Hello, there! And welcome to the last conversation post about THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy. This year, Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I are reading fifteen books from Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe. Since there are twelve months in a year, we’ve been doubling up January – March. Starting in April, you’ll see one review and one conversation post about Valdemar per month. Here’s the schedule of reading if you want to join in:
Jackie and I had very different reactions to Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price, largely because I read THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy when I was 16 — long enough ago to forget much of plot, but it was such an impactful trilogy that I remember vividly how I felt. Beware, our conversation goes in any and all directions, which means there are spoilers.
Melanie: In the second and third books of THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy, Lackey lets years go by. We left Vanyel when he was a teen in Magic’s Pawn and he’s now in his thirties. It makes a big difference! Though I dubbed Vanyel “a super emo gay beautiful boy” in the first book, in these last two he’s a true citizen: the people of Valdemar come before any of his personal needs. Despite struggling with depression related to the death of his lifebond, I never doubted that Vanyel was a person of integrity. How did you feel about his growth over the three books? Were you surprised by the big time jump between books one and two?
Jackie: I was quite shocked at how much time passed between books one and two — I think I even texted you my shock! But really, I’m glad we skipped all of Vanyel learning about duty and honor and coming into himself. He still had a lot of development ahead of him when Magic’s Promise begins. I feel like Lackey skipped all the stereotypical hero building stuff and left us with only what was unique to her universe and what made Vanyel special. He’s still a “super emo beautiful gay boy,” but he learned to keep it close to his chest.
That said, I struggled with Vanyel’s development related to understanding what love and friendship are in both Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price. Either Lackey really likes writing emotionally stunted or damaged characters, or she really struggles to writing convincing post-trauma reactions.
Melanie: I think because the groundwork of Vanyel’s childhood wasn’t as convincing to me, watching Vanyel hang on to old love and avoid new love, or even see friendship right under his nose, seems stunted — so I agree with you. When Vanyel was a boy, his armsmaster bullied him, his father thought he was weak, and his mother smothered him with love. When I think of a traumatized childhood, I guess I think of something more, well traumatic (like A Child Called It). I felt the same way about Talia in THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR trilogy. Then again, it’s possible Lackey keeps things somewhat tamped down because a lot of high school-age people were reading her novels. Specific, detailed verbal and physical abuse might have been too much.
So, Aunt Herald Savil warned that Vanyel was clinging too much to Tylendel and destroying his own sense of independence. Tylendel dies, and Vanyel clings to his ghost for twelve-ish years. He isn’t able to let that go until one night when his nephew points out how long it’s been. This was a moment during which I cried. I understand what it feels like to be on a hamster wheel of anxiety, so when the wheel stopped and Vanyel could just love who Tylendel was, then I felt a great relief.
Then, in our third book, Stefen is to be avoided because what if enemies learn of him, or Vanyel’s friends or children, and kill him? I get where Lackey is going with it — trying to keep Vanyel isolated through fear– but instead Vanyel comes off as incapable of love or friendship. I think Lackey ties that back to his isolated childhood. But I don’t think he was isolated as a boy, seeing as he had a cousin who cared for him, a sister who loved him, and even ladies of court swooning over him. I think the most freely-expressed, convincing love I really see in Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price are between Vanyel and Jervis, and Vanyel and his father. I know his father affected you.
Jackie: While Lackey doesn’t always do a great job helping the reader understand the fallout and healing related to trauma, she really does a great job with redemption. Like you said, Jervis’s redemption in Magic’s Promise is so satisfying. I appreciate that we get to see how both Jervis and Vanyel are wrong in their assumptions of each other. But my favorite scene of all the books thus far is how Lackey closed the emotional arc between Vanyel and Lord Withen, his father.
From the beginning, this is a complex and deeply damaged relationship. We get little drops of Withen coming around in Magic’s Promise. But in Magic’s Price, I cried so much. For me, this was the emotional culmination of the entire trilogy. Yes, we know that Vanyel is going to be the last Herald Mage. But I expected that. I never expected Lord Withen to come around and for Vanyel’s family to become whole again.
Sending Withen to Haven to join the council is also brilliant. Speaking of — I felt like politics were more important in Magic’s Price, but overall less confusing. Randale’s sickness put Vanyel in a complicated political position. I wish we knew more about what was up with Randi!
Melanie: Dude died from something Healers couldn’t figure out! All I kept think was AIDs, but only because that was a virus people didn’t used to understand or know how to heal. I couldn’t really picture Randale as he died. He was soooo close to death, but then Vanyel said he didn’t expect Randi to live another 3-5 years. Uh, three years doesn’t feel “close to death” to me. So, he was a blank space in my imagination. However, I loved picturing Vanyel and Stefen so much that I Googled pictures of what I thought they would look like!
Beautiful yet thoughtful, unshakeable and moody. Capable. These are features I picture Vanyel and Stefen having. Also, you gotta get the hair right. Stefen’s hair is certainly longer, though I don’t remember it being described in detail in Magic’s Price other than to say it was auburn and he ran his fingers through it. (Am I the only person alive who keeps her fingers out of her hair?). Do people typically look up images for characters in books they’re reading? I know artists will create fan art to capture a character.
Jackie: Hahaha, I love this. I am not someone who looks up images for the characters in books they are reading, but I know quite a few people who do! Often, this is dream-casting for a film or TV show, but I like just finding lookalikes, too. As someone who doesn’t see images in her head, it never occurred to me to do this.
Speaking of hair! Can we talk for a second about how Vanyel on the cover of these books never had any white in his hair?! This frustrates me so much! By Magic’s Promise is has white streaks, and by Magic’s Price he should have a full head of silver-white hair! I am a bit offended that no one considered including this critical characteristic (which comes up in both books often) on the cover art.
Melanie: When I was in grad school, I took a Children’s Literature course. In it, I learned some interesting things about the publishing industry. For one, most cover artists do NOT read the book! One book that has been mis-covered several times is called Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. One way small-press publishers have a leg up on big-house publishing is cover artists typically carefully read and design gorgeous covers that look unique.
Now, I pretty much never look up a dream cast for books, but there is something about Lackey’s work that makes me want to. I think I mentioned that I pictured Dirk from THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR looking like Karl Urban (if he had blond hair). Plain, asymmetrical, but you can see the kindness and handsome features. There’s just something about Lackey’s work that makes me do this!
Okay, I definitely feel like my ideas are all over the place about these last two books, but I’m going to jump into it: that whole part at the end when Vanyel seeks revenge against the blood mage who has killed every other Herald Mage! Stefen goes with Vanyel, and I had some serious deja vu. In the first book, it was Tylendel who had a mage Gift, who sought revenge, while teen-age Vanyel was in tow due to love. Now, we have Vanyel, who has a mage Gift and is seeking revenge, and Stefen tags along for love. I was so worried that there would be a perfect recreation of Tylendel’s death.
Jackie: There are definitely a ton of parallels between the end of Tylendel’s life and the end of Vanyel’s life. I wasn’t concerned that a perfect recreation was going to happen, but I was giving myself hope that Vanyel *wouldn’t* die. I mean, he was hopeful, so I was hopeful. Silly Jackie.
There are parallels between Vanyel/Tylendel in Magic’s Pawn and Stefen/Vanyel in Magic’s Price. I was more concerned that Stefen would wilt away and try to kill himself once Vanyel died. Stefen had been growing more acquiescent, patient, and kind since he spent more and more time with Vanyel. I was so thankful Stefen grew to be more like grown-up Vanyel than young Vanyel.
When Stefen went to the Forest of Sorrows right after Vanyel died, I expected we’d lose him. I think Stefen’s growth actually reflects a lot on Vanyel’s growth throughout this trilogy. The fact than Stefen was willing to listen, and to sacrifice his immediate happiness for an eternity with Vanyel, shows that Vanyel helped Stefen grow beyond who he was when these two met. Stefen was a self-centered, pleasure-seeking young adult who sought the easy way to gratification. The man Bard Stefen is at the end of Magic’s Price has grown up so much. His sense of duty to Valdemar only could have been learned through experience and adoration of Vanyel.
Melanie: And here is where I reveal why THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy did not destroy me the way it did when I was sixteen: I hadn’t read THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR. What I did not realize is that Talia’s story takes place hundreds of years after Vanyel’s. Valdemar is fine. In fact, Valdemar is better because the Heralds’ unique Gifts better serve the land.
In the past, everyone relied on the mage Gift, thinking it better because this Gift allowed its user to take in power from nodes. Vanyel explains to his family that a Herald with a Gift that suits the problem is far more useful than a Herald Mage. I also got a clearer sense of what a mage Gift is compared to the other Gifts: Vanyel explains that people without the mage gift can’t work with node power. It’s like someone with a bucket full of holes trying to carry water. This also explains why the mage Gift and other Gifts all seem like magic; in a way, they kind of are, except mages pull power from elsewhere. They all use concentration and even spells to some degree.
Anyway, because I knew loads more about Heralds, and because Vayel is convincing in his assertion that a Herald with the right Gift is better than a Herald Mage, I felt at peace with the ending. Stefen uses his Bard talents to spread the word to Valdemar people and Heralds, carrying out the last of Vanyel’s ideas and work, and we see the results in Talia’s time.
Jackie: Fascinating! You are so optimistic; I love that you are comforted by knowing the future of Valdemar. Strangely, I had the opposite reaction based on the same information! Because I know what is happening 1,000 years in the future, and how Heralds cope and are perceived, I was completely devastated by the ending of this book.
I felt like the future success of all Heralds was left solely on Stefen’s shoulders. When Vanyel and Stefen first meet, Stefen says, “Oh, come now! You don’t expect me to agree with that cliche that music can change the world, do you?” At the time, I thought this was foreshadowing to Randale’s miraculous healing. Instead, it was foreshadowing to the immense task Stefen had to carry alone to lift up the Heralds and make them as great, if not better than, the Herald-Mages.
I was also devastated at the loss of such an incredible gift across Valdemar. Vanyel had to literally sacrifice everything he was and everything he could have become in order to ensure the Heralds and Valdemar had a future. His endless sacrifice is the only reason Talia’s world can even exist. I wept for the loss of the world Vanyel knew.
That said, this does give me hope for our next trilogy, THE MAGE WINDS. Having read nothing about these books, I am hoping we find the mage Gift again in the people of Valdemar. And we find some way to cultivate it, you know, without any mages left in Valdemar. I am hopeful we can see the world Vanyel truly strove to create finally come into existence: one where Heralds and Herald-Mages are equal protectors of the land they love.
Melanie: You know what’s confusing is I’ve read two different synopses of THE MAGE WINDS. On the Valdemar Wikia, it says, “[THE MAGE WINDS] follow on from the original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, centering on Princess Elspeth completing her transformation from ‘the Brat’ to a fully-fledged Herald. Secondary protagonists include Skif and a new character Darkwind.”
However, on Goodreads the first book, Winds of Fate, is summarized thusly: “High magic had been lost to Valdemar when Vanyel gave his life to save his kingdom from destruction by the dark sorceries. Now it falls to Elspeth — Herald, heir to the throne — to take up the challenge and seek a mentor who will awaken her mage abilities.” I, and other bloggers following #ReadingValdemar, have pointed out that this is a trend of poorly-written or incorrect synopses. I guess we will have to write our own synopses after we read the next trilogy!