Read again? Yes
Book 6, with 20 more. Last of the "Last Herald-Mage" trilogy.
It's been 9 years since "Magic's Promise." Vanyel's an elderly 34 years of age (nitpick--Lackey doesn't seem to be able to keep track of Vanyel's age. First he's over 36, then under; but I'm going by her own descriptions of events in this and the previous 2 books and calling it 34).
King Randale is dying. No one--Healer, Herald, or Hack--has been able to slow the progression of the wasting disease that has been taking his life by inches for 15 years. His partner Shavri (a Healer) hasn't been able to do more than make the pain bearable for him.
It's been nearly 20 years since the death of his beloved Tylendel; Vanyel has become more reserved, avoiding getting too close to others because he doesn't want anyone else to become a target: Vanyel has made some powerful enemies.
Vanyel's nephew Medren--nearly finished with Bardic training--has found a solution to both problems: an 18-year-old Bardic trainee named Stefen who can (conveniently) sing pain away--and whom is also into the boys. Stefen's pain-soothing Gift brings him close to the King--and to Vanyel, who has taken on more and more responsibilities as Randale grows ever weaker. Medren had been trying to get Stefen and Vanyel together for months. But once they meet, Vanyel manages to continually--and deliberately--miss or misinterpret the signals the Bard is putting out. It wouldn't be any fun if they just fell right into bed right away, would it?
As if all this wasn't enough, the number of Herald-Mages has dwindled to four. There haven't been any new trainees in years. The remaining few Herald-Mages are picked off one by one until Vanyel is the last. It falls to him alone to protect Valdemar from a powerful enemy far to the north.
By now I've fussed enough about her fussy, Protocol Droid-like delivery, with all the unnecessary qualifiers ('in no way,' and like that) and wordiness. It's a style thing, but it's her style thing, so I'll just have to grit my teeth and keep reading. It's only 20...more...books. Besides, she does tell a good story, and I'm not the most patient of readers. This book does drag, though. It's the final book in a trilogy, so there's all the loose ends to tie up, and some setting up of plot points for future books. Just...don't try reading the last 80 pages or so when you're in bed with the flu. Took me most of the weekend to finish it off. Also, it's not as much fun as the second book. Granted, things are more serious in the Realm than they were a decade before.
Spoiler: Remember Ma'ar, the evil mage from the first book? He has returned as Leareth. For several decades, he's been systematically killing Heralds and Herald-Mages and preparing an invasion. As I remember things, he was also Krebain, the bad guy Vanyel kills at the end of the first book, which doesn't really jibe with what Lackey gives for background on Leareth.
Nickname watch--amazingly few new ones:
Treven (a Herald): Trev