Fantasy was still based largely on reality- which is no bad trick. It wasn't until modern day that we started to experience completely religion free examples of magic (Harry Potter, Twilight, most crappy urban fantasy...). Lackey was an example of her time, with lots of mythological references, but she created such driving, immersive and character based stories that she rocketed to the top of the market.
While she started the Valdemar series with "Arrows of the Queen" (based off of a dream she had, although she warns would be writers to avoid the enchanting thought of doing the same- please see "How to Write" for inspiration instead), "By the Sword" is viewed as her debut novel.
Kerowyn is a little sister, a repressed girl with tomboy tendencies, forced to worship and work for Agnetha in her home- the mother aspect of the triple Goddess. Her mother is passed away and her brother is about to get married, her grandmother is a thing of myths and warnings. It sounds like a Disney Film waiting to happen.
Her brother's wedding is stormed and her daydreams come true via nightmares- what's now run of the mill in fantasy, but Lackey did it before it was cool. Her grandmother's magic sword wakes for her and basically saves her as she tracks down her brother's new wife, runs off to a life of mercenaryhood and eventually meets and falls in love with the fabled Heralds of Valdemar.
The mindmagic, the enchantments, the guardian spirits- all of the elements of the story from the traditional to the cliche (the Hawkbrothers are a white version of Native Americans) are true to form and are a great study point for anyone interested in the influence of mythology on modern day fiction.
Overall it's a gripping, if feminist, action packed example of exactly why Mercedes Lackey is one of the richest authors in the history of man.
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