In today’s post, Jackie and I have a conversation about Magic’s Pawn, the first book in the second trilogy of the Valdemar Universe, all written by Mercedes Lackey. We have no regard for spoilers, so if you’re still reading, you’ve been warned.
Melanie: Oh, man. Jackie. I have been so excited and nervous to get to this second trilogy, The Last Herald Mage. I read this trilogy in 2001 at the utter insistence of some very cool, mature friends. I thought I remembered a lot about what happens in the whole trilogy, but now that we’ve finished the first book, Magic’s Pawn, I realize that the only events I remember have happened! There are two more books to go! Whoa! I feel like more happened to the protagonist, Vanyel, in this first book than everything that happened to Talia in all of The Heralds of Valdemar, the previous trilogy.
Jackie: As far as personal and emotional events, Vanyel certainly had way more happen to him than Talia. I felt like Lackey was trying to prove, after failing to show Talia’s emotional trauma and healing at the end of Arrow’s Fall, that she can write this sort of thing well. At times, it became too much for me. I definitely wasn’t bored — I was just overwhelmed! So many terrible things were happening to Vanyel emotionally, I started to become numb to his trauma.
Melanie: One thing I noticed is how often Vanyel “could” die. Especially when Andrel said that even taking Vanyel outside for a second, Vanyel would die. He was going to die when he got to the K’Treva Vale. He was going to die after he faced the wizard. I got tired of that really fast. But here’s why I think everything is so much more dramatic: it’s not the events so much as the fact that Lackey chose to write the novel in limited third-person omniscient but then had characters thinking in italics in first person so much. I’m reading another book in third-person limited right now, and maybe once per chapter a character will have an aside in italics that captures their inner thoughts. However, you can open any page in Magic’s Pawn and half of it would be italics. I think this is why Vanyel sounds like such an emo boy.
Jackie: Both voices were wonderful. But, I actually found the first person content more confusing when helping me figure out Vanyel’s character. We got to hear the other Heralds and Herald-Trainees describe him as beautiful and arrogant repeatedly. However, Vanyel doesn’t see himself that way. My experience as a reader is that I was told repeatedly he is arrogant, but I never got to witness it. It made me doubt what Vanyel’s character really is. That said…
I adore how you have described Vanyel to me: “a super emo gay beautiful boy”. It’s so true! His voice also makes things more dramatic. He’s a whiny teenager. But I don’t fault him for that. He’s, shockingly, a whiny teenager I can root for. No, I don’t always agree with his whining, but Lackey is giving Vanyel a long way to grow and develop. His Farsight dreams gave me a lot to root for as well; I knew from these dreams that he would grow up to be a self-less, respected Herald-Mage. [Perhaps, even, the LAST, if you would believe that! XD] Pair this with the legends of Vanyel we read about in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy and I am excited to see Vanyel grow over the course of these books.
Melanie: I think while I was reading this time I was hyper-aware of how childish Vanyel sounds because I talked this book up and knew you would be reading it! I was madly in love with his voice when I was 16. . .likely because Vanyel and I would have been the same age, lol. However, thinking about our conversation about Talia in The Heralds of Valdemar and how she seemed like a wise old lady made me forgive both Vanyel and my embarrassment. I started thinking back to when I was 16. Lordy, there WERE some beautiful emo gay boys back then! They were lovely people. . . in small doses. But deep down, every 16-year-old who has any artistic inclination is going to have doubts and feel flawed. They don’t have that same sense of entitlement that the jocks might. Vanyel, the talented musician, the beautiful boy who knows he’s beautiful and dresses to accentuate that, the boy who is utterly smothered by his mother and hated by his father, is acting exactly how I would expect him to act.
I did like another difference between Vanyel and Talia: even before he came to the capitol to live with Herald Aunt Savil, Vanyel had many talents. He was the best horse rider around. He was a voracious reader. He was flexible (think about how he read the Herald rules about fighting and always using the right tool for the fighter). When Lackey said that he was an abused boy, I feel like she showed us. When Talia was introduced as an abused girl, I didn’t believe it. I mean, they wanted her to get married like every girl her age. I didn’t see that as abuse. Vanyel is made to face an experienced adult armsmaster who charges without holding back and breaks Vanyel’s arm — likely to keep him from his music and horse riding. I totally believed he was abused.
Jackie: Ugh. That whole thing with Armsmaster Jervis was horrific. Not only did Lackey demonstrate the physical abuse Vanyel experienced, but also his emotional abuse from his father, mother, and siblings. It was terrible. At least we know that the image of Vanyel on the cover of this book is appropriate!
While Vanyel went through some terrible things, I love that not everything can be explained. The Heralds and Herald-Mages cannot explain how suddenly all of Vanyel’s Gifts manifested. I am so curious to learn about how Gifts vs. Magic works. By the Heralds not understanding entirely what Vanyel’s going through, we got to explore this with them. I still don’t get the differences between them, but I understand that Magic and Gifts are more similar than different in how they manifest, if not how they are applied. Plus, with all the different perspectives, we got to see all sorts of Gifts and Magic being used and explained. It’s all starting to make sense now.
Melanie: Here’s what I think is up: in The Heralds of Valdemar, one character said that pretty much everyone has psychic abilities, but they are never awoken. Vanyel wasn’t trained to be used as a conduit, nor were his Gifts awoken, so when Tylendel used Vanyel’s energy to create the Gate to transport to get revenge for the murder of his twin, it blew open all the channels on which Gifts would travel. Magic is another Gift — the Mage Gift. Not only must a person have the Mage Gift to use magic, but they must know how to use energies (from themselves, others, or the nodes in the ground) AND use a spell. In The Heralds of Valdemar, Teren said that the Truth Spell is the closest thing that Heralds have to magic in Talia’s time because it requires a spell, but it doesn’t require the Mage Gift. A non-Mage Gift doesn’t require pulling energy from the nodes, but Heralds can share it (like we saw at the end of Arrow’s Fall when Dirk and Elspeth share energy to extract Talia from the dungeon). I also read on the Valdemar Wiki that there are different levels of Mages. Moondance, Starwind, and Savil are all of the highest order of Herald Mages. There are other folks who have a Mage Gift that is so weak it barely counts. An example would be the weather witch from Arrow’s Flight. Does that help?
Jackie: I’m with you on most of this. However, based on the experience we’ve seen thus far you don’t need to know how to use energies AND a spell. For example, Vanyel uses lightning when training with Starwind, but he doesn’t need a spell for it. I think spells are an optional addition that makes your Mage Gift stronger. So, some spells require Mage Gifts and others don’t– I imagine this has more to do with connecting energies the right way and understanding how Magic just flat-out works than anything else.
Can I just talk for a hot second about how much I love the Tayledras? Starwind and Moondance are by far my favorite characters in this book. Moondance in particular. They are so complex and so different from the rest of the Valdemar universe thus far! I hope we get to see a lot of them in the future.
Relatedly — I couldn’t figure out Moondance’s line about being Magic’s Pawn. They don’t know the game Vanyel is a part of. . .is this some sort of destiny? Do they believe the gods are active players in the world? I want to better understand this cryptic exchange between Moondance and Starwind. There is a lot to unpack here!
Melanie: I believe that all Gifts can get completely out of control, like we saw with Talia. The Mage Gift is the one you really don’t want out of control because you’re likely to kill someone if you don’t dissipate energies properly. That’s why Savil and Starwind both have special training rooms. If a character doesn’t learn how to use his Mage Gift, it will use him. Vanyel calling down lighting was completely uncontrolled — he didn’t know what he was doing, how to dissipate the energy, or how to kill the colddrake or wizard without potentially killing himself. I think the spells help control all of this. Think about the way Savil had to use a spell to weave energy threads to create a Gate. Starwind showed Vanyel how to weave a spell to put up barriers in his mind. That sort of thing. And the Tayledras?? YES, PLEASE. I think that the Owl Trilogy is about another clan of Tayledras. Starwind and Moondance belong to the K’Treva Vale clan. There are others. What do you think about the the next two books, Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price? Are you excited, or are you getting worn out on Valdemar?
Jackie: I’m in the middle? I’m not getting worn out on Valdemar, as I know there are more things to explore [like giant owl companions?! Yes, please!], but I am hesitant. I want Lackey to prove to me that she can carry this series all the way through. I felt let down by the previous trilogy. Talia’s story started out so strong in the first book, but as events built I was less and less interested. The whole winter trapped with Kris learning her gifts and the poor way assault was handled left me wanting.
There is a lot of potential in The Last Herald-Mage, for Vanyel and what Valdemar is about to experience with a blood mages — the one Vanyel sees in his dreams with Foresight. I am excited to keep reading. I have no idea what might come in Magic’s Promise. Magic’s Price I am SUPER excited to read! Vanyel IS GOING TO DIE. It’s been so long since I’ve read a series where I know the protagonist is going to die. I am thrilled to see how this might end! Lackey let us know that Vanyel is still in charge of his destiny and can change it with his choices. But, as Moondance said, it might mean sacrificing things we don’t want to sacrifice. I’m excited and anxious already for book three. This is why spoilers are amazing. I’m emotionally invested in this story because I already know how it ends!
Jackie and I have a conversation about #ReadingValdemar at the end of each month. Are you participating? Join us! Have you already written a post about Magic’s Pawn? Share it with us to enter our giveaway!