A prequel of sorts to many of Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar novels, The Last Herald-Mage is a trilogy that gives the "real story" of title character Vanyel Ashkevron.When the trilogy begins (in Magic's Pawn), Vanyel is a vain, somewhat petty fifteen-year-old with no manifested powers, sexual confusion, a simpering, weak-willed mother, and an abusive, prejudiced father who lets a brutish weapons master break Vanyel's arm in an attempt to "teach him to be a man". Although Vanyel's only real passion is for music, his father orders him to go to Haven to be fostered by his much-feared Aunt Savil, a Herald of Valdemar. Initially miserable in Haven, Vanyel finds happiness as he becomes aware of his gay identity, studies an appropriate style of combat, and falls in love with Savil's trainee Tylendel.Unfortunately, his unquestioning devotion to Tylendel causes tragedy when he helps the trainee, now grieving over his brother's death, to obtain a book of dark spells: not only does Tylendel use forbidden magic, murder several innocent people, and ultimately commit suicide out of guilt, but a massive flood of mystical energy unnaturally opens multiple magical channels into Vanyel.The remainder of Magic's Pawn concerns Vanyel's acceptance of his newfound responsibilities as a powerful Herald-Mage; in Magic's Promise, he tries to solve a mystery in another country while dealing with excruciating loneliness; and in Magic's Price, now famous, infamous, and exhausted, he finds new old love just before he has to face down a mage with the power to destroy Valdemar.
This work contains the following tropes:
Adults Are Useless: They get almost nothing right in the first three-quarters of Magic's Pawn.
Vanyel's mother encourages his artistic and effeminate qualities in order to indulge her own yen for courtly love, treating him like a plaything; his father, meanwhile, is a narrow-minded homophobe who neither understands him nor makes any effort to, instead pushing his armsmaster to "make a man" of him by any means necessary. Armsmaster Jervis, who later admits to having known better, lets his loyalty and sense of indebtedness to Withen and his own frustration with Vanyel's bratty behavior drive him to bully the boy until he actually breaks Van's arm in a fit of rage - and even after this, Withen still takes Jervis's side rather than his son's.
The Collegium does no better. Savil knows that Tylendel isn't rational where his family is concerned, but still doesn't think to have him see a MindHealer after his telepathically-linked twin brother is murdered by their longtime enemy. After Tylendel's suicide, there's not a single person around who isn't too wrapped up in their grief and horror over Tylendel's death to spare any concern for Vanyel, who's just witnessed a horrific supernatural slaughter and the suicide of his mind-linked lover. Nor does anyone pause to consider the possible consequences of the fact that Vanyel has suddenly developed powerful mind-reading abilities which he has no control over, making him all too sensitive to the resentment of the people around him who didn't know his "feud" with Tylendel was a cover for their relationship and resent the fact that he's alive and Tylendel's dead. And even after this leads to Vanyel's first suicide attempt, Jaysen falls asleep while on watch to keep him from trying it again.
Abusive Parents: While Treesa is merely silly and weak-willed, Withen's determination to turn Vanyel into "a toy version of [him]self" (per Savil in Magic's Pawn) leads him to outright cruelty: he allows an armsmaster to break Vanyel's arm, calls him a "perverted little catamite", and generally makes himself despicable until Magic's Price, wherein he becomes merely obnoxious. And poor Tashir's father despised him in the belief that he was. as Lores says, "the worst kind of bastard".
All Gays Are Pedophiles: Averted and discussed repeatedly throughout Magic's Promise, as people keep expecting Vanyel to hit on minors, including his own twelve-year-old nephew, and he keeps explaining that he's not interested.
All Gays Are Promiscuous: Subverted, as people assume Vanyel has an undending stream of male groupies. In reality, he notes that "Savil sees more action in bed than I do."
Ambadassador: By Magic's Price, Vanyel is in demand as a diplomat as well as being Valdemar's most powerful warrior.
Big Screwed-Up Family: As Starwind says of the Ashkevrons, "This is not a family, it is a small army. And half of them are mad." Not only are they headed by a hysterical woman and an abusive father, but they're breeding like rabbits. Some are itching for a war for no better reason than that Forst Reach doesn't have enough room for so many heirs.
Blessed with Suck: Being the most gifted person in Valdemar means you'll likely wind up nearly friendless, worked to the bone, and sent on nigh-impossible missions.
Blood Magic: Used by Krebain, Vedric Mavelan, and Leareth.
Brawn Hilda: Bel, the hard-drinking, mannish, lecherous proprietor of the Inn of the Green Man.
Break the Cutie: Probably four out of five events in Vanyel's life qualify for this.
Cast from Hit Points: Heralds are capable of a kind of suicide attack that obliterates everything nearby. It's called "Final Strike". Also, Shavri drains her own life force into Randale, meaning that she won't long outlive his terminal illness.
Celibate Hero: Vanyel, from a few months before Magic's Promise begins until he gets together with Stefen in Magic's Price.
Defiled Forever: Averted twice. First, Stefen thinks Vanyel doesn't want him because he knows of Stefen's extensive sexual history, but he's wrong— Vanyel just hadn't realized how serious Stefen was about him and is relieved to find that he is not a star-struck, hero-worshiping virgin trying to explore his sexuality. Later, Stefen sees Vanyel's rapists escaping a burning building and muses that "they didn't matter. What mattered was Van."
Did You Just Have Sex?: An unusual example occurs in Magic's Pawn, as Savil realizes via Empathy what Tylendel and Vanyel have been doing.
The Dog Bites Back: Near the end of Magic's Price, a healer forced into working with the bad guys who have captured and tortured Vanyel takes revenge on them by removing the block that's keeping Vanyel from using his magic. Unfortunately, Vanyel isn't remotely sane by that point, and kills everybody, including the healer.
Double Standard: Deveran Remoerdis, the king of Baires, made sure his queen never had a chance to be alone with a man, due to his obsession with paternity. In Valdemar, Vanyel tells Withen "I know good and well you've been with women other than Mother" and doesn't seem to regard it as dysfunctional, but also tells Stefen that he doesn't think Treesa would cheat on Withen because "I think she truly loves Father, in her own way".
Driven to Suicide: Tylendel throws himself off a chapel roof out of his guilt regarding Gala's death in Magic's Pawn; Vanyel makes two failed attempts to follow him. In Magic's Price, after Vanyel's Heroic Sacrifice defeating Leareth, Stefen is about to poison himself, but Vanyel's ghost stops him.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Stefen spends decades working for the right to spend eternity with Vanyel in the Forest of Sorrows.
Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Vanyel has pale skin, silver eyes, blue-black hair, and a level of mystical power that scares the stuffing out of most people who recognize him.
The Empath: Tylendel has a touch of empathy. Vanyel, Shavri, and Jisa have considerably more.
From Vanyel's generation: Mekeal looks almost exactly like Withen, while Lissa is pretty much a copy of her aunt Savil in her youth.
From Stefen's generation: Young Medren is basically young Vanyel plus a Bardic gift and minus the homosexuality, and frequently refers to "young Meke", who is probably his oldest half-brother. One of Mekeal's daughters is mentionned to have been Chosen. This gets discussed for Treven and Jisa, due to the fact that they can't be sure Treven won't develop the same health problems as Randale and it's known that Jisa will become King's own when her mother Shavri dies.
The narration in Magic's Pawn mentions the Ashkevron family manages to produce "one strong-willed woman per generation". These women have seemingly been in order: Vanyel's Grandmother, Savil, Lissa and presumably Ariel (Mekeal's daughter that has been Chosen when Magic's Price starts).
Has Two Daddies: Brightstar and the barely-mentionned child Vanyel sired between Magic's Promise and Magic's Price.
Healing Hands: One form of supernatural ability is healing; Vanyel has a little of it, but Shavri and Andrel have a lot more.
Heel-Face Turn: Jervis. When Vanyel returns to his family home in Magic's Promise, he assumes that Jervis is bullying Medren the way that he used to bully Van. He's taken completely by surprise when Jervis admits that he's regretted his treatment of Vanyel for years and, in his clumsy way, has been trying to do better by Medren. By the later portion of the book, Jervis has become a confidant to Vanyel and proves invaluable in helping poor Tashir.
Heel Realization: Jaysen in Magic's Pawn, when he realizes that he really doesn't want to be the kind of guy who drives angsty teenagers to suicide; later Vanyel, after realizing how badly his drive for revenge has led him to treat Stefen.
Lord Withen has one of these of his own somewhere in between books, as evidenced by the way he treats Vanyel in Magic's Price vs Magic's Promise and especially Magic's Pawn.
Heroic Bastard: While Medren doesn't really have the skill set to go around kicking ass, he certainly averts the Bastard Bastard stereotype by being a loving nephew to Vanyel and a good friend to Stefen.
Jacob and Esau: Treesa dotes on Vanyel, while Withen prefers Mekeal (or possibly just any son who isn't Vanyel).
Kick the Dog: Withen's letting Jervis break Vanyel's arm. Vanyel's coldness toward Stefen while out for revenge against Savil's killer. An outlaw gang's decision to take turns raping a helpless captive. Maybe even Vanyel's use of a magically-altered bird to gain revenge on Leareth. There aren't a lot of perfect characters in these books.
Knight in Sour Armor: When Vanyel arrives in Haven, Savil saves him from his father's minions' bullying but also tells him, "You're an imposition. It's your job to see you become less of one." Yfandes also comes across as this, at least in her conversations with Stefen.
Lonely at the Top: As Vanyel discovers when he becomes the most valuable (and feared) person in Valdemar.
The Lost Lenore: Vanyel doesn't heal from Tylendel's death until the latter returns to him as Stefen, around eighteen years later.
Lover and Beloved: Played with. Savil says that confident, experienced Tylendel was the leader and Vanyel the follower in their relationship, although they don't have the age difference generally associated with this trope. By contrast, Vanyel is nearly twice Stefen's age, but seems not to have any more confidence or sexual experience than the younger man.
Mindlink Mates: Vanyel and Tylendel; Vanyel and Stefen; Donni and Mardic; Starwind and Moondance; Randale and Shavri; Treven and Jisa. The trilogy's term for this phenomenon is "lifebonding".
Mind Over Manners: Regardless of how important Vanyel's intel-gathering is, there's no way around the fact that he reads people's minds without their consent.
Misplaced Retribution: After Evan Leshara has Tylendel's brother Staven assassinated, Tylendel responds by summoning magical monsters to kill all the Leshara. This is why Gala repudiates him and what leads to her death.
The Mole: Vanyel always knew that Father Leren was irritating, but he didn't expect him to attempt murder in the service of the Karsites' Church Militant.
Momma's Boy: Treesa loves bragging on Vanyel and showing him off, but she doesn't love him quite enough to stand up to Withen.
My God, What Have I Done?: Vanyel after helping Tylendel obtain the forbidden book; Savil after realizing she should have had Tylendel examined by a Mind-Healer; Jaysen on "sen[ding] someone out to cut his wrists"; and Vanyel when his failure to listen to Savil's warning about a magical attack leads to her death.
Mooks: Both the outlaw gang and the soldiers controlled by Leareth fall into this category.
Oddly Common Rarity: This trilogy is the record holder for the number of lifebonds within the series. The main Heralds of Valdemar timeframe only gets that number by having two or three of them in the Arrows trilogy and adding a new one about once a trilogy.
Plucky Girl: Nothing, including Withen Ashkevron, keeps Lissa down.
Power Incontinence: Vanyel suffers from this when he first gets his powers. He hasn't learned how to shield or control his powers yet, but because they didn't develop naturally, every use is still incredibly painful. Added to that is the fact that he is suicidally depressed due to the death of his lifebonded, and the physical trauma due to his attempted suicide. They end up needing to keep him heavily drugged until he is just well enough to send away for healing, to stop him from succeeding at levelling the Palace in a nightmare,
Reincarnation Romance: Tylendel is reincarnated as Stefen, allowing him and Vanyel to renew their lifebond.
Replacement Goldfish: Tashir bears a strong resemblance to Tylendel (as Vanyel last saw him, a dozen years ago), and Vanyel feels strongly tempted to accept his proposition. Fortunately, given the disturbing moral issues, he remains chaste.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: There are a lot of these: from Tylendel against the Leshara; from Vanyel against the magically-altered bird that killed Savil; and from Vanyel again after an outlaw gang tortures and rapes him.
Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: One of the songs details Vanyel's confrontation with an enemy lord abusing his farmers, who offers Vanyel anything he could possibly want if he'll just go away. Vanyel's response—given in implausibly flowery language, presumably due to bardic license—amounts to "I don't need your damned money and I'm not letting you hurt these people."
Melenna has sex with Mekeal after Vanyel turns her down, a decision that results in Medren.
In Magic's Promise, Vanyel recognizes the new wife of another of his brothers as one of the women Treesa once tried to get him interested in.
Sexy Discretion Shot: While themes dealing with sexual identity, homophobia, and even rape permeate the book, the amount of sex actually shown is very small, and it's always very vague. Usually there's either some kissing or some leering, then a skip forward to the postcoital bliss or trauma.
Situational Sexuality: Because of his issues dealing with women, Tashir wants to be gay and hits on Vanyel. This trope probably also plays a role in Vanyel's rape by the brigands, as one of them says, "Pup's as good as a woman!"
There Are No Therapists: Halfway averted: although there are no therapists as we think of them, Mind Healers can supposedly recognize and, to some degree, treat insanity. Unfortunately, no one ever seems to turn to them for this, so their utility remains in doubt.
Uniqueness Value: Vanyel's skill set is so uniquely valuable that he hardly ever gets a moment's rest.
Upper-Class Twit: Aside from all that preening and sniping, young!Vanyel looks down his nose on peasants... until he meets a few and realizes that, philosophically, he has more in common with them than he does with most of the aristocrats he knows.