with a bit in that Need, their geased sword, makes Kethry a master fighter and Tarma immune to magic, depending on who's holding it at the time.
Symbol Motif Clothing: The Tayledras will often have a motif repeated in their clothing, usually something to do with birds or feathers. Given their relationship with birds of prey, this is entirely fitting.
Tagalong Chronicler: Tarma and Kethry have a bard called Leslac following them around, who keeps, ahem, "embellishing" the details of their adventures, much to their irritation.
Take Me Instead: Standard Heraldic MO. Any Herald would die for the Monarch, for another Herald, or for Duty.
Taking You with Me: The purpose of a mage's Final Strike. Used on a massive scale at the end of the Mage Wars, when Urtho unleashed the Cataclysm to prevent Ma'ar's imminent victory.
Talking in Your Dreams: Kero and Eldan in By The Sword. For ten years (and she had no clue he was actually doing it).
Talking Weapon: Need, after she regains full awareness in Winds of Fate.
Teleportation Sickness: Heralds, Companions, and others with a strong 'Fetching' gift can move living things and even themselves. It apparently feels jolting, like a sudden strong leap, and is somewhat unpleasant for the target.
Teleporters and Transporters: "Gates", spells that allow people to travel long distance instantly, are the primary form. The "Fetching" mind-magic gift is a much shorter-ranged and smaller-payload version.
That Man Is Dead: Tayledras use-names reflect the owner. When something significant happens to Tayledras that changes their personality, they change their use-name, indicating that they see themselves as a new/different person. This is how Songwind became Darkwind.
Another significant example is the story about Tallo. After accidentally killing his lover, Tallo is rescued by Savil and taken to a Tayledras clan. To assuage his guilt, Tallo 'dies' and is adopted by the Tayledras as Moondance.
The Talk: In Bastion, Herald Jakyr asks Mags about his relationship with Amily, intending to give him some form of The Talk. When Mags explains that he knows the basics, but has no idea about how to make it pleasurable for Amily, Jakyr instead proceeds to tell him how to do exactly that.
The Women Are Safe With Us: The Eastern Empire has very strict laws about rape that gets imposed whenever they conquer a new land. Basically, any woman that gets raped is granted the status of a divorced spouse, which means that half the perpetrator's possessions and wages go to victim, five years if there is no child and sixteen if there is one. If the child is a daughter, the guy has to provide a dowry, and if it's a son, he has to pay for the outfitting when the son is conscripted into the military. If the perpetrator doesn't have means to pay, then he gets sent to a government labor camp with his wages paying for it. If a guy is stupid enough to rape again, then he undergoes physical and magical punishment that leave him outwardly intact but unable to repeat the act.
There Are No Therapists: Should be averted by the MindHealers, who are portrayed as the competent type of The Shrink with psychic powers backing them up. In practice, every MindHealer at Healers' Collegium completely misses the fact that Mags is borderline-suicidal note at least one Amazon review of Intrigues puts a trigger warning on the book .
Thinking Up Portals: Gate magic. How well it is understood varies between groups of mages. Most believe that they have to be created within some kind of frame (like a doorway) and can only be powered by the creator's own personal energies. But the Eastern Empire mages have much more advanced knowledge and create freestanding Gates, as well as draw upon the power of groups of mages to power them. In ancient time permanent Gates existed.
This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Karal is a 'Channel' — a type of mage who can safely transmit huge amounts of magical energy. His talent is absolutely critical at the climax of each book in the Mage Storms trilogy but otherwise he's the equivalent of a non-mage.
Trauma Conga Line: The price Vanyel apparently pays for his earthshattering powers is to be hated by his family, targeted by every enemy of Valdemar, and lose nearly everyone he cares about. Subtly justified with the revelation in Magic's Price that there really is someone who has it in for him and has been deliberately trying to destroy him.
Talia in Arrows of the Queen develops her Empathy normally but it's not fully awakened until she's dropped into a freezing river in an assassination attempt and has to call Rolan for help. Later in the novel, the death of a Herald's lifebonded partner unlocks her latent Mindspeech.
Vanyel in The Last Herald-Mage has his gifts triggered when his lover/soulmate commits suicide and he takes the full backlash from the closing of the Gate that his latent power helped open.
In Brightly Burning, Lavan's Firestarter gift was starting to come through as a normal Puberty Superpower, but being tortured by the older students snapped it on full-power.
Trilogy Creep: The Collegium Chronicles trilogy was expanded to four books... and then five.
Trrrilling Rrrs: Gryphons tend to speak this way, although some, like Skandranon, can manage perfect diction. They also have a touch of Snake Talk.
Tyke Bomb: Ancar of Hardorn is one of the single most successful examples (at least until Rage Against the Mentor started kicking in after several years on the throne). The irony is that he was Hulda's second choice — Elspeth would have become this had Talia not interfered, and a much more powerful one to boot due to being a potential Adept.
Uncoffee: Bitteralm appears to be this verse's coffee equivalent (though most people just stick to strong tea).
Queen Selenay's relationship with her eldest daughter was complicated well into the latter's adulthood by the former's fear that she subconciously regarded her as this. The fact that Elspeth looked a fair bit like her father did not help.
Vanyel Ashkevron's early life is a perfect example. His father instructs his armsmaster to beat Vanyel so badly that he breaks his arm, rather than accept that his son is not going to live up to his standards of "manliness".
Talia was The Unfavorite of her father and his several wives, to point that she gets disowned after running away and is Chosen to be a Herald.
Un-Person: A dire sentence passed by the Eastern Empire onto individuals who have really angered the Emperor. This removes all references to the person from official records, and in the Empire is tantamount to eliminating his or her afterlife.
The Holders and the northern Karsites have a "Shunning" which is more of the I Have No Son variety.
Unreliable Narrator: In the song The Leslac Version, a minstrel trying to sing one of Leslac's hagiographic songs about Tarma and Kethry keeps getting interrupted by Tarma herself, who insists on explaining how it really happened. Her version is a lot less heroic and a lot more amusing. In fact, Word of God is that Leslac's entire reason for existing is to be an unreliable narrator - she wrote some of the Tarma and Kethry songs before she wrote the stories behind them, so she created Leslac to justify any inaccuracies: Either he failed to do the research when composing the song or he deliberately rewrote the tale to be more dramatic (Which is what happened in The Leslac Version, which he personally witnessed).
Unusual Euphemism: "Shaych", short for "shay'a'chern", a Tayledras word meaning "homosexual", which has become a loanword in Valdemaran from the time of Vanyel (introduced by Vanyel, in reference to himself, in fact). In the area of Rethwellan and the other kingdoms to the south of Valdemar, the Shin'a'in word "she'chorne" is used. "Fey" is also used pretty generally, presumably because of its rhyming similarity to "gay" and implication of otherness.
Vengeance Feels Empty: At the end of Take A Thief, the person responsible for Bazie's (Skif's thief-mentor) death is killed by Skif. When Alberich asks, Skif says he's not happy, because "there weren't no justice" — the man got a quick death, and can't be hauled into court to answer for everything else he was behind.
The Verse: The name of the planet on which the series takes place is Velgarth, but this is never mentioned other than in the introduction of the first trilogy written.
Villain Decay: Justified and actually invoked in-universe in the form of Ma'ar, as his method for cheating death down the centuries gradually damages his psyche more and more, until the heroes are finally able to bring him down in Winds of Fury. Mind you, even in his emotionally-crippled, erratic, semi-functional latest incarnation, he's still terrifyingly competent and thorough, and it's revealed later that the gods have been very carefully planning this—allowing him to reincarnate time and time again—until he can be killed in just such a way as to preserve the knowledge he carried over from the Mage Wars.
Vomiting Cop: Chapter 9 of Changes turns into an episode of CSI: Haven when four enemy spies are found dead. Two summertime days of decomposition make several hardened Guardsmen "violently ill," but the Special Squad of CSIs are unfazed.
Weapon Wields You: Need's ability to turn a physically unskilled bearer into a master swordfighter is mostly a case of Instant Expert. In the hands of someone untrained in either magic or combat, however, the sword can and will hijack its bearer's body completely, as Kerowyn discovers in the early chapters of By the Sword.
We Can Rule Together: A truly astonishing number of villains try this ploy on Vanyel. It never works, but it doesn't stop them from trying. To be fair, he'd be a great guy to have on your side rather than fighting you.
We Have Reserves: Accurately sums up the attitude of both Ancar and Falconsbane towards military tactics, and also nearly wipes out the Skybolts.
Also Deconstructed with Hardorn—it's suggested that, if Ancar hadn't been killed when he was, he'd have wiped out his own people.
Vanyel is troubled by this for a significant portion of his life... not so much to get his father to approve of his accomplishments as to approve of him.
Subverted in Winds of Fate with Darkwind and his father. In his youth, Darkwind was close to his parents. But when the Heartstone was sabotaged, and Darkwind's mother died, his father turned against him. It turns out that Darkwind's father is Mind Controlled by the Big Bad and is deliberately trying to drive his son away to protect him, in the only way he can. When the spell is broken, Darkwind is amazed at the change in his personality and wonders how he could have failed to notice.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The second book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy features a Tayledras Heartstone in (what was then) a small nation on Valdemar's frontier, which is holding together a fault line. Fast forward several centuries to the Mage Storms trilogy, and all the mages are scrambling to make sure nothing goes wrong with the Heartstone in Haven due to the storms, but the other one is never addressed; it could conceivably have mended the fault line and gone inactive by then, but it's never mentioned one way or the other.
What the Hell, Hero?: Firesong gets lambasted in the Mage Storms trilogy for his fits of jealous rage over An'desha's friendship with Karal. It turns out he was being driven crazy by the storms themselves, so all ends up forgiven.
When She Smiles: Talia is often regarded this way, since she's serious so much of the time. During her wedding preparations, Jeri laments, "Two hours I spend on her, and in the blink of an eye he makes everything I've done look insignificant!"
Wife Husbandry: Reversed; Hulda raised Ancar to be a tyrant king, and being his lover was merely a part of that. Also subverted in that Hulda regards him as merely a tool and is more than willing to cast him aside once he outlives his usefulness.
Talia is precocious enough as a thirteen year old girl to have an insightful conversation with Queen Selenay before even knowing who she is. This as much as her empathy makes her ideally suited to be the Queen's Own.
In Exile's Valor, Alberich speculates that the Herald's training is a rushed maturation process. By the time most Heralds are graduated at 18 years, they are as mature as people in their 30s.
The traumatic awakening of Lavan Firestorm's powers leaves him mentally fragile and only his bond with his Companion keeps him sane and his power in check. When she dies, all bets are off.
This almost certainly would have happened to Vanyel, were it not for his mentor's relationship with the Tayledras.
Talia has an early bout with this, due to her abilities as The Empath and the fact that the Collegium critically failed when training her, leaving her completely unable to control her gift. Kris, under circumstances that amount to direct divine intervention, manages to get her Gift trained before she loses it completely, but nearly gets killed while doing so.
Wizarding School: There are several schools of magic, with White Winds being the most mentioned one, that has several branches since all graduating mages that reach Master or Adept level are supposed to found schools of their own. Tarma and Kethry end up starting a combination fighting/mage school towards the end of Oathbreakers. In the Owls trilogy, it's mentioned that a Mage Collegium was set up so that non-Herald Mages can get training and learn to use their magic ethically.
The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Many Queens (and Kings, for that matter) of Valdemar would be this, save for the Monarch's Own Herald whose job it is to act as an absolutely trustworthy confidant. Before Talia showed up, Selenay was on the verge of truly falling victim to the isolation of her position, and made some disastrous choices that nearly cost her life and caused her daughter to be a Royal Brat. Upon coming of age, Elspeth renounces the throne in order to avoid a similar fate.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: In-Universe. Vanyel discovers to his dismay, near the beginning of Magic's Promise, that people fear him as a potentially one. A Herald himself goes to serve Vanyel, rather than sending a page and risking a Freak Out that blows up the Palace (or even the entire city of Haven).
World-Wrecking Wave: The Cataclysm, which takes the form of waves of magical energy emanating from the twin foci of Ma'ar and Urtho's citadels. Where the interaction of the waves produces a "crest", massive destruction is wrought even by comparison with the original purely physical blast. In Mage Storms, the Valdemaran artificers plan much of the Allies' defense against the storms on the basis of a geometric analysis of the wave patterns.
You Didn't Ask: Elspeth is infuriated when she finds out that her Companion, Gwena, never bothered to tell her that she is also a mage. Or Grove-born.
You! Exclamation: Mags receives one from the mad foreign assassin at the end of Foundation. His search to discover why the unknown assassin recognises him links in to discovering the identity of his parents, with both questions at least partially answered in the fourth book and completely resolved in the fifth.