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

Magic’s Promise

Cover for Magic's Promise: Herald-Mage Vanyel with sword drawn and hand-upraised defending a young boy on a young companion with whip marks on his sides. Semi-realism pencil art.Series: The Last Herald-Mage, #2

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

The wild magic is taking its toll on the land. Many Heralds and Herald-Mages have died fighting to preserve the peace. Even Vanyel, the most powerful of the Herald-Mages is almost at the end of his strength, in need of a respite from the dual threats of war and dark magic.

But for Vanyel, there can be no rest. Not when his Companion, Yfandes, receives a summons which can’t be ignored – the desperate cry for help which draws them both into the heart of a magical holocaust in the neighboring kingdom. Almost overwhelmed by the devastation they encounter there, Herald-Mage and Companion must try to unravel this tragic mystery. Is the young Prince, Tashir a newly Chosen Herald who can’t control his own magic, responsible for the destruction? Or is Tashir a pawn in a deeper, more deadly game – and, if so, will Vanyel be able to find and defeat the true destroyer before this master of dark powers can strike again?

Rating: Heart-touching, Unforgettable, Deep, raw characters

The First Review:

It seems the back cover descriptions for these Herald-Mage books are all a little off. This one’s not too bad though, so I won’t bother representing it. (Warning: Contains spoilers for Magic’s Pawn).

Many years have passed since Magic’s Pawn. Vanyel is now the most powerful Herald-Mage in the Heraldic Circle, and a close friend of the new King and Queen. But he is heart-broken and exhausted, drained to the last of his reserves, trying to replace the Herald-Mages who are falling left and right, as Valdemar struggles to protect itself against its enemies in Karse and other, mysterious dark enemies. He lost his lifebonded, Tylendel, long ago, in the same incident that gifted him his Herald and Mage Gifts, and though his Companion Yfandes is his heart and soul’s friend, whose presence allowed him to survive that trauma, he is lonely and only half alive, with few he can even call friends.

And, all he needs is rest. On a hair-trigger from the last years spent defending the border, there are few Vanyel can trust himself not to blast to a cinder if they surprise him, even as depleted as he is. He needs somewhere to recuperate, and the best opportunity he has got is to go on a home visit to his family, as crazy and irritating as they are, and hope they can get how exhausted he is and leave him alone for a few days at least, before besieging him with their demands, wishes, and prejudices.

It’s almost heart-breaking, but with hope all through. One feels so strongly for Vanyel. So dedicated, trying so, so hard, so lonely and needy, but pushing the need right back down, turning right around and trying his best to give as much of the comfort he’s just received to the others who need it – because among his only friends in the world, two are that King and his lifebonded, and the King appears to be slowly dying.

That’s what this story is about. And there’s other people, too, just as complicated. And some of them are pretty bad and we never really learn what’s up with them. But some of the people who contributed to tormenting Vanyel before his aunt, Herald-Mage Savil, took him off to Haven, turn out to be more complicated than Vanyel ever guessed, and others of his family turn out to be complicated, too.

There’s the burden of Vanyel being what he is, too, the hero of songs who single-handedly saved the day. And it might not be quite true, but it’s horribly, horribly close. And sometimes that can matter less than the fact that not only does he not have friends – in part, because he fears to let people too close, lest they be hurt by his enemies, to disable him – but everyone around him looks at him in awe and fear, if respect and gratitude, and doesn’t let him close. Let him just be a man at the inn, eating his meal, having a chat. There’s so much distance even between him and his fellow Heralds. And that’s worse than him being despised for being shay’a’chern – someone who’s sexual interests run towards those of the same gender as themselves. Which he has been thinking is why people don’t let him close, and there are some who are like that, but more who don’t know, and might not care if they did know, but fear and revere him as the most powerful of the Herald-Mages and a hero.

And, hero he might be, but he’s a human being, with so much grief and loneliness to bear, and so exhausted. And he’s so hard on himself, as if he even could make every decision right. And he’s so raw inside, with flaws and weaknesses of his own. And he just can’t seem to get a break. Even out of the way, on his family’s lands, the needs of others, the Valdemar that won’t be defended if he doesn’t defend it, call.

This is a beautiful, beautiful story. Some people think people as dedicated as Vanyel – heroes – are unrealistic. No one can be that devoted, that … perfect. But Vanyel’s human, fragile, hurt, broken sometimes, lonely, so lonely, and sometimes – sometimes, about to give in. Ready to give up and die.

Because sometimes dying is easier than living, and ever since his lifebonded died, there’s been a part of Vanyel’s heart that’s with the Shadow-Lover – Death. If anything, there are moments it seems that what gives Vanyel the strength to carry on might be the knowledge that one day, Death will come for him. Death will come for him, and he will be reunited with his love.

And one of my favourite scenes – Vanyel’s lifebonded, Tylendel, died on a Harvest Festival Night (it’s called Sovven in Valdemar). Those nights are always hard for Van, and one of them falls during the time covered in Magic’s Promise. It’s a time Van really struggles with depression, remembering ‘Lendel’s loss, and more so as he’s so exhausted. I wish I could quote it for you, but it’s pages of interaction, and I’m not good at picking the best quotes out of that. But Van realizes he can remember the good times he had with ‘Lendel, the joy he had, the fact he had a true love, and yes, he’s lonely, and he hurts, but he doesn’t have to remember only the loss. He’ll choose to remember what he had.

He looked once more into the sky – or beyond it. Even he wasn’t sure which.

Good night, ashke. Wherever you are. Wind to thy wings –

And that’s something realized in a word or two in other places in the book. Vanyel had Tylendel. He might sometimes wish he had died that night. But he never wishes he had not had Tylendel. ‘Lendel is the best thing that matters to him, and his love with ‘Lendel is his heart – even after the torment of twelve years alone and knowing only death will end it. He had love. He had joy. And nothing changes that.

“Don’t spoil what you have with what you only think you want, Randale,” he said softly, taking his friend and King’s arm. “This is experience talking. The one thing about the brief time I shared with my love that I have never regretted is that I never consciously did anything to make him unhappy. Had our time been longer, maybe I would have; I can’t ever know. But at least I have no memories of quarrels or hard words to shadow the good memories.”

And – something else. I don’t think I can give you it in a quote or two, but Vanyel’s horse-shaped Companion, Yfandes, feels so real, and so vivid, and she has such a personality. Her care for him is so strong and sweet, and maybe she’s not perfect either, but she loves him, and their bond is the only reason he survived ‘Lendel’s death. And she really, truly does love him. I talked mostly about Van – but in a lot of books, sometimes, familiars or companions or even close friends really don’t get the time or space they deserve, or that I think they deserve. A lot of times, they aren’t really involved in the action, the decision-making, the emotional development. Yfandes totally is. She’s so present, and I loved her, and her personality feels so real.

And, warning: this might or might not be a spoiler. It’s not really a major one, I think, and I can’t imagine it spoiling the book for anyone, but just in case, it somehow does …

Another of my favourite scenes is Vanyel’s brush with Death, where he meets the Shadow-Lover himself – Death. And he gets a choice few have: die, as he would – or continue to live. For while he isn’t the only hope, he is the best: if he dies, it will be much harder for those he loves to protect themselves. And I just can’t sufficiently describe the interactions, or how Vanyel comes to the choice he makes.

“I have never been so grieved – and so glad – to lose,” [Death] said, and touched his lips to Vanyel’s. Their tears mingled on his lips as Vanyel closed his eyes; he tasted them in the kiss, his own salt, bitter tears – and Death’s sweet –

Strong arms closed around him, supporting him, holding him against a comforting shoulder, as Death held him with all the sensitivity of the lover that He could be.

“Vanyel, is it only duty that calls you back?”

“No.” He found another crumb of strength and slowly straightened in the Power’s arms. “No – it’s more than that. Moondance said it a long time ago. I lost my own hearth-fire, but that’s no reason why I can’t warm myself at the hearths of my friends, not when they’ve offered that warmth.” He blinked, and realized that he was smiling. “Not so many friends,” he said, half to himself. “But all of them – good friends.”

“Worth returning for, Vanyel?”

“Yes,” he said simply.

Death actually laughed softly. “So long to learn what Moondance meant?”

“Sometimes I’m a bit dense.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “For some reason, I never had any trouble figuring out what death was all about; but life – that’s taken me till now.”

One of my favourite books ever!

My Review for Book One, Magic’s Pawn

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

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