Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Magic's Pawn

Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
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's review
Mar 11, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, 2008
Read in April, 2008

Vanyel, only fifteen, is the oldest son and therefore heir to a Holding. His mother is seemingly weak-willed and obsessed with her vapours, while his father is such a Man that he needs must push Vanyel into Manly pursuits as well, which includes letting the incompetent and ignorant Armsmaster beat the crap out of him. Vanyel is more interested in music. He's also self-absorbed, introspective, selfish, arrogant, a bit petulant - in other words, young and spoilt, as well as very handsome. His father, Withen, decides to pack him off to his sister Savil, a Herald-Mage who lives in the capital, training young apprentices.

Vanyel's one meeting with his aunt Savil years ago didn't impress either of them, and being sent off into exile doesn't improve his manners. He hasn't shown any Gift, any ability in Mage powers or creativity, not even in music, which shatters his only dream: to be a Bard. Savil isn't like her brother, though, and with her favourite protege, Tylendel, keeps an eye on him to see if he really is an arrogant little shit, or if he's hurting inside and needs help.

His attraction to Tylendel only makes him hate himself more, and fear the older boy's reaction should he find out - even though Vanyel knows Tylendel is shay'a'chern - gay. When the two do finally take the plunge, they fall in love, and become lifebonded. When Tylendel's twin brother is murdered, though, his pain and grief sets him on a dangerous path of revenge and retribution, drawing Vanyel along with him, with tragic consequences.

What starts out as a fairly conventional, formulaic fantasy doesn't stay that way long. While the land of Valdemar may be fairly typical in fantasy fiction in terms of its culture, attitudes, prejudices, sophistication and class structure (i.e. boringly medieval-to-middle ages), it's not entirely patriarchal or old-fashioned. Contrary to what I would expect from a fantasy world that's been revisited so many times, it is not detailed or richly described: you get mostly only a cursory glance at the landscape, which is where falling back on fantasy stereotypes of a medieval-English setting comes in handy. This would normally have alienated, disappointed and bored the hell out of me, but for the characters and the story itself.

Although Lackey overuses italics - this when the story is narrated from Vanyel's point-of-view, to show his nature, but it wears thin pretty quickly - the prose is smooth and quite fast-paced. I much prefer these - I shall call them bildungsromen-style fantasy stories, compared to the Quest-motivated ones. I like stories where the characters are mostly stationary, where you get to watch them live, grow, mature, develop, learn through studies and interactions with others and, yes, adventures, but not quests. Quests get very boring, but it's more than that. There's something enjoyable about the low-key, homely, comfortable "static" fantasy story - most of the Harry Potter books are like this, especially The Order of the Phoenix, which a lot of people found boring but I really enjoyed - it's quite possibly my favourite even. It has precisely this quality, where you really get to know the characters, and you get to indulge in political scheming, feuds, that kind of thing. Magic's Pawn is one of those bildungsromen-type fantasies, but it's still a very busy book, and when adventure happens it certainly doesn't dither.

I did feel a bit like I'd walked in on a group of role-players and a game that's new but familiar: I had no trouble following the story or understanding the world, but because I haven't read any other books set in this world, there's a lot that isn't explained and plenty that you would expect would be dramatised but isn't - like the Companions (intelligent, magical horses) finding their Chosen (new Herald-Mages) - and the difference between a Herald and a Mage, or why some are both, is unclear. Also, what the Hawkbrothers do went mostly over my head; I really didn't understand that part of it.

Vanyel's story, though, was clear and passionately told. Despite his flaws - and he really is a self-indulgent, vain little shit most of the time - you still come to care for him and cheer him on. And I was proud of him, in the village scene at the end. I certainly want to read the next two, Magic's Promise and Magic's Price, to find out what happens with him.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Izlinda :D I rather enjoy Lackey's Valdemar books; almost read all of them. I'm not so keen on the Owlsight and the other two books in that trilogy... It doesn't seem to have a lot to do with Valdemar itself! :P

Shannon (Giraffe Days) This is the only one I've read so far, but I plan on finishing the trilogy and reading some of her other Valdemar books. Haven't heard of Owlsight - is that Valdemar too? There're so many!

Izlinda Whoops, Owlsight is actually the second of a trilogy (Darian's Tale). *blush* It's set after Elspeth and the rest help save Valdemar, and it apparently centers more among the Hawkbrothers, so in that way it is part of the Valdemar universe.

Mercedes Lackey is prolific like sin!

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