Valorian is the first novel in the Dark Horse series, a prequel to the other volumes. "Five hundred years before before the time of Gabria, the mage-heroine of [the other novels], the last remnants of the once great Clans struggle to survive in the barren foothills west of the Darkhorn Mountains." They need to cross the mountains to the vast Ramtharin Plains, but the high peaks and Tarnish Empire hold them back in the Bloodiron Hills.
In this novel, the hunter Valorian has shared meat with a group of Tarnish legionnaires and overheard talk of the legion pulling back to Tarnov, leaving the Ramtharin Plains unoccupied. Also, he heard mention of a Wolfeared Pass in the mountains which is large enough for supply wagons. He begins searching for the pass, but has had no luck for three days. He has wandered up through the foothills onto a ridge crest, but rain shrouds the peaks and drives him to shelter. When the rain blows through, Valorian returns to the crest and calls upon the gods to show him a way to save his people. A bolt of pure power arcs down through his sword and helmet, his body, and his horse to the rocky ground. They are both dead before they know it.
Valorian finds himself in a vast, unutterable silence. He is standing over his own body, and that of his horse, smoke arising from the corpses. However, he is not alone, for Hunnel, his stallion, is also there in spirit, if not quite in body. The land around them is slowly fading away. The two are facing down the Harbringers, the escorts of the dead, when the goddess Amara intervenes to save them.
It seems that some gorthlings have stolen her crown, her brother Sorh thinks her requests for help are a game, and she has no power over her brother's creatures. She asks Valorian and Hunnel to retrieve the crown and gives him the power of magic to use in the quest. She then returns him to the Habringers for escort to the realm of the dead.
When Valorian returns from that realm, he is dirty, tired and has a pounding headache. Moreover, Hunnel has a wound like a brand mark on his side shaped like a lightning bolt. Wondering about his dreams, he mounts Hunnel and goes home. However, he soon learns that he can use magic just as in the dream. Was it a dream or not?
This novel is the backstory of the migration of the clans to the Plains and the occurance of magic users among them. Valorian has other tasks ahead of him, including giving Hunnel the power to mindspeak, before his time is past, but he and his people will now be accompanied by the Dark Horses, Hunnel's descendents.
Recommended for Herbert fans and anyone else who enjoys a good fantasy story about riders of the plains.