The Last Herald-Mage: Book 2
Magic’s Promise hits several of my buttons hard. When we catch up to Vanyel Ashkevron, Herald-Mage, he’s now the hero of the war with the neighbouring kingdom of Karse—a far cry from the confused, sad sixteen year old boy we left behind in Magic’s Pawn. I’m a sucker for back-from-the-wars heroes who now have to cope with living in non-wartime, and that’s what we get here.
We meet our tired hero shrivelling up in a bathtub, home after years on the frontlines. Everyone he meets says he looks like hell. All he needs is to recuperate. Of course, relaxation’s the last thing that happens when he goes home to Forst Reach…
This is my favourite Vanyel book. It’s the least overtly depressing, since it’s the one book where no major characters die [tragically]. And because Vanyel is not involved with anyone, the reader gets him all to themselves. Antagonistic characters in Magic’s Pawn are expanded on here, and they develop and grow in believable ways, as Vanyel learns that they’re not all out to get him. There’s some pretty funny moments, such as Vanyel hitting on the homophobic Ashkevron family priest to get away from him. There’s a horrific mystery story at the end. There’s not any real grand overarching plot, there’s just a series of events and problems that Vanyel gets through and solves. I really appreciate that kind of structure, honestly. Drama and interest arises out of character, not some grandiose plot.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
I love this book so much because of the characterizations. The more villainous members of Vanyel’s family from Magic’s Pawn, namely Withen and Jervis, are given a lot of depth in Magic’s Promise. Vanyel and Jervis actually have a great, manly heart-to-heart, and they come around to each other’s positions. There’s no ‘Cult of Vanyel’ that brings Jervis around: it’s actual concern and a wish to make peace, and Vanyel is reluctant at first. Vanyel’s relationship with his mother actually falters and becomes more strained when he shows her and her bower his magic powers when Tashir freaks out and makes the furniture shake—even while his relationship with his brother and father starts improving. That whole thing about the Shin’a’in warsteed also cracks me up. Misty always describes real horses really well and believably.
To be honest, I’ve never really been sure why that whole affair with Vanyel becoming Valdir the minstrel was included. I feel like that whole sequence went on far too long. It felt a bit out of place, although the scene with Vanyel/Valdir ruefully stepping over urine, reflecting that this was the reason he never ran away to be a minstrel in the first place, was pretty funny.
Overall, though, this book’s lovely and heartwarming and sad and everything I could want it to be.