Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

What Came Before in the Series:

The first trilogy in the Valdemar Universe is referred to as The Heralds of Valdemar. All three books are about Talia, a shy teen Chosen by a Companion to be a Herald. The Heralds all have Gifts (abilities), and Talia’s is Empathy. But the Mage Gift (magic) has long been dead. Or so they all thought.

Where We Are in the Series: Magic’s Pawn

You guys, #ReadingValdemar has started the second trilogy — known as The Last Herald Mage! We go back hundreds of years in time to meet Vanyel, the powerful Herald Mage who young Talia read about in The Heralds of Valdemar. And based on the title of Vanyel’s trilogy, readers can assume they’re going to learn why he’s the last.

In the beginning of Magic’s Pawn Vanyel, the young heir to his father’s holding, is trying a different method of sword fighting than the broadsword method his armsmaster is teaching the young ones. Vanyel is a thin, delicate fifteen-year-old boy who has no business wearing a suit of armor and carrying a caveman-club of a sword. But when the armsmaster, a battle-experienced bully, takes on this waif of a boy, Vanyel’s arm gets broken. Vanyel’s one love is playing music, and now who knows.

Concerned that his son is weak and stuck up and possibly gay, Vanyel’s father sends the boy to his sister in the capitol, a curmudgeonly Herald Savil. Right away, I knew something was different, for in the previous trilogy no one would speak of a Herald that way, nor would she behave as such. But this is a sort of dark ages, and things are different. Vanyel arrives at the capitol and does his best to preen and peacock and keep everyone out to deny his loneliness while Savil just wants him out from underfoot.

While there is still a court and classes for Heralds, Bards, and Healers in Magic’s Pawn, nothing feels as organized and polished as the Collegium during Talia’s time period. In fact, the Collegium doesn’t exist yet — that will come later. There are also special rooms for training with magic. Lackey clarifies a bit that Gifts are abilities, whereas Magic requires a Mage Gift, pulling on energies, and spells. The most memorable spells in Magic’s Pawn are creating Gates (like a portal) and calling on wyrsa (creatures like demons).

Vanyel is enrolled in classes and tested to see if he could become a Bard. Unfortunately, he does not have the Gift, and life seems meaningless. While Vanyel thinks this is as low as he can sink, so many other wonderful and tragic things will happen long before he is Chosen by Yfandes.

Magic’s Pawn is decidedly different in tone than the previous trilogy. Mercedes Lackey sticks with limited third-person omniscient, but makes an odd choices to deliver characters’ thoughts in first-person using italics. You’ll see this occasionally in books, but not to the extent that Lackey uses the tool. You can open Magic’s Pawn to any page and see italics everywhere. The choice is clunky, like Lackey decided to write one way but didn’t want to stick with it.

The problem is what her choice does to characterization. While Talia was scared and intimidated, she kept those thoughts to herself. Because we constantly read Vanyel’s thoughts, he begins to sound whiny, emo, a little like Culture Club. Granted, he’s a scared gay teen, and I totally understood his terror and feelings of hopelessness when I first read this book 18 years ago, but now it reads more like drama drama drama inside his head.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t wrapped up in what would happen next. Right away, Lackey stars killing off characters, breaking the rules of Heralds, and taking readers to new lands, such as the K’treva Vale where the Tayledras Moondance and Starwind, two of the highest class of those who have the Mage Gift, live. The Tayledras have their own customs and language, which I love! Many of the non-English words Savil adds to her conversations were learned from her time with the Tayledras. They’re akin to an indigenous eco-conscious tribe. Lackey again expands her setting and characters in this novel, and I can easily see how this world sprawls into dozens of other books.

I was surprised to realized that most of what I remember from reading Vanyel’s trilogy 18 years ago all took place in this first book. There are two more to go, so what’s going to happen? I can’t wait to find out.

What Comes Next in the Series:

  • Magic’s Promise, still starring Vanyel
  • Magic’s Price, still about Vanyel and the conclusion to the trilogy known as The Last Herald Mage.

Are you following along with #ReadingValdemar? Don’t forget to include links to your Valdemar posts so my co-host, Jackie, and I can read your thoughts and get you entered in our June giveaway for $20 to an online bookstore.


    • I think he’s whiny because his mom treated him like a pet poodle and his dad tried to “man him up” at every turn, so the kid becomes this bullied peacock. As the book gets right near the end, his tone changes and he realizes why people would ever help someone they don’t know. If I remember correctly, his tone has changed permanently now that he’s away from his toxic parents and understood why serving himself only lacks bravery and dignity.

      There are actually several gay characters in this book! Lackey won the Lambda award for this novel. If you’re every thinking about reading fantasy, you could read this book as a stand alone. You’ll want to know more, but it doesn’t leave on a cliffhanger, either.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was telling Jackie that this is one I know I read now that her review reminded me. I do remember liking the main character but I think now I would kinda want him to stop his blabbering. I can’t remember if I read any more of this trilogy but am excited to find out based on yer reviews. Arrrr!
    x The Captain


  2. Solid review, as always. While I noticed the change in perspective with all the italics, it never really bothered me. I wonder if that’s because I don’t have a trained eye for this sort of thing? I mean, I understand 3rd person omniscient when you say it, but I never would have thought to myself, “Ah yes. And now we’re back in 3rd person omniscient.” I liked the italics. It was nice to understand when the Heralds were MindSpeaking instead of speaking aloud. That said, I sometimes was confused by how they interacted during these moments. For example, when Tylendel and Vanyel are “studying” and Tylendel and Herald Savil are having a MindSpeech conversation they seemed to pretend to keep doing what they were doing instead of interacting with each other. Is that normal? Can they multi-task easily? Who knows!

    My copy of Magic’s Promise came in today! SO EXCITE.

    P.S. Amazing gifs. More emo boys, plz.


    • I’m constantly thinking about point of view, likely because it’s something people will hotly debate in writing programs AND it’s hard to get it just right. You have almost have a whole world laid in front of you before you can see how to best tell it. I’m reading a book right now that has two first-person perspectives, one of a college female and one of a college male. In her POV, she seems like a normal college girl. In his POV, I can only see what he sees about her, which is all positive, but her dialogue is REALLY negative. So, in her head she thinks herself a kind, cool person. But her vocal words are betraying what a bummer drag she is.

      In Magic’s Pawn, there are two types of italics. There are the ones that begin and end with a colon. Those are Mindspeak. There are italics that do NOT. Those are all internal thoughts like you would see in any fiction book. And Vanyel’s internal thoughts are E’ERYWHERE.

      You know what’s funny is during that scene with Tylendel and Savil Mindspeaking while Tylenel and Vanyel are doing homework had my brain in a tizzy! I couldn’t help but wonder if Tylendel is a master multitasker or if for some reason when people Mindspeak it’s like they have two minds! I got all flabbergasted thinking about it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is how you know I never took a writing or literature class beyond high school– I don’t realize these things! What you’re describing, where the female student thinks she is cool, but her dialogue betrays her, my brain classifies as “voice”. I think of POV as how something is written about– a structure for telling a tale. But it’s way more than that. I really feel like I need to take a literature class now. There is so much for me to learn!

        Hahaha– Vanyel’s internal thoughts are completely in italics. I won’t lie, I barely registered that during my reading! I wonder why… Now that I’m looking back, they really ARE everywhere. I wonder if we’ll see this often in the next book?

        YES. I spent forever pondering this interaction. I also considered that Heralds might be able to split their minds. It was a weird thing to consider. In the end, I just rolled with it. XD


            • I disagree too. My flippy-flip was too quick. Why does Lackey emphasize so many words? And they are never the words I would think to emphasize in a conversation! The long paragraphs of internal monologue (like any regular character might have, not the the Mindspeak) aren’t as present.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I like that Lackey uses emphasis on her words, actually. I find it helps me better understand the mood or intention of the character. Some of these characters we don’t spend much time with in Valdemar, so the emphasis makes it easier to understand what they are concerned about. I’d give you an example (I believe there is one from Magic’s Promise from Tantras…), but I don’t have my book any longer! Silly library access. Them and their rules.


                  • She is *definitely* a music person. I love reading about tuning the instruments and how everything fits together in song– I really hope that one of the future Valdemar trilogies, or even just a single book, follows a Bard. Heralds are great, but I want to get into the head of a bard!


                    • Based on all the synopses I’ve read, I can’t tell if we ever go with a Bard. It certainly makes sense, as they are part of Valdemar. And I remember Vanyel telling Stefen that Bards get into some pretty wild situations, though they’re trained to run and only fight when forced to. There would be just as much adventure!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • My favorite characters are always the ones who are sneaky and live to fight another day. Plus, I’m certain a court bard would get into some serious sneaky politicking. It would just be a very different sort of Valdemar experience. It doesn’t all need to be stabbity stabbity.


  3. This series sounds like there’s more opportunity for personal growth than the other one. Perhaps it’s because of the way you say that Lackey writes this one – with the first person thoughts in italics. While this style could be annoying to read, it also gives the reader insight into his mind. Interesting that she chose to write this one this way! Are the other books in this particular trilogy written the same way as well?


    • The second book has fewer italics to represent a character’s inner monologue, and there are even fewer in the third book. I noticed on Goodreads that loads of people found the abundance of italics to signify inner monologue infuriating. It’s just silly; either write the book in first or third person, but don’t pretend like you can get away with both, Mercedes Lackey!


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