Literature: Last Herald Mage Trilogy
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
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.
- Savil's treatment of Vanyel, at first is also leaves room to be desired. She treats Vanyel fairly coldly, judging him as a shallow spoiled peacock and generally ignoring him. It takes Tylendel to figure out whats wrong with Vanyel and convince her to not abandon him and foster him out, a move which would have exacerbated his abandonment issues and Ice Queen persona.
- 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." By the beginning of Magic's Price, he been outright celibate for years.
- Ambadassador: By Magic's Price, Vanyel is in demand as a diplomat as well as being Valdemar's most powerful warrior.
- Action Girl: Vanyel's favorite sister, Lissa Ashkevron, becomes a successful soldier.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Generally averted; some are bad, but most don't appear to be much worse than your average person.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: When they die, Vanyel, Yfandes and Stefen become the eternal guardians of the Forest of Sorrows.
- The Atoner: In the afterlife, Tylendel knew he hadn't loved Vanyel enough, so he chooses to be reincarnated in hopes of atoning for his betrayal.
- Badass Gay: Vanyel, after he learns fencing and gets his powers.
- Battle Couple: Mardic and Donni.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted, as Vanyel discovers when he meets Krebain.
- Big Bad: Leareth, in Magic's Price.
- 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.
- Broken Ace: Between his grief for Tylendel, abusive father, and awareness of his grim destiny, our hero has developed enough issues to give any imaginary shrink a field day.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Rumored between Ylyna and Vedric Mavelan.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Vanyel, Lissa, and Savil all call Withen out quite thoroughly when he comes to Haven to berate the traumatized Vanyel.
- Camp Gay: Vanyel in Magic's Pawn. His father knows he's gay because he likes music and fancy clothes. He remains gay, but becomes considerably less camp as he acclimates to the warrior's life.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Krebain and Leareth are positively gleeful about their evil schemes.
- 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.
- Church Militant: Runs Karse after an upset loss to Vanyel.
- Closet Key: Tylendel for Vanyel.
- Cool Big Sis: Liss, the only person at Forst Reach willing to stand up for Vanyel to Withen.
- Cool Old Lady: Despite getting on in years, Savil is still pretty Badass, one of the only Heralds able to gate and the first person to figure out Lord Dark's plan.
- Dance Battler: Based on descriptions of his combat style, Vanyel likely fits this trope. Appropriate, given his passion for music.
- Dark Lord: Just in case you missed the turning animals into assassins, army of black-clad slave mooks, employment of a gang of thieves and rapists, and sexually-charged taunting of Vanyel, Leareth sometimes calls himself "Lord Dark".
- 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."
- Depraved Homosexual: Krebain and Leareth.
- 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.
- Doomed by Canon: The broad strokes of Vanyel's story were described in Arrows of the Queen, the first book set in Valdemar.
- 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".
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Vanyel foresees his own death in Magic's Pawn, a couple of decades before it happens.
- 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.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Two of the book-finale villains (both male) whom he encounters try to seduce him.
- Evil Sorcerer: Krebain, Vedric Mavelan, and Leareth.
- Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Withen hates Vanyel's musical interests so much that, despite being a reasonably talented performer, the son feels compelled to hide while he practices.
- A Fate Worse Than Death: Surviving after the death of one's lifebonded.
- Faux Affably Evil: Krebain, in his one meeting with Vanyel.
- Feuding Families: The Frelennye and Leshara.
- Foregone Conclusion: Between the title of the trilogy and the story told in previous books, the ultimate fate of Vanyel and the other Herald-Mages should come as no surprise to anyone.
- Frame-Up: Perpetrated by most of the Mavelan family against Tashir.
- Friends with Benefits: Suggested to be the case between Savil and a variety of men.
- Gayngst: Vanyel in Magic's Pawn.
- Generation Xerox:
- 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).
- It's noted that everyone in the Ashkevron family looks and acts exactly like the previous generation. Anyone who doesn't (Vanyel, Savil, Lissa, Medren) tends to head off to Haven.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Vanyel acquaints a particularly nasty band of brigands with this trope during a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Combined with Red Eyes, Take Warning for extra scare value.
- Gone Horribly Right: Vanyel turns the Karsites' military magic against them so effectively that they not only lose the relevant battle, but also wind up establishing a Church Militant dedicated to rooting out magicians... whether inside or outside their own borders.
- Good Colors, Evil Colors: Heralds dress in head-to-toe white while on the job. Lord Dark's Mook army wears all-black armor.
- Good Is Not Nice: Savil's impatience and caustic tongue.
- Guilt Ridden Accomplice: Brodie, a reclusive Healer blackmailed into helping Lord Dark's brigands.
- 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.
- Heroic BSOD: Vanyel after Tylendel's suicide and, later, after ending his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against his former captors.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Vanyel, Yfandes, Donni, Mardic, and Gala.
- Heteronormative Crusader: Withen, Jaysen, and Father Leren.
- Honor-Related Abuse: The verbal and physical treatment that Withen delivers to Vanyel, out of horror at Vanyel's homosexuality.
- Hysterical Woman: Treesa actually seems to take pride in embodying this trope. Hinted as a case of Obfuscating Stupidity as when actually attacked, Treesa is shown to be fairly calm, sensible and level headed. It's possible she just likes being a Drama Queen.
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Stefen convinces Vanyel of this with regard to the men who had kidnapped and raped the latter.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: Krebain and Leareth, to Vanyel.
- Inadequate Inheritor: The way Withen sees Vanyel.
- Incompatible Orientation: Vanyel and the many women who lust after him.
- Intellectual Animal: Any given Companion is a highly intelligent, magically-gifted being with a horselike body. The kyree are kind of the same, only in wolflike bodies instead.
- Interrupted Suicide: Vanyel, twice, in Magic's Pawn, and Stefen in Magic's Price. Both cases resulted from grief at the death of a lifebonded lover.
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Why Vanyel considers breaking up with Stefen. Yfandes talks him out of it.
- 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.
- Kick the Morality Pet: Poor Stefen, dealing with a vengeance-obsessed Vanyel in Magic's Price. Luckily, Van comes around before he completes his Face-Heel Turn.
- 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.
- Last of His Kind: Vanyel becomes this, as advertised in the trilogy's title.
- 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.
- Magical Native American: Tayledras are something of a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to idealized, generic Native Americans.
- Magical Queer: Two Tayledras, Starwind and Moondance, pulling double duty. Vanyel is also a gay man with magical powers, but his personality and philosophy don't really fit this trope.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Tashir, due to rumors of his mother's promiscuity. As it turns out, he actually is Deveran's legitimate son.
- Meet Cute: Vanyel and Stefen meet after Stefen plays for the king. What makes this a Meet Cute is that Stefen's just played his hands to bits and is rather snappish and irritable towards one of the kingdom's most famous and feared Heralds.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: If you're teenage Vanyel and most of the people around you would rather you were dead.
- 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.
- Never Speak Ill of the Dead: There are hints that Vanyel heavily idealized Tylendel's memory. Tylendel, while a generally kind and easygoing young man could be extremely mercurial, close-off and impulsive at times (all three contributed to his death). Vanyel, in the later books makes no mention of any of these traits and constantly thinks that Tylendel could have handled X better.
- A good example is how Vanyel thinks that Tylendel would have slept with Stefan in a heartbeat. Tylendel's POV shows that he's fairly inexperienced and very careful about choosing lovers, having rejected Vanyel's advances at first.
- 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.
- Parent Child Incest: Between Ylyna and Tashir, a situation that causes no end of trouble.
- 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,
- Pretty Boy: Vanyel, Stefen, and Medren.
- Professional Sex Ed: Withen hires a female prostitute for Vanyel in an attempt to turn him straight. It doesn't work.
- Psychic Link: Between Mindspeaking Heralds and their Companions.
- Rape and Revenge: Stefen interrupts Vanyel while he's dishing out the second part.
- Rape as Drama: An outlaw gang rapes Vanyel. It takes him a while to recover.
- Rape Discretion Shot: In Magic's Price.
- Really Gets Around: Stefen, prior to falling for Vanyel.
- Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Justified by the fact that you can't do anything significant in Valdemar without riding a horse or Companion, and sidesaddle wouldn't cut it.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Savil, Lissa, and Vanyel deliver a relay version of this to Withen after he shows up to berate Vanyel for his homosexuality in Magic's Pawn.
- Red Baron: Vanyel is "Demonsbane" and the "Hero of Stony Tor"; Leareth also goes by Lord Dark.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Vanyel's and Yfandes's eyes glow red when angry.
- 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."
- Settle for Sibling:
- 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.
- Shipper on Deck: Medren sets up Vanyel and Stefen.
- 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!"
- Slave Mooks: Vanyel suspects that Leareth has taken over his soldiers' minds.
- Stalker with a Crush: Melenna goes to extremes in her doomed efforts to seduce Vanyel. At one point, he actually sleeps in the stables upon finding her naked in his bed.
- Superpower Lottery: Vanyel wins it, although it's not a pleasant experience.
- 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.
- The Twink: Early!Vanyel and Stefen.
- Twin Telepathy: Tylendel and Staven.
- 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.
- Welcome to the Big City: Treesa has a hard time adjusting to life at Haven in Magic's Price.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Vanyel's father, Withen Ashkevron.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Stefen gives this to Vanyel a lot, usually when Vanyel has just been snippy with him, but on one occasion when he finds Vanyel in the middle of slaughtering a gang of outlaws.
- Will They or Won't They?: Due to the age difference and the fact that people close to Vanyel become targets, it takes a while for him and Stefen to consummate their love.