Magic’s Pawn

magicspawnTitle: Magic’s Pawn (first book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy)
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: DAW
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.

THE BLURB

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!

THE REVIEW

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.

13 comments

  • This bring back memories, I read this ages ago, in the 90’s. 😀
    Very nice review, it brought a smile to my face.

    I only got to book two before getting tired of the novels and the story. Vanyel was just so annoying in my opinion, he came across as a chick with a dick and there were several ridiculous moments that I can’t remember anything about, just that I thought so.

    “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.”
    I couldn’t agree more, it’s tiresome when the views from our world reflects in this other fantasy world. Isn’t the idea that the plot should introduce new fresh ideas?

    The legal age in Sweden is 15 years, so under-age to me would be 14 or 13, it doesn’t bother me that much as long as it is with someone of the same age.

  • I LOVE this trilogy! I couldn’t get through the earlier-written (but in-story, much later) “arrows” trilogy, which is prob why I never read other books in this universe. I’ve been tempted, though.

    I know other books in the series have GLBT supporting cast (I thought one had a lesbian protag–not sure).

    “no on-page sex, however (in keeping with the YA category)”

    Is it marketed as YA now? It was solidly for adults back then. Despite a young protag, he’s an adult in the next two books. I just don’t think of this trilogy as YA–just my take.

    Re. no on-page sex, IIRC that was the norm for most adult fantasy/science fiction back then. I think a lot of marketed as F/SF (versus M/M, paranormal romance, etc.) still has little on-page sex…or I just read the wrong F/SF, LOL….

    • Hi Kendall, thanks for your comment…

      Re: the YA. I surmised that, based on the number of comments I read (here and there) from young people, or comments from adults who read these books the first time as teens. I also didn’t feel like the writing was very sophisticated, which makes the book accessible to a wider range of readers, young and old. I certainly enjoyed reading it at my ripe old age. LOL.

      As for sex and F/SF–you probably are right. I don’t read much F/SF (that’s why this book was selected for me as a reading challenge…to push me out of my comfort zone). I don’t see the lack of on-page sex as a negative. I mentioned it because I think visitors to this site have very definite ideas about how much sex they do (or don’t) want in a story and I think that is important info to include in a review.

      L

  • Leslie,
    I really did enjoy the series, though book 1 was by far the best in my opinion as I too identified with the ansty Vanyel. I’ve heard that a lot of readers are really turned off by his “whining”, but as you say, to each his own.

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes, I’ve read those “whining” comments but Vanyel didn’t come across that way to me at all. Given the situation he is in and the way he is being treated, especially by his family, I thought his reactions and emotions were entirely appropriate.

      L

  • Hi Wave and Alexi,

    Characters having sex at the age of 15 or 16 don’t bother me at all–whether they are in the real world or a fantasy world far away. But I know some people are adamantly opposed to reading books with “underage” characters (assuming the AOC is 18) and that’s why I included the info. The only books I am adamantly opposed to reading are those by Stephen King. LOL.

    L

    • I could tell that you were just offering a disinterested warning, definitely, Leslie. I was just generally laughing at the idea of going ‘Underage sex! Euw!’ at a pair of sixteen year olds. Cultural differences, I guess.

  • “What amuses me is that this is a fantasy set in a universe far, far away yet other readers might be concerned about the ages of the protagonists when they have sex. This is similar to historical books set in times where there is no AOC yet readers gripe about the ages of the protagonists.”

    You don’t even have to set your novel in a universe far, far away, or a past time period, for this to be funny. In the UK the AOC is 16 for gay and straight people. When I hear ‘underage’ I think 13, 14, 15.

  • Leslie
    >>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.< < What amuses me is that this is a fantasy set in a universe far, far away yet other readers might be concerned about the ages of the protagonists when they have sex. This is similar to historical books set in times where there is no AOC yet readers gripe about the ages of the protagonists. 🙁 Fantasy doesn't follow the doctrines of today's society so this wouldn't bother me. This is why these books are called fantasy. I think I will be reading Magic's Pawn. I was waiting for your review to decide. >>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< < This is exactly why the true fantasy lover would want to read Magic's Promise. We are insatiable about all the details re the world building, wars, etc. 🙂

    • Wave: If you like fantasy at all, I strongly recommend this trilogy. I used to reread them periodically; reading this review makes me feel like picking them up again. 🙂 I don’t agree with everything in the review, but I have a big soft spot for these books and haven’t read them in a while, so take my comments with a grain of salt, I suppose.

  • Hi Alexi, thanks for your comment. I may go ahead and read the third book without bothering to finish the second. I have a pretty good idea of what happens from reading reviews and comments–so I’ll be prepared with my tissues–but it sounds like it has more relationship stuff than the second book and that’s what I enjoy.

    L

    • If you’re in the mood for a really good cry, the last book cannot be beaten. It’s almost cathartic, actually, but I recommend keeping some chocolate nearby, just in case.

  • You’re not alone! I only read these about a year ago. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that I cried *A LOT* while reading the last one, so you may’ve been wise to stop at the first book.

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