Magic’s Promise: A little less angsty than previous novel

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMagic’s Promise by Mercedes Lackey fantasy book reviewsMagic’s Promise by Mercedes Lackey

Magic’s Promise is the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy. This review is likely to spoil some of the first book’s plot, so be warned.

It’s been several years since the horrid events that took place at the end of the Magic’s Pawn. Vanyel is now the most powerful Herald-Mage on the planet and he’s been traveling all around the realm helping to fight a war with one of Valdemar’s neighbors. He’s exhausted and his body is scarred, but his reputation shines and everyone admires him. He’s been given the nicknames Demonsbane and Shadowstalker. But while Vanyel may be famous, he’s actually more alone than ever.

For a much-needed rest, Vanyel goes home to his parents. I’m not sure why he thinks this will be restful since his father despises him because of his sexual orientation and his mother is constantly parading young ladies before him, but perhaps Vanyel has a sense of familial duty. At home Vanyel gets embroiled in a mystery that involves a young disinherited prince and his slaughtered family. Who killed the family and why? Is black magic at work here?

I didn’t like the previous book, Magic’s Pawn, because Vanyel was such an angsty teenager. He whined and brooded and even tried to kill himself. I just didn’t like him and I doubted that this is how homosexual boys would prefer to be portrayed in fiction. He’s just a little better this time — less flamboyant and bitchy and definitely no longer a “peacock” — but he’s still obsessed with his sexual orientation and frequently laments his recent celibacy. As I mentioned in my previous review, Vanyel is defined by his homosexuality and thinks about it constantly. I am sure Lackey doesn’t mean to do this, but she is portraying gay people as (1) melodramatic and flamboyant and (2) obsessed with sex, especially sex with young teenage boys. Vanyel and the other young gay boys in the story actually seem promiscuous. There are even sheep jokes. Not kidding. I think Lackey wanted to confront us with gay sex (recall that this was written is the ‘80s) but it comes across all wrong. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s really hard to read this and not think of those Catholic priests.

As before, the rest of the plot of Magic’s Promise feels like it’s of secondary importance, but at least it’s slightly interesting this time because Vanyel has to solve a murder mystery that involves physical and sexual child abuse, possible incest, a peace treaty, a greedy uncle, and a magical node. Another subplot involves the king of Valdemar and his soulmate, two dear friends of Vanyel’s. The king is sick and, therefore, the future of Valdemar is a concern. This is sure to become more of an issue in the next book.

There are some sweet spots in Magic’s Promise such as when Vanyel confronts Jervis the armsmaster about how Jervis treated him when he was a boy. Vanyel also rights some other wrongs in his family’s home. In the end, Vanyel reflects on his power and purpose in life and we see that he has matured quite a lot since we first met him. (Thankfully.)

The audio production of Magic’s Promise, which is 11 hours long, is quite nice. Gregory St. John does a great job with the narration. One small complaint I have, and it’s not the fault of the audio but of the author, is that so many of the names sound similar enough that it can get confusing when you’re listening rather than reading. Vanyel, Randale, Savil, Yfandes, Tashir, Shavri. These names look very different on paper, but if you say them you’ll hear that they sound similar.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. April /

    What a difference age and time make. After reading your review of Magic’s Pawn I tried to remember what my reaction to the book was when I read it back in the ancient times, the 80s. I remember vaguely that I liked the book and thought it was a sweet fantasy. That’s all. I don’t recall being shocked by the main character being gay or the emphasis on sex etc. None of it. I remember magic and horses and that is about it. I wonder if it was that way for me because A I’m oblivious or B I was great friends with a very flamboyant gay teen at the time or a bit of both. These days, I’m sure I’d have a similar reaction to yours though.

    • That’s such an interesting thing to think about, April. I think that a third of the problem is that it such an obvious message, which is something I might not have picked up on back when it was first published. Since then I have decided that I don’t like obvious messages in my fantasy.

      The next third of the problem is that it’s such a stereotypical portrayal of gay teenagers. It’d be interesting to find out how how THEY feel about it, though. I doubt that they’re impressed.

      And the last third of the problem is that there’s not much plot other than angst and the romance. I don’t like this in ANY book (i.e., it has nothing to do with it being homosexual romance — I don’t like a focus on romance at all).

  2. I read this back in the 80’s along with every book ever written in that world. I loved it. Still do. That series personifies relaxation to me and helps bolster my faith in the kinder aspects of human behavior. (Though like you I could have done without the romance.)

    I do see your points. Vanyel was nothing if not self absorbed. However there is a strong current of love, loyalty and friendship running through the series that I need at times. I believe I am on my third set. I read the other 2 until the pages fell out.

    Or maybe it is even simpler than that. Maybe I just want my own Companion :>)

    • Haha, Mulluane! I’ve heard so many people (all female) say they loved Valdemar when they were younger because they wanted a Companion. :)

      I liked the first Valdemar book and I plan to read many others. I hope they’re less angsty than this particular trilogy.

      Oh, and I’ve read the third book about Vanyel. It’s better because he’s a lot more mature, but still it’s a romance.

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