In Magic’s Price, the third book in Mercedes Lackey’s THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy, we discover how this trilogy got its name. It’s been nine years since the previous story ended and the Herald-Mages are being knocked off one by one. Valdemar is in great danger. Vanyel is “the last Herald-Mage” and there’s a target on his back. If he dies, how will Valdemar survive a magical attack by enemies? Can Vanyel and Yfandes, his Companion horse, find and stop Master Dark, the evil magician, before Valdemar is doomed?
Obviously there is much at stake for Vanyel and his beloved country in Magic’s Price. Vanyel is the most powerful person in the realm and at first he doesn’t even know who his enemy is. All he knows is that he and the people close to him are targets, so Vanyel moves his family to court in Haven where, he hopes, he can keep them safe.
In Haven, Vanyel’s friend King Randale is also in trouble. He’s dying and the heir to the throne is an untrained youth. Randale is having trouble governing the realm because he’s in so much pain. Fortunately, Vanyel’s nephew at the bardic school has a classmate named Stefen who has the gift of easing pain with his music. Stefen is brought to court to see if he might help King Randale. It turns out that Stefen is a great admirer of Vanyel, not only because of Vanyel’s power and authority in the realm, but also because Vanyel is openly homosexual. Stefen, who is also openly homosexual, tries to seduce Vanyel, but Vanyel is worried about the huge age difference and how it might look if he has a relationship with such a young man. He’s also worried, of course, about the safety of anyone close to him.
Vanyel is much older and more mature (and less emo) in this book which is partly why it didn’t annoy me nearly as much as the previous books did. There’s also a better balance between story and romance, though the romance still feels like it gets more of the author’s attention to detail. The rest of the plot is typical fluffy epic fantasy that, frankly, feels uninspired. There’s a dimly developed dark mage with a vast army who has to be defeated before he overruns the good mage’s country. Ho hum. Except for the sexual orientation of the good mage, it just doesn’t stand out in any way.
Readers who like the Hawkbrothers will be glad to see them back in Magic’s Price. They bring help and enlightening information. There are some deep personal tragedies for Vanyel in Magic’s Price, but also some sweet reconciliatory moments which I won’t spoil for you. And, of course, the possibility of a new true love though, to accomplish this it seems like Lackey has to change the rules of how magic works in Valdemar. I understood that a person could form only one life-bond during their lifetime, but Lackey twists things a bit to allow Vanyel to have two life-bonds. This felt contrived to me.
In the end there is a “price” for Vanyel’s magic and many soft-hearted readers will appreciate the bittersweet finale of THE LAST HERALD MAGE. I might have appreciated it, too, if I had liked Vanyel a little better. He is much more likable in this book, but that was too late for me.
The audio production by Brilliance Audio continues to be excellent. Gregory Nassif St John is perfect in this role and I hope he’ll be doing more fantasy in the future!