Book Review: Magic’s Pawn (The Last Herald-Mage) by Mercedes Lackey

Magic’s Pawn

Series: The Last Herald-Mage, #1

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

Magecraft –

Though Vanyel has been born with near-legendary abilities to work both Herald and Mage magic, he wants no part of such things. Nor does he seek a warrior’s path, wishing instead to become a Bard. Yet such talent as his if left untrained may prove a menace not only to Vanyel but to others as well. So he is sent to be fostered with his aunt, Savil, one of the famed Herald-Mages of Valdemar.

But, strong-willed and self-centered, Vanyel is a challenge which even Savil can not master alone. For soon he will become the focus of frightening forces, lending his raw magic to a spell that unleashes terrifying wyr-hunters on the land. And by the time Savil seeks the assistance of a Shin’a’in Adept, Vanyel’s wild talent may have already grown beyond anyone’s ability to contain, placing Vanyel, Savil, and Valdemar itself in desperate peril.

Rating: Unforgettable, Heart-touching, Characters like nowhere else!

The Review (Part One):

Firstly, the book description/overview is horrible. I have no idea who wrote it, but it’s really wrong on a lot of key points, so I am first going to provide you with my basic summary of the book.

Vanyel is the son of a landed family; his father desperately wants to turn him into a properly manly warrior, while Vanyel is not used to such a brute-forced based fighting style and is a talented musician; he wants to a bard. After he is beaten by Jervis, his father’s Armsmaster, Vanyel is fostered with his good-hearted but tactless aunt, the Herald-Mage Savil, even though he has no active Herald or Mage gifts.

Vanyel soon meets Savil’s most talented protege, the young Herald-Mage Trainee, Tylendel. Vanyel is slowly attracted to Tylendel, despite his determination to keep himself aloof and just be the frivolous peacock-pet of the court, something he is very good at. Eventually, Tylendel breaks Vanyel’s ice and the two become secret lovers, because of the rage Vanyel’s father would find himself in and what he might have done with Vanyel as his legal guardian until his age of majority, if it were discovered that Vanyel is shay’a’chern – that he has homosexual preferences.

But when Tylendel’s beloved twin is killed by a feuding family and Vanyel nurses Tylendel back to health, Vanyel’s secret is out, but that isn’t the worst of it. The half-mad Tylendel asks Vanyel to lend his latent powers to a rashly-conceived spell of vengeance. Unimagined disaster strikes the pair of them, and Vanyel’s latent powers are suddenly awakened to their full strength, giving him a Mage-gift so strong no one has ever seen its like before. With the newly-chosen Herald-Trainee traumatized and with full-strong unshielded gifts, the Herald-Mages of Haven are taxed to their limits, and Savil eventually realizes they must take Vanyel to the Tayledras Adepts if he is to be saved from his own powers.

This is one of my absolutely favorite stories ever, and I don’t even know where or how to begin. It starts delightfully, deliciously slow, with Vanyel’s life in his father – Lord Withen’s – mansion, his relationship with his loving, protective sister Lissa who actually seems to be quite a bit more what Withen wants out of a male child than Van himself is, his love of music, his dreams of being a bard, his utter frustrations and his misery at the hands of the Armsmaster, Jervis. Everybody around Vanyel thinks him an arrogant snot who’s nothing but full of himself and thinks he deserves the world, but it’s just the surface: a coping mechanism Vanyel has to deal with his situation, and even from the beginning, that’s obvious. He’s not really arrogant or a snot, but he is lost.

I just loved it, this is a story about Vanyel. Who he is, what he feels, why he acts and thinks the way he does, and not in a way that makes it less about the other people in the story. It’s about Vanyel. Not about this thing happening or that thing happening, but Vanyel, his life, his person, the people around him, his relationships or lack thereof.

So, when he’s sent to the court at Haven with his aunt Savil, one of the things that gets to happen to Vanyel is that he gets weapons-training that actually suits him (don’t ask me why I bothered to mention that). But he also gets to try out at Bardic Collegium to see if he has what it takes to be a Bard. And he is a great musician, but he doesn’t have the talents to be a Bard like he wants. And that crushes Vanyel. He feels like there’s nothing in anything for him. He stops playing; what use is the music he loves if he can’t be a Bard? It all just hurts too much, so he becomes the prancing peacock of the court who the girls fawn over soon enough (not that he’s interested in their attractions). After all, what is in life for him? What can he do? Everyone betrays him or turns against him soon enough (of course, he’s misinterpreted his aunt Savil’s tactlessness). So he’s trapping himself in an ice-dream. His arrogance is just a way for him to try to deal with his own feelings of hurt and self-worthlessness.

And, I just have to show this interaction between Van and the other young people at the court:

“So he charged straight at them –”

“Which was a damn fool thing to do if you ask me,” Vanyel said, his brows creasing.

“But – it takes a brave man –” the young man protested weakly.

“I repeat, it was a damn fool thing to do,” Vanyel persisted. “Totally outnumbered, no notion if the party behind him was coming in time – great good gods, the right thing to do would have been to turn tail and run! If he’d done it convincingly, he could have lead them straight into the arms of his own troops! Charging off like that could have gotten him killed!”

“It worked,” Liers sulked.

“Oh, it worked all right, because nobody in his right mind would have done what he did!”

“It was the valiant thing to have done,” Liers replied, lifting his chin.

Vanyel gave up; he didn’t dare alienate these youngsters. They were all he had –

“You’re right, Liers,” he said, hating the lie. “It was a valiant thing to have done.”

The fools were as bad as his brother; he could not, would never get it through their heads that there was nothing “romantic” about getting themselves hacked to bits in the name of Valdemar or a lady. That there was nothing uplifting about losing an arm or a leg or an eye. That there was nothing, nothing “glorious” about warfare.

It’s really not that special of a snippet, but it shows personality, and it shows Vanyel still caring, on some level, and his depression and dejection.

Then, slowly, Tylendel breaks down his walls, at first without noticing it. It’s heart-touching how the bond between them grows. This was the first book where I ever enjoyed a romance, and it’s a romance with no drama. Just tenderness, working through Van’s constant fear of being rejected or turned against relationally, and the two of them trying and loving, with all their flaws, and the love that grows between them. They don’t ever fight once. Van is far more dependent on ‘Lendel than he should be, unused to, unable to, make his own way, his own thoughts, his own choices, too dependent on ‘Lendel’s aid and approval. But there is a strong mutual dependency that’s very loving and tender between them, and it’s not obvious that ‘Lendel should be pushing him away, to make decisions on his own, harder at this point. It’s not obvious that Van isn’t – wouldn’t be, if something didn’t go horribly wrong – going in the right direction with their relationship, that given the situation they’re in, and Van’s past and his flaws and hurts, whether they could be doing better on that regard.

Vanyel put his own hand over the one touching his cheek, and held it, warming it in his own. “What am I, then?”

“You’re my partner, my equal, my friend – and my love. Vanyel, I didn’t say this in so many words last night – but I do love you.”

Those words were not expected; certainly the implied level of commitment was not what Vanyel had expected. “But –” he stuttered, not sure whether what he was feeling was joy or fear.

“Van, I know we haven’t known each other long, but I do love you,” Tylendel said, ignoring the ‘but,’ holding Vanyel’s gaze with his own. “And I love you because I love you; not because I owe you anything or because some god somewhere decided I was going to be a Herald, or because you’re a beloved teacher. I love you because you’re Vanyel, and we belong together, and together we can stand back-to-back against anything.”

Much to his confusion, Vanyel felt his eyes start burning. “I don’t – really know what to say,” he replied, blinking hard. “Except – ‘Lendel, I think after last night – I can’t ever remember being this happy. I’ve never loved anyone, I don’t know what it’s like, but if –” He tried to say what he felt. “ – if wanting to die for you is love –”

His eyes burned; he rubbed at them with his free hand, and tried to put his feelings into coherent words. He groped after his thoughts, totally awkward and altogether out of his depth, but he needed to articulate his bewildering emotions.

I have never read a book like this! A book about people, persons, one person and the people around him, about love, like this. It’s like, it’s about a love that’s a romance, yes, but it’s not about romance or love-as-romance as opposed to – love. I absolutely can’t say what it’s like, so that’s why I share these snippets even though they are so dreadful and inadequate out of context, away from the rest of the book, everything else, but maybe they will do a little!

And all the characters are developed so well. Tylendel and his feelings, his struggles and flaws, his love and strength, stars, throw all my words out because they’re not right and this is why I read novels!

And here’s a snippet from before Vanyel opens up to ‘Lendel, opens himself up and starts to live.

Tylendel was sprawled carelessly across the grass in the garden, reading. Vanyel watched him from behind the safety of his window curtains, half-sick with conflicting emotions. The breeze was playing with the trainee’s tousled hair almost the same way it had in his dream.

He shivered and closed his eyes. Gods. Oh, gods. Why me? Why now? And why, oh why, him? Savil’s favorite protege –

He clutched the fabric of the curtain as if it were some kind of lifeline, and opened his eyes again. Tylendel had changed his pose a little, leaning his head on his hand, frowning in concentration. Vanyel shivered and bit his lip, feeling his heart pounding so hard he might as well have been running footraces.

Tylendel smiled suddenly at something he was reading; Vanyel’s heart nearly stopped and he wanted to cry. If only he’d smile at me that way – oh gods, I can’t, I can’t, I daren’t trust him, he’ll only turn on me like all the others.

Like all the others.

He turned away from the window, invoking his shield of indifference with a sick and heavy heart.

If only I dared. If only I dared.

Something else to mention – it’s hard to believe the book is as short as it is (I don’t actually know how long it is; it isn’t huge). There’s so much of the characters in there. Also – and this is actually a sign how much I loved the book and the characters – there are a number of places where the scene was cut and I just wanted to know what Vanyel or Savil or ‘Lendel or whoever it was said, did, and thought next! And, when she comes into the story after Vanyel’s Gifts are awakened, I loved the Companion Yfandes, her fierce gentle protectiveness, her kindness, how much of a friend she is to Van, I loved her so much!

And one of the things about this book – Vanyel tries to be arrogant, or thinks he is a coward, and sometimes other people think he’s nothing but the mask on the surface, but deep inside, past what others know, past what even he knows – he’s someone who cares. Feels. Loves. Tries.

Now, for Part Two. It’s not really going to be any different, but I just decided to make an arbitrary break for those who prefer to avoid ‘spoilers’. Personally it makes no sense to me, especially with a book like this, that’s all about characters and not about the suspense or plot twists at all! (It seems almost an offense to me to call anything a spoiler). But to each his own, so … some of what follows isn’t a spoiler, but some of it might be.

The Review (Part Two):

To provide a bit more of backstory, Tylendel has a mind-link with his twin, Staven, who has become Lord Holder at an early age due to an on-going feud responsible for the deaths of both his parents. In addition to the mind-link, Tylendel and Staven have always been very close, Staven supporting Tylendel when no one else would. When Staven is killed, Tylendel goes into shock and almost dies. Only Vanyel’s love and care brings him back again, but even so Tylendel is half-mad and driven by an unreasoning need for revenge that sweeps Vanyel, who hasn’t yet learned to think for himself about things, along with it, when Tylendel begs Vanyel to help him with his scheme.

On a festival night, Tylendel uses Vanyel’s energies to make a Gate – something no one else thought was possible, but which ‘Lendel could do since Vanyel has mage-potential and is his life-bonded partner – to Gate to where the Lesharas, the other family in the feud, are celebrating. Using Van’s energies for the Gate opens Van’s nascent Gifts, but drains Vanyel’s energies. Tylendel then goes through and calls up terrifying wyrsa for his revenge on the Leshara. His Companion, the white horse-shaped being named Gala whose Choice makes him a Herald-trainee, repudiates him and fights the wyrsa who would kill the common people who are celebrating just as much as anyone who is actually at fault. The breaking of the Herald-Companion bond and her death throws Tylendel utterly disconsolate and bereft, and Savil and the Herald-Mages arrive only just in time to take the situation in hand and save Vanyel from the Gate-Spell.

Tylendel half-suicides, and poor Vanyel, sick with magical shock and backlash and with the loss of his lifebonded, flees into the night, convinced that he is at fault and that it’s his fault his love is dead. That’s when the Companion Yfandes, the only full-grown Companion who hasn’t chosen for ten years, finds him and takes him under her wing. She’s so sweet and I liked Yfandes so much. It’s a while before Vanyel really opens up to her in some ways, since he’s so sick and hurt, but she’s such a companion, so loving, so fiercely gentle and protective, kind and open also. She’s such a friend to him. And I just loved how sweet and supportive and protective she is while he’s hurt. She’s as protective as a mother tiger. I loved how much Yfandes loves Vanyel.

With his newly-awakened Gifts, Vanyel is incredibly sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings, and an insensitive watcher helps him to develop the notion that his love for Tylendel was the reason ‘Lendel died. So, even though he’s so sick he can hardly walk, he tries to get away and commit suicide. Yfandes is the first to notice and appears on the door he’s locked himself on the other side of, squealing and trying. Skies, I’m rambling about this book. I just want to say, I really, really, really liked it!

And when Savil finally takes Vanyel to the Tayledras, the Hawkbrothers, who are the only people who can contain his wild gifts, and the only people who might be able to help him, I liked them so much, especially the Healer-Adept, Moondance. Moondance is such a person, with so much personality, and sometimes even he makes mistakes, but he’s so sweet, young, supremely caring, open to pain, never shrinking back, loving, caring, feeling, opening himself, forgiving, healing. He’s been through some stuff himself – he actually killed his first lover by accident, but that person wasn’t his life-bonded – and now he’s life-bonded to the Tayledras Adept, Starwind. He’s the sort of person who’s a friend, never superior.

And I loved Vanyel! In a panic after a dream of ForeSight, in which he’s guarding a mountain pass alone and going to die, Vanyel blocks everyone and everything out and runs away as far as he can. He comes to his senses eventually and realizes he was being pretty stupid. Then he hears a panicked need and, without even thinking, runs towards it.

He arrives to see a queen cold-drake devastating a little farmhold. He later feels really bad about himself for being an uncaring coward, because he just sits there paralyzed, while an old grandfather attacks the drake and gets killed by her … only to be freed from his paralysis at that moment, spring forward, and hit the cold-drake with all the mage-power he has, killing her (and collapsing).

That’s not the last thing that happens, but I think it will do for the review, since I can’t say everything I thought or felt about this book. There’s such depth to it that can’t exist in a review, outside of the whole story, which is the proof of being a really good story! I just wish I could actually say how much I liked it!!

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

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One thought on “Book Review: Magic’s Pawn (The Last Herald-Mage) by Mercedes Lackey

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Magic’s Promise (The Last Herald-Mage) by Mercedes Lackey – Enthralled By Love

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