"Oathblood" is a very good short story collection.
Some previous reviewers have been rather upset that two of the short stories were put into the original "Oathbound" book. I'm not; I figured that Ms. Lackey needed to put all her short stories in one place, as they were originally published, for two reasons.
One, it helps fans get all the stories in one place.
Two, it helps to understand Tarma and Kethry chronologically if you're buying one of Ms. Lackey's books for the first time. Not everyone who picked this book up had read anything about Tarma or Kethry before; Ms. Lackey basically had to do this.
Although I have nothing wrong with the "commercial" instinct some folks seem to be decrying, I really don't think that's what this was about. (More than any other writer wanting to make a living, that is. And really, what's wrong with that?)
Tarma is a super warrior with a twist; she's a Swordsworn votary of the Shin'a'in goddess, and as such, is "as neutral (sexually) as the blade she bears." (Hope that isn't too bad a paraphrase.) She likes men personally, but has no interest or desire in them, and likes it that way due to a personal tragedy in her past. (Plus, the Shin'a'in goddess takes people as her votaries for various reasons; they're all turned effectively neuter -- the Swordsworn, that is, not others -- so it's just as well Tarma had no real intention to marry after all that anyway. She can't miss what she doesn't want.)
Kethry, on the other hand, is very beautiful, intelligent, spirited, and a strong magic user. As Tarma's partner, originally you'd think they'd never get on. But they do, and quite famously in every respect.
These stories show how their relationship started, how it developed, and the last two stories show Kethry's family (sworn to help Tarma rebuild her lost clan of Tale'sedrin) and how they interact.
I really enjoyed the last two stories. The one about Forst Reach and it's horses (and horsetalking) was very, very funny, and it featured the welcome return of Beaker and Jodi (now paired off) from "Oathbreakers." The very last story featured Jadrie, Kethry's firstborn daughter, and how she helped her mama and Tarma save her two best female friends.
Very uplifting story; very powerful in its own quiet way, and some of the best recent writing Ms. Lackey's done in the Valdemar and related seria since 1996. ("Exile's Honor" is also excellent. I'm really looking forward to "Exile's Valor.")
I'd give this book five stars except for two things: one, the other reviewer is correct that some of these stories were already available in "The Oathbound."
But it's the second that really gets to me, and it's not Ms. Lackey's fault. The second is this; why is the cover so odd? Kethry doesn't look old enough (even if magic does delay the onset of full maturity, she should look older than _this_, and actually, she looks quite the little ... on the cover, doesn't she?), and Tarma looks too beautiful for her characterization. And, more importantly, Tarma looks completely different than she did on the previous two books, "The Oathbound" and "Oathbreakers." (At least Kethry's face is the same. Tarma's isn't.)
What was up with _that_?
Oh, and who's brilliant idea was it to show Warrl not as a wolf-like creature, but as a Siberian husky?
That's the main reason this book doesn't get five stars, and like I said, it had nothing to do with Ms. Lackey. But, as it's a part of the book DAW put out, and I have no other way to complain about it, I'm doing so this way.
Anyway, if you come to this book cold (without reading any previous Tarma and Kethry books), you should be able to understand it. But if you've read the other Tarma and Kethry books, you'll enjoy it more, no question.