Magic’s Promise by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

Where we’ve come from…

THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR TRILOGY: Talia’s story is important because we learn basic roles: herald, Companion, Queen’s Own, bard, healer, boarderland, Valdemar, Karse, etc. We’re barely introduced to mages, who are a surprise because it was long thought magic was dead in Talia’s time.

THE LAST HERALD MAGE TRILOGY: Mercedes Lackey takes us back hundreds of years to Vanyel’s story. In this setting “herald” means the same thing, but they don’t seem as regimented as in Talia’s time. Mages exist in different classes based on their power, and Vanyel becomes the most powerful herald-mage in all the land.

Review of Magic’s Promise…

While second-book slump is a flaw of most trilogies, Mercedes Lackey kicks it in high gear with Magic’s Promise and delivers a highly-engaging, action-filled fantasy mystery.

I maintain this is a picture of Vanyel. Isn’t he pretty??

Twelve years have passed since our little brooding peacock Vanyel was Chosen by Yfandes and healed by the Tayledras. He’s spent years on the battlefield by the Karse border, nearly meeting death more times than his friends are comfortable with. However, Vanyel is still heartsick over the death of Tylendel, his lifebond. He’s so alone that he practically welcomes death. The novel starts with Vanyel returning to the capital of Valdemar. If he stays on premise, the king may be forced to send him out to battle again, so Vanyel’s encouraged to take a long vacation. . .at home. With his family at Forst Reach. With his homophobic father, smothering mother, violent armsmaster, and shifty priest.

When Vanyel gets back home to Forst Reach, much has changed. His father and brother are fighting over changing things or following tradition. His siblings have all paired off and had children, many of them bastards, running around the holding. The ladies who serve Vanyel’s mother try to convince him he’s not gay by waiting naked in his bed. His father thinks he’s a pervert, despite Vanyel’s heroics, heroics his family knows about because Bards sing songs of his battles. Basically, we’ve got a very conservative family that’s trying a teensy bit to move ahead with the times, but struggling deeply.

One night, as Vanyel settles down to sleep in the stables with Yfandes because another lady in waiting is waiting naked in his bed, Yfandes freaks out. She’s picked up a cry from another Companion, who is nearly paralyzed with terror and can’t reach his Chosen. Vanyel and Yfandes race to the call only to find a fellow herald whipping a Companion and demanding it give up its Chosen, Tashir, because he has murdered dozens of people. . .

Vanyel in front and Tashir on his Companion behind.

I won’t go further into the plot so as not to spoil it for you. Magic’s Promise is full of evil blood magic (fantasy!), though there is a mystery at the heart of things (mystery!). There’s the question of Tashir. His father was king of Lineas and married a woman from the neighboring Baires to join their kingdoms. But, it’s suspected Tashir isn’t the king’s son. All peace may be destroyed — is he or isn’t he? Another mystery is why there are no mages allowed in Lineas. Lastly, is it possible that Tashir has a really out-of-control Fetching Gift that caused him to murder so many people?

I liked the mystery aspect of the novel a great deal, and when I finally got to the pages on which everything was figured out, my highlighter nearly ran dry! Having questions as the backbone of the plot drove the novel forward in a satisfactory way that could have benefited the novels in THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR trilogy.

Every good character grows in this novel, some in surprising ways that keep you on your toes. Even though Vanyel is nearing thirty, he has a hard time moving forward without Tylendel. There is a scene in which he realizes some things about love that had me crying as I contemplated life without my own spouse. I know I cried during the scene when I was sixteen, so I think it’s nothing to do with your own relationship, but contemplating that deep sadness that gets you.

The ending wraps everything up but leaves you wanting more (because there’s a third book!). There is a lovely scene that I won’t spoil that again had me sobbing. It’s a beautiful, tender moment with the most unexpected character who offers two options to Vanyel, and both are sad. That’s two sobbity-sobs. Of course, I texted Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku right away to warn her.

Although I loved this novel, many people on Goodreads have voiced concerns about the representation of gay men. Everyone thinks Vanyel will prey on teenage boys now that he’s a hot-shot hero with songs about him. Yet, the only one sexually preying on people are the women who camp out naked in Vanyel’s bed and wait for him. One boy offers his body to Vanyel as payment for music lessons because he has no money and assumes the herald-mage will take the bait. Vanyel doesn’t.

However, when Vanyel meets Tashir and notices how much his features resemble Tylendel’s, he admits he’s tempted to start something with the teen. He doesn’t. But that moment during which he mentions temptation is what bothers most reviewers. I can see why. Perhaps Lackey could have explored Vanyel’s feelings more clearly. But, I thought that he ached so badly for his lifebond that he thought momentarily about trying to recapture his youth and ease his loss in the arms of an ersatz Tylendel. He doesn’t. But does that moment ruin the whole book? I don’t think so.

There are also complaints from Goodreads reviewers that Vanyel notes too often how long he’s been celibate as evidence that he’s not promiscuous or a “pervert.” I don’t know where these readers are from, but I can’t help but notice the single people around me mentioning their lack of sex life all too often. Why can’t Vanyel? There’s also a moment when Vanyel tells a very conservative man that he’s been celibate so long that both the conservative man and the sheep are starting to look attractive. I get it. The sheep joke is not cool.

But here’s another thing I’ve noticed in real life, whether it’s about sexuality, race, or gender: the “odd” person will often make jokes that the “normal” person will like to make the “normal” person feel more at ease. It’s a survival mechanism in a world that tries to squash “otherness.” Can I know Lackey’s intentions as she wrote this novel in the late 1980s? Of course not. But I did want to address these concerns other readers have had.

Overall, I loved this book and felt sad when I turned the last page and closed the covers because the story was over. Yes, there is one more book in the trilogy, but then it’s over-over. An interesting, highly engaging read! On a fun note, Mercedes Lackey wrote songs about this trilogy, which are performed by Heather Alexander on YouTube! I especially enjoy the sadness in “Shadow Lover” (the name for Death) and “Shadow Stalker” (a nickname for Vanyel in reference to his impeccable killing skills).

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14 comments

    • I’m not sure….I can only speak from what I’ve seen and experienced myself, and I am not part of the LGBTQ community. I hope that I do not offend personally with my comments, and though Lackey is married to a man, I do not assume she is not part of the LGBTQ community. In fact, I was reading a discussion on Twitter this weekend about some folks shunning bi-sexual individuals who decide to date someone of the opposite sex. There is a book blogger whom I follow who only reviews works by or about the queer community, and I’d love his take on Lackey’s trilogy.

  1. I think adults are allowed to make an off-color joke or two without the world flipping out and assuming they’re horrible people. I can’t imagine that Van was serious about either the conservative man or the sheep, and I think people need to calm down about it. I know adults in my life have made similar jokes, and the people around them didn’t automatically assume they’d turned into psychos because of it. Neither regular people nor authors (and their characters) will always say the perfect thing every time. A single bad joke, a single thought (that then is not acted upon) does not make a person horrible. Calm down, world. It’s okay.

    Personally, I think a lot of Vanyel’s actions and the things he says in Magic’s Promise were meant to point out that gay people were just people, not perverts, which is what a lot of pop culture said at the time. In a time period where “gay” was often pop culture code for “bad guy”, Vanyel’s constantly having to remind people that he has no interest in sleeping with children seems to me to be a reminder to the reader that gay people aren’t bad just because of their sexual orientation.

    Something I do appreciate in Magic’s Promise is the fact that, while he’s 28, Vanyel is still figuring out who he is as a person. We have all these books about teenagers coming of age and going off to find themselves that we forget that our self-image is constantly changing. We don’t stop changing or growing when we hit 18, and Vanyel is a good example of an adult sorting out who he is now that he’s not a teenager.

    • I completely agree that it’s fantastic to see Vanyel grow. A lot of things have changed for me since last June, and I’m amazed at how much my minset has changed. The way I respond to people and events that would have sent me running for the hills in the past seem more like a part of life that will soon be behind me. I see more clearly, and it surprises me. I think we all want to have it figured out by our mid 20s because that is part of the American dream. House, spouse, kids, job.

      I speciation what you’re saying about Vanyel and the concerns other readers had. Since of them hate on the book for small moments, which I think is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Others wonder what it means when a gay man makes a sheep joke. Is Lackey out of touch? I don’t think it hurts to wonder. As a result, we have these conversations.

      • I’ve heard gay men make sheep jokes. I’ve also heard straight men make sheep jokes. I never assumed they were serious about sheep. Making a fuss over a single joke and totally ignoring the good the entire rest of the book has done for people is patently ridiculous. It also denies characters (and their creators) the full scale of their humanity. If we want well-developed and rounded characters, we have to be prepared for the fact that they’re going to have flaws and bad hair days and make stupid jokes. As much as people complain about character flaws, no one /actually/ wants to read about a perfectly perfect character. How boring would that be?!

  2. I don’t think the naked women lying in wait were predators, that implies a power relationship. Maybe they were a little over-eager and maybe they had been pressured into it by someone else, precisely because they – the naked women – were without power.

    • You’re right, they are completely without power. They’re doing everything they can do somehow change their position, whether that position is acceptable or poor. I will say that as I was reading it felt like stalking — and I’m not being hyperbolic — but the main character realizes that he IS a powerful person. There are songs sung about his deeds, he’s ridiculously handsome, and also kind, but he’s also gay. These women think they can convince him that he’s not. Since he realizes that power imbalance, the main character inconveniences himself by sleeping in the stable and avoiding a confrontation because it would hurt these women deeply. I thought it was well handled overall, but hand’t thought of the power structure that you mentioned. Thanks for making me think on it more!

  3. I really admire you for tackling a series it seems like you are enjoying very much. Series books always feel like so much but I guess if you start and keep up with them as they come out its not so bad? Do you find that you have to read the books before to know about all the characters and what’s going on?

    I’ve only been able to manage (well not manage but try to read) The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. They are short and I can usually read them in a day or 2 (a day if I can grab the audio).

    • I used to adamantly avoid series because I would feel obligated to read all the books (and in order! Woe is me!). I started with Anne of Green Gables a few years ago, which has 8 books. I got through all of them! I found that I lost some readers, though. If your readership hasn’t read the whole series, they start to feel left out around book 3. I also tried listening to the audio books of a vampire romance series (The Dark Ones), but the books just got too silly. Those aren’t connected one after the other like Anne of Green Gables; some of the same characters come back, so it was easy to put them down when they felt too silly. With Mercedes Lackey, she has this whole universe of books, but you can read them one trilogy at a time and complete a character’s story arc. Jackie and I had some people following us for the first trilogy in the Lackey universe, and one person following us into the second trilogy, but largely readership is down. That’s okay, because I know I have at least one solid reader following me: Jackie!

      I’ve heard of the Detective series you mention. People recommended it to me because the main character is unabashedly fat. However, I don’t review books written by men at Grab the Lapels. I am going to read the Corinna Chapman mystery series by Kerry Greenwood this year. Another fat female detective! I cannot wait!

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