Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Valdemar 04: Magic's Pawn (Lackey, Mercedes)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1989
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Book the Fourth of Valdemar, with 22 left, and being the first book of the second trilogy in the set, "The Last Herald-Mage." Yep, each of the trilogies is subtitled. The first trilogy was "The Mage Wars," I think. I'm not getting up to go see--I'm done with those three until the next time I read them. Nyah.

This was my "gateway" book into the Valdemar series, thanks to the same unlamented ex who let me borrow several other Mercedes Lackey novels. The books are about the only worthwhile thing to come of that relationship, and the scribbles I wrote in my own copy of this one are embarrassing now--"I'm so alone!" and such crap. Yeah, I meant it in 1995. But nearly 15 years later, I don't feel the same way. She just wasn't that good--but the books are.

It's been 1,750 years since the great Cataclysm in which Urtho destroyed himself and his evil enemy, Ma'ar. The lands have long since changed, nations formed and gone, new nations taking their place. These are people who have never seen a gryphon, and for whom the battle of great mages is folklore, ancient history.

Our point-of-view character is a 15-year-old brat named Vanyel Ashkevron, first son of Lord Withen Ashkevron. His father has some very strict notions of the sort of man Vanyel must grow up to be--especially since the boy is supposed to be his heir. Withen tries having his Weaponsmaster Jervis beat the manliness into his son. Vanyel just wants to be a Bard, a minstrel, a musician.

Withen ultimately concedes defeat and sends the boy off to Haven, the capitol of Valdemar, where Vanyel's aunt is to see him schooled and prepared for rule. Aunt Savil is a Herald-Mage (I'll write up a few entries on the Valdemar stuff to explain things like that--if I do it here, I'll have blog posts as long as Lackey's freaking novels!)--a Herald-Mage, and she resents having this spoiled, rude, arrogant prettyboy foisted on her and her three trainees.

We've been clubbed over the head with it by the time Vanyel figures things out, but he falls in love with Tylendel, Savil's star pupil whom everyone knows is gay. That ex of mine warned me about that before I started reading the book; we'd only been dating 2 months and she didn't know whether I'd be offended by the gay-love theme. Lackey handles it like any other relationship between two people in love. She lets us know that they're bumpin' uglies, but she doesn't give us the Bloodhound Gang's "vulcanize the whoopie stick / in the ham-wallet" breakdown ("Foxtrot, Uniform, Charlie, Kilo"). Oooo, la la!

This reminded me that I've tried to classify this series' target age group for some time now. Sometimes Lackey's writing style makes it seem as though she's writing for the young-teen girl market, but then she throws in sexual stuff--including rape--in pretty graphic detail that seems targeted more for older teens/young-twenties. I don't subscribe to the notion that children are fragile snowflakes who must be protected and managed, but I'd be wary of kids reading certain "Valdemar" books because of sexual violence. Even so, the books might be aimed more at a female market, but the story is damn good, and it'd be a shame for guys to skip it. Hell, you can skip the sappy, syrupy romance parts--or you can man up and just read the damn thing without worrying about what other people will think.

So Vanyel is happy for the first time ever, in love, but we all know that that's not going to last. Wouldn't be an interesting book, otherwise. In the course of one awful night he loses Tylendel and gains a Companion (a magical being that looks like a pure-white horse) named Yfandes. The same events that brought Tylendel's death have awakened Vanyel's own magical powers, fearsomely strong, possibly the most powerful mage in the Kingdom.

This does bring us a really nice father-and-son moment, where Vanyel knocks Pops on his ass using only magic, and keeps knocking him down to make a point about bullying.

'Nother spoiler.
Vanyel finds redemption in the end by fighting an evil mage whom we've encountered before: Ma'ar--though he's taken the name Krebain in this incarnation. We don't find out how Ma'ar has come back for another 15 books or so. [correction--Krebain isn't a reborn Ma'ar; Leareth is].

In all, Vanyel goes from snot-nose to responsible grown-up by getting knocked around in a good way--before, he was taking lumps for not fitting someone else's notions of what he should be. Now, he's taking them in defense of innocents, and doing it for the right reasons.

Nickname Watch:
Vanyel: Van.
Mekeal (Vayel's younger brother): Meke.
Radevel (Vanyel's cousin): Radev.
Lissa (Vanyel's older sister): Liss.
Tylendel (Vanyel's boi): 'Lendel.
Jaysen (a Herald): Jays.
Andrel (a Healer): Andy.

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