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Magic’s Pawn, Mercedes Lackey

December 3, 2020

With two more sets of papers to read and comment on before the end of the semester, I was looking for more easy reading and all out of Louise Penny books, so when I read about Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey at RoofBeamReader I decided to try it. It is an easy read of a fantasy novel with familiar elements but also with a few twists on the usual. The sixteen-year-old hero, Vanyel, is not chosen. He has no powers, at least at first. He is not saved by the love of a good woman or even a good man. He falls desperately in love with a man who is, like Malcolm Reynolds in the Firefly episode called “Shindig,” trying to be a “great man” but who ends up able to say only “guess I’m just a good man….Well, I’m all right.” Just human, in other words. And quite mortal.

Growing up as the son of a rural landowner in the fictional land of Valdemar, Vanyel doesn’t even know he’s gay until he is moved to his aunt’s household and some gossipy girls define the term “shay’a’chern” for him, saying that it means “he doesn’t like girls. He likes boys.” The boy Vanyel likes is called Tylendel and is in the last stages of his training to become a “Herald Mage,” one of the magical officials who protect Valdemar. As they fall in love, we find out that Tylendel has a twin brother and that his family is involved in a feud with a neighboring landowner. We know the neighbors, the Leshara, are evil because after Tylendel’s father dies they “hired some kind of two-copper conjurer to convince Mother that Father’s ghost wanted to speak with her.” This is necromancy and it’s always bad, you know. But so are feuds, and no matter how aggrieved one side gets, there’s no winning, as Tylendel ultimately and tragically finds out.

Left with magical powers and no will to live after Tylendel’s death, Vanyel must heal and figure out how to manage his new powers so he doesn’t hurt anyone with them. He is chosen by one of the magical horse-people, Yfandes, and she helps him find a way to cling to life. His aunt, Savil, a teacher of Herald Mages, finally decides to take him to another land where the magical Hawkbrothers can help her heal and train him. She does, and they do, and when Vanyel feels the first stirrings of civic responsibility and kills a dragon who is menacing a lady and her children, we know he’s going to be all right.

One of the amazing things about this fantasy adventure, as RoofBeamReader points out, is that it was written in the 1980s and features an unabashedly gay hero. Someone who picks it up today might not react much to that, but Magic’s Pawn was one of the first to do it.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2020 12:50 pm

    This sounds lovely! The only Mercedes Lackey book I’ve read so far is Home From the Sea, from the Elemental Masters series, because it’s about selkies. But I’d love to read some great 80s representation of queer characters in fantasy!

    • December 9, 2020 4:13 pm

      This is the first one I’ve read by Lackey but not the last!

  2. December 3, 2020 12:52 pm

    So, this is a Valdemar prequel. Incidentally, I‘ve read the new anthology „Passages“ just last month, and that is also set in Valdemar with all its magic ponies and heralds. Easy read, brain won’t hurt.
    I’ve been wondering if the early Valdemar novels wouldn’t be soooo 80s. So, thanks for your review which clarifies that!

    • December 9, 2020 4:14 pm

      I’m going to have to read some of these other novels set in Valdemar!

  3. December 3, 2020 11:21 pm

    I have never read anything by this author but she is on my TBR and sooner or later I would do it! (and I really hope sooner than later!). This book seems to have a fascinating worldbuilding, that’s for sure! And the fact that an 80s book represent a gay MC is quite surprising!

    • December 9, 2020 4:17 pm

      I haven’t paid that much attention to the worldbuilding, really; this one was mostly character-based. But I can see that Valdemar is an interesting place to read about, so she’s got me wanting to try the other novels.

  4. December 4, 2020 7:54 am

    Boy does this bring back memories! I tore through the Valdemar books when I was in middle school, and they were like, exactly what my Very Dramatic Self wanted to read. I don’t know if you know this but Mercedes Lackey wrote like, a bunch of songs to go with several of her Valdemar series? And recorded them on CDs? And it is many many years later but I still know, like, a lot of those songs by heart. 😛 IT’S VERY SILLY.

    • December 9, 2020 4:19 pm

      It’s not that silly to admit that you associate books with songs, especially if those songs were written by the same author to go along with the series!!! I have some of those kinds of associations from childhood with much less reason (goes off to google Valdemar music…)
      As I’ve said in the comments to everyone, I’m going to have to read more of the Valdemar books.

  5. December 4, 2020 3:26 pm

    I’ve never read Lackey but my husband has read quite a few of her books and liked them. That this was from the 80s is pretty impressive

    • December 9, 2020 4:20 pm

      It really is impressive that she decided to make her hero very gay at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

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