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WesternSFA


The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy
by Mercedes Lackey;
DAW books; $18; 859pp
Published: February 2016

This is a compilation of the three books about Vanyel, the last Herald-Mage of Valdemar: Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price. Though this makes for a pretty unwieldy book, it is great to have all three of these terrific novels between one cover.

The first book, Magic’s Pawn is as gripping and as tense a novel as I’ve ever read. The kind where you are holding the book so tightly, your fingers are stiff when you finally put it down. The story of Vanyel, an unloved heir of Forst Reach whose father wants him to be a big gruff armsman (as he is) but finds Vanyel is a better musician than a brute of a soldier, is fraught with so much pain and suffering. Vanyel is no wuss, languishing in window seats; he has a sinuous way of fighting, constantly moving that frustrates the head armsmaster Jervis to no end. Vanyel doesn’t just start fighting by bashing and slashing his opponent; he darts in and out and as a moving target is hard to hit. And this irritates Jervis no end.

Finally, Jervis decides to take his anger out on the quicksilver fifteen-year-old boy and bashes the stuffing out of him until he breaks’ Vanyel’s arm and otherwise messes him up something terrible before he’s stopped.

Vanyel’s life in his home has been a constant nightmare: he wants to be a Bard—but finds when finally tested, he is simply a very talented musician and singer---but not quite Gifted enough to be a Bard. Vanyel constantly doubts himself and wonders just who he is—since he never seems to please either his mother or father, or Jervis, or the keep’s priest and only one sister Lissa loves him unreservedly---his other brothers don’t know what to make of him.

Finally Vanyel’s father washes his hands of his son and heir and sends him off to his aunt Savil in Haven (where the reigning royalty of Valdemar is, and the kingdom collegiums for Bards, Heralds and Healers are centered.) Here, at last, Vanyel comes into his own, surrounded by people who have his best interests at heart.

And are not disturbed by the fact that Vanyel is gay.

Magic’s Pawn, published in 1989, took a great leap forward by having the central character gay. Vanyel is a young man struggling to settle into himself, to grow and change, to accept  what he is and make himself even more than simply being shaych (as Lackey names gays in her world). And to become, in time, the last Herald-Mage of Valdemar.

And what a character Vanyel is! Complicated, tortured, moral to a fault, always questioning and finally when faced by a tremendous tragedy, collapsing into soul-wrenching grief that is so hard to read without crying.  Vanyel also finds his lifebond soul mate in Tylendel, a Herald trainee that his aunt Savil has been mentoring. Tylendel brings out the best in Vanyel and shows him true love. They’re a wonderful couple and it is so heart-filling to have Vanyel finally find someone who loves him for who he is and brings him happiness.  But of course, nothing lasts forever and their story has such an ending it’s a bitch slap that made me gasp.

This is a gripping, nigh on stranglingly engrossing book.

The second novel, Magic’s Promise presents a world-wearied Vanyel. It is twelve years later and the Herald-Mage is returning to Valdemar from dealing with border wars and incursions. He is exhausted and looks forward to rest in Haven, the capital of Valdemar.  What he finds is a letter from his family asking him to come for a long overdue visit home at Forst Reach.  Though leery of his parent’s invitation, Vanyel decides it is certainly time to face his old memories and his parents. He is older and more centered than when he left a terrified bewildered teen. He is now the renowned Herald-Mage Vanyel, hero of story and song.

But of course this is not a simple visit. He has barely settled down, when he gets a mental cry of utter terror from a relatively nearby small province, Lineas on the Borderlands and he and his Aunt Savil, his family armsmaster Jervis go to see what the matter is.  Ooh, it’s hellish. They reach the royal castle Highjorune to find everyone has been horribly slaughtered (torn to pieces) and the only one left standing is one 12-year-old boy named Tashir. And of course, he’s the suspect, because it turns out, he has just been Chosen by one of the wonderful fey horses that every Herald in Valdemar have as a Companion. So Tashir has suddenly come into his power. Everyone thinks, because he is untested, that his magic went berserk and killed everyone in the castle. But the boy can’t remember what really happened.

Vanyel is able to rescue the boy from the angry people outside the castle who want to blame him for the massacre and take him to Vanyel’s family home.  Vanyel, Savil, their Companions and the armsmaster do NOT think Tashir has done this horror. Some Mage adept created the magical havoc and made it look like Tashir did it.

To solve the issues of the rogue magic at Highjorune Vanyel decides to return to the city surrounding the keep. Performing as a raggedy bard in a rundown tavern, Vanyel tries to find rumors and rumors of rumors to see if he can discover just what really happened. He finally pieces together enough information that convinces him that he, Savil, Jervis and Tashir need to return and enter the keep where the massacre occurred and discover what kind of magic had been used.

Vanyel discovers a tremendously powerful magic node beneath the castle. Vanyel also discovers that the royal family of Lineas has for generations been bound to the power of the land, to keep the power node stable. And Tashir, whom his father declared a bastard, really is part of the royal family and no by-blow. But Vedric, a nasty mage and Tashir’s uncle, was working for another small province named Baires that wants to absorb and rule Lineas. Vedric is responsible for the terrible destruction of the Linean royal family.

Again---the tension and drama in this novel are ratcheted up to the highest degree when Vanyel finally confronts Vedric and takes him on in an awesome magic duel. The end is another OMG finish like the first book---terrifying and wondrous at the same time.

The third novel, Magic’s Price brings events full circle. Someone is killing all the Herald-Mages of Valdemar, and has been doing so for years, finding them even as youngsters and slaughtering them before they come into their power.

In Haven, King Randale, in a great deal of chronic pain, is slowly dying and none of the Healers can help him. But what is discovered is a Bard, named Stefen, who’s been studying at the Bardic collegium, has the ability to dissipate pain by singing. He is instantly brought to Randale to see if his music works---and it does! King Randale is able to deal with his councilors and duties with no pain.

For everyone close to Randale, it’s a miracle. The populace in general only knows that the King is better. (If everyone knew Stefen’s ability he’d be wrung dry of his energy by everyone who needed his Gift.) What is wonderful in this tale is that everyone around Vanyel sees that Stefen is in love with the Herald-Mage. But Vanyel—too worried that anyone he lets get close to him will be the target of assassins as his family becomes, that he won’t allow Stefen emotionally near.

Vanyel’s parents are convinced to leave Forst Reach and are moved to Haven to keep them safe (there are several attempts on their lives, as well as Vanyel’s). Once back in Haven, slowly but slowly, Vanyel is convinced by the steadfast Stefen  who is considerably younger than Vanyel, that he truly loves Vanyel—and is not infatuated with him.

We readers learn, after a visit to the Tayledras—the mysterious, reclusive folk of the north, that there is a very strong reason Stefen and Vanyel are attracted to each other. A reason Vanyel is never really told. (He does eventually figure it out). Beyond binding Vanyel and Stefen together heart-to-heart, the focus of this novel is to discover the Dark Mage who is killing all the Herald-Mages and stop him. Trust me, there are tragedies throughout this novel and the story gets pretty grim.

Vanyel finally confronts the Dark Mage alone. The Dark Mage, who has haunted Vanyel’s dreams throughout these three novels, has come to a mountain pass with an army and a flock of other mages to invade Valdemar. And Vanyel, the Last Herald-Mage, takes him on. The novel ends as it should, with great sadness and hope.

These three novels are just a rich, satisfying read. The characters, the events; the drama—all were excellent. For those of you who love fantasy---this is a must for your library. And really, the fact that there are three books between the covers should not stop you. This was a steady, compelling read. ~~ Sue Martin

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