The Last Herald-Mage Series
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Published By: DAW Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Mercedes Lackey sees herself as a storyteller. It’s her job, she states on her website, and a job well done in my opinion. Fantasy novels aren’t the only forms of literature Lackey is interested in. She has also received acclaim for the lyrics she has written for Firebird Arts & Music , a small recording company that specializes in science fiction folk music. She often combines her lyrical work with her fantasy novels, weaving tales within tales.
Mercedes Lackey strives to make certain that her characters are unique in their own ways. She does not deal in stereotypes. Never is this more apparent than in her series of novels entitled The Last Herald-Mage.
The first novel in the series, Magic’s Pawn, introduces the reader to Vanyel Ashkevron, first-born son to a tyrant of a man named Lord Withen. Vanyel dares to question things. He dares to learn different fighting styles than those beaten into him by the Arms Master. He dares to love beauty and have a talent for music. He dares to defy his father in all of these things. For this, he is sent into exile to live with his aunt Herald Savil. What was meant to be a punishment, turns into a blessing as Vanyel learns to love living in Valdemar. Though confused about a great many things and distrustful in the beginning, Vanyel begins to realize that not everyone is the enemy. He also realizes that his talents do not only lie in music. Vanyel has the ability to work both Herald and Mage magic - a rare talent indeed.
Mercedes Lackey’s efforts to incorporate lessons in her novels should be commended. In this novel, the hero is not only different in that he can wield magic – he is a homosexual. Throughout the novels, Lackey uses her characters to impart the message that homosexuality is something the individual is born with and not a choice. Another powerful message her characters deliver is that of acceptance. The world of Valdemar is by no means perfect and the reader is shown both sides of the issue – reasons for denial as well as acceptance – through the thoughts and reactions of the characters in the novel.
Magic’s Pawn is more than just a tale of good versus evil. The reader is drawn in as Vanyel struggles in his acceptance of his powers, his sexuality, and his new role in a world that had once labeled him an outcast and often still does. Although the characters in Mercedes Lackey’s novels have powers the reader can only dream of, the issues they face are often one’s that any reader can relate to. One could say that Lackey herself is gifted with mage powers, as each novel mesmerizes the reader so entirely that he or she can scarcely put the book down. In fact, once the novel has been completed, the reader will find his/herself yearning for the next installment in the series, eager to discover what trials Vanyel has yet to experience. Magic’s Pawn is an experience that no fantasy enthusiast would want to miss.
In Magic’s Promise, Vanyel Ashkevron is now a 28-year-old man and a full Herald-Mage. He is so powerful that all those who hear about him are either fearful or are in awe of him. Unfortunately, it is that very power which makes him invaluable to the kingdom of Valdemar. Vanyel has been through many trials and has lost many a friend to the outbreak of war on the Karsite borders. Having just returned from this very war, all Vanyel is looking for is some time to rest and restore. Although he loathes visiting his parents, Vanyel believes that this will be the only way to get some rest before the King sends him on another mission. But his return to his homeland is anything but restful. Unrest is brewing along his homeland's borders and it is feared that mage-work is at its root. Vanyel must investigate and bring the evil-doer to task before more devastation can be unleashed on his people.
Throughout this novel, we begin to see Vanyel in a very different light. He has matured a great deal and is willing to face people and places that have caused him pain in the past. He is willing to put that pain aside in the hopes of bringing some peace and closure to his life. Although his family finds it hard to accept all that is Vanyel, they have come to see him as a man they can be proud of. When Vanyel gives a newly Chosen Herald sanctuary at Forst Reach, his actions are unquestioned and the Ashkevrons protect the young man despite the rumors that he has killed his family with powers that he could not control. In fact, the Ashkevron family’s trust in Vanyel is so great as to cause all those in Forst Reach to offer the utmost protection to the lad while Vanyel conducts his own investigation of the events at Highjorune.
Readers will quite possibly find this second installment of The Last Herald-Mage to be more enjoyable than the first. While the last novel was very dark, this novel has a sense of humor. Light moments are interspersed throughout the novel giving the reader some respite from the dark and brooding character Vanyel can often be. Many are the playful quips between Vanyel, his aunt, and his Companion, eliciting quite a few chuckles from the reader…and some dubious looks for those around him not privy to the humor.
Also enjoyable is the fact that Vanyel has grown up. Gone is the whiny teenager asking why and bemoaning his fate. He’s now an adult who has begun to take control of his life. Vanyel’s lost love and life bonded, Tylendel, figures heavily in this novel as Vanyel finally comes to terms with Tylendel’s death and his survival. The reader will find that there is a great deal of closure in this novel, even though it is only the second installment in the trilogy. Mercedes Lackey’s literary magic is still as powerful as ever, completely capturing the reader in her spell and refusing to let go even after the last sentence has been read.
With a title like Magic’s Price, one can assume that some very painful lessons of life were about to be forced on Herald-Mage Vanyel Askevron. That would be a fair and accurate assumption. This novel begins about a decade after the events in Magic’s Promise. With the health of King Randale failing, Valdemar’s enemies are keeping a careful watch on the Kingdom of Valdemar. Conscious of the growing threat to peace brought on by the King’s eminent death, Vanyel has discovered a way to keep Valdemar safe by linking all of the Heralds together through magic. He is one of the last Herald-Mages and being that the Herald-Mage is a rare commodity in Valdemar, protection of its borders must expand from Herald-Mages only to that of all of the Heralds in the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Journeyman Bard Medren comes up with an idea that he thinks will help both King Randale and his Uncle Vanyel. It would appear that his roommate Stefen is a tremendously gifted Bard in his own right. Stefen is able to soothe pain with his voice and instrumental talent. Medren is convinced that Stefen can use this gift to help ease the pain, if not cure the ills of the ailing King. The fact that Stefen is also “shaych”, the Valdemar term for homosexual, fair on the eyes, and a good match for his “shaych” uncle had not escaped Medren’s attention. Medren is unable to accept Vanyel’s isolationist attitude. While he understands that his uncle is doing his best to keep those he loves safe from harm, Medren is convinced that Vanyel is cheating himself at life and happiness.
Medren seems right on both counts: Stefen’s bardic talents have a profound effect on King Randale’s health and somehow, Stefen succeeds in befriending Vanyel. What Medren doesn’t know is that something mystical is at foot concerning Stefen and Vanyel’s relationship; something that will virtually ensure that Vanyel and Stefen will become more than friends in the future.
Unfortunately, just as things are starting to look very promising for the kingdom and for Vanyel’s love life, a series of events begin to unfold that spell doom for the Herald and all those he holds dear. Vanyel soon discovers that he has created the new Herald network none too soon, for the Herald-Mages are succumbing to unexplainable deaths at a rapid rate. When Vanyel discovers that the source behind these deaths is something he has been having nightmares about for much of his life, he realizes that he is the only one that can stop this new threat to the kingdom.
Magic’s Price is a tale of anguish and pain. Some folks will find some of the violence hard to stomach – this is definitely the darkest novel in The Last Herald-Mage series. But despite the vengeance and violence, there are many answers to be found in this novel. The reader will put the book down realizing quite a few things about the characters he / she thought she knew. Many a puzzle is solved in this novel, such as the scarcity of the Herald-Mage gift and the source of Vanyel’s haunting nightmares. With Magic’s Price, Mercedes Lackey ties up all loose ends in The Last Herald Mage series, leaving the reader with a feeling of satisfaction.
The Last Herald-Mage series by Mercedes Lackey is a rollercoaster ride of emotion, intrigue, action and suspense and one that surely should not be missed.