Title: Magic’s Pawn (first book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy)
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy; Classic (first published in 1989)
Length: Novel; also ebook
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie
IN A NUTSHELL: At age 16, Vanyel Ashkevron is sent from his family home to live and study with his aunt, Shavil. It is a transformational time, with Vanyel learning he is gay, meeting his lifebonded soulmate and through a series of catastrophic events, discovering his previously unknown psychic and magical powers.
In Magic’s Pawn, an ancient age in the history of Valdemar comes to life—an age when the kingdom was ravaged by the ungoverned fury of bandit warlords, ferocious ice dragons, and the wild magic of wizards. A new addition to Lackey’s Valdemar kingdom—and her most powerful series to date!
Leave it to me to be the last person on earth to be introduced to Mercedes Lackey’s books! I participate in a number of “pick it for me” challenges and Magic’s Pawn was selected for me as an April challenge. I don’t usually read fantasy but my “picker” knew that I would probably be drawn in by the gay protagonist—and he was right. I zipped right through this book in a day and was poised to devour the other two books in the trilogy although that hasn’t quite panned out as expected (more on that later).
The main character is Vanyel, who at 16 is a handsome, sensitive young man, slight of build and interested in clothes and music. Unfortunately, he is supposed to be interested in swordfighting and manly pursuits. He is bullied by his younger brother and beaten by the arms master, ending up with a broken arm which puts him out of commission for several weeks. When he finally he heals, he still is resists “what is expected” of him; frustrated, his father, Lord Withen, ships him off to Haven to study with his sister, Savil (Vanyel’s aunt), figuring she’ll whip him into shape.
Vanyel steels himself for what is to come, building a mental fortress around his heart and soul and vowing to prevent anyone from being close to him. For his first few weeks at Haven, Savil mostly ignores him and that suits Vanyel just fine. Then he’s tested to see if he has any bardic power; he doesn’t and his dreams of becoming a musician are crushed. As he mopes around the castle, he finds himself staring at and eventually seeking out Tylendel, a protégé of Savil’s. Tylendel is handsome and gifted, with both Herald (psychic) and Mage (magic) gifts. He’s also shay’a’chern, ie, gay.
For Vanyel, this is a revelation. He never knew that such a thing as homosexuality existed. (Interestingly, it comes out later that Vanyel’s parents suspected he was gay and that was part of the reason his father sent him away—little did he know that he was sending him right into the arms of the man who would become his lover and soulmate!). Tylendel is also attracted to Vanyel and before too much time passes they consummate their relationship, with Savil’s understanding and acceptance.
This basically is the first half of the book, which sets the stage for everything that follows. I don’t want to give too much away—I’ll leave that for the reader to discover—but there’s lots of action and adventure, as well as heartbreak, forgiveness, and redemption. Of course, the ending also leaves the door wide open, enticing the reader into book two, Magic’s Promise.
So…I started Magic’s Promise, right on the heels of finishing Magic’s Pawn, and gave up about halfway in. It was much more about the fantasy world and Herald-Mages using their powers to fight wars, quell rebellions, bring warring factions together, etc., etc. It didn’t interest me nearly as much. I much preferred Vanyel’s process of self-discovery. In reading other reviews, this is precisely what many people don’t like about Magic’s Pawn—they got tired of the moody adolescent who was working hard on growing up. To each his own. The moody adolescent caught my attention and kept me reading.
I did some research on the larger series of the Velgarth universe, of which this book is one. Apparently there are close to 30 books that fully explore the planet of Velgarth, the kingdom of Valdemar (where Haven is located), and the psychic and magic powers of the Herald-Mages. As far as I can tell, however, the three Vanyel books are the only ones with a gay protagonist. I can imagine at the time it was published (1989) this was a bit revolutionary. While homosexuality, in general, is positively portrayed, there are a few stereotypes. Vanyel does seem to swish around and spends quite a bit of time worrying about what color tunic he is wearing and whether or not it sets off the color of his eyes. Savil, while accepting the relationship between Vanyel and Tylendel, forces them to keep it secret. No signs of affection while they are out and about! Lord Withen is quite homophobic and completely disgusted with his son (he’s still disgusted 12 years later when Magic’s Promise opens). And so on. I suppose that for a questioning young person who is reading this book, it provides a context for understanding what he or she is feeling. Even so, in a fantasy world, it would be nice if some of the baggage we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis could miraculously disappear.
To conclude: this was a good book and I enjoyed it, especially since I am not much of a fantasy reader. I don’t think I am going to latch on to the other 29 books in the Velgarth series and start buzzing through them, although if this book had been around when I was 16, I actually might have. The Last Herald Mage series is on Wave’s list of “Readers’ Favourite Gay Books” and if you are working on reading some of the classics, I would definitely recommend this as a worthy of a place on your TBR list.
NB: Vanyel is 16 when he and Tylendel become lovers. There is no on-page sex, however (in keeping with the YA category)—just a chaste kiss and Vanyel’s comment to his father, late in the book, “Yes, I was playing ewe to Tylendel’s ram.” Still, I mention this in the interest of full disclosure as he is an underage character.