Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Magic’s Price

Magic’s Price
Mercedes Lackey
The Last Herald-Mage: Book 3

This is the first time I’ve finished this book in a decade. Similarly to Magic’s Pawn, I couldn’t read this without crying—and the end just depressed me so much I didn’t bother to read it. I would read up until the end of the Forst Reach section, and leave the story with its resolution of parental acceptance and Vanyel being united with his new love, Stefen. But this is the story of the Last Herald-Mage and his heroic death, so logic says, this is the book where all the Herald-Mages die. SPOILER LOL.

Seriously, though, this is the roughest ride of all the books. Worthwhile, yes, and well-written, yes, but ooph, it’s heavy.

The strand of brightness is Stefen, the Bard that desperately wants to be Vanyel’s lover. Magic’s Price is as much his story as Vanyel’s, somewhat similarly to Magic’s Pawn, where much of the drama was Tylendel’s. Stefen and Vanyel’s nephew Medren plotting to get the famous Herald-Mage laid is pretty funny.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE [actual] SPOILERS

One of the interesting themes in this book is a reversal of Magic’s Pawn. In this book, Vanyel is the duty-bound, driven one, obsessed to the point of madness with it, and Stefen is the younger, besotted one. Stefen is definitely an improvement of Tylendel—literally, since he is ‘Lendel’s reincarnation. Actually loyal and dedicated to his lover, and stable and sane.

They got Vanyel's hair right on this cover!

I thought this book had good rhythm. What I mean is that we’re confronted by a problem: King Randale is in awful pain and is dying. Soon, this is resolved: Stefen can literally sing/play pain away. Then the drama switches to Stefen, desperately wanting Van… and it’s comical, and funny, and up until the end of the Forst Reach segment, there’s a problem, then there’s succour, then an escalating problem, and it sort of exercises the reader into accepting worse and worse trouble. From the king’s pain and Jisa’s marriage, we upscale into assassins targeting Van’s family. There’s real foreshadowing of the pain and madness to follow as Yfandes grinds the dead assassin with her hooves so ferociously that she frightens Radevel.

Then we have a final stroke of resolution, one last oasis, when Withen and Vanyel finally make peace. Shortly after this, the Herald-Mages start dropping like flies.

Oddly enough, even though I knew Van was the Last Herald-Mage, it still hit me hard when it finally sunk in that Savil dies. Savil is one of my top favourite characters in the Velgarth ‘verse, and that hit me hard. At least she was old, and had lived a full life.

Then everything goes to hell. Van and Stef travel north to deal with the threat. Along the way they are overpowered by bandits under the pay of Big Bad Leareth. Yfandes’ tail is cut off. Vanyel is raped while under magical and physical restraint. When Stef and ‘Fandes get to Vanyel, he has murdered all the bandits, their servant-boy, and the Healer who freed him. He has gone insane.

What I didn’t remember were the kyree who show up and take our battered party to their caves, where Stef and Van are given time to heal. I was very pleasantly surprised by this section. First off, there is some great world-building happening here: I mean the kyree’s music, drums they beat with their tails. There was something wondrously magical that helped the reader heal along with Van and Stef.

Then when Vanyel makes the final stand, it isn’t detailed. We know Van will die, he dies, and it’s not really dwelt on too terribly much. It’s as understated as it could be without being too understated. Then we have Stefen make a very glossed over suicide attempt, and Van’s ghost, now possessing the Forest of Sorrows, says they can be joined after death. Stefen is given a task, to make Valdemar believe Heralds are just as good as Herald-Mages.

We skip over Stef’s life. Stef comes back, and dies, and the very end leaves us with a short paragraph about a lute embraced by a tree, and laughter through the trees of the forest. Magical, lovely, but not, thankfully, overwrought. It’s a mythic ending, suitable to the story. And it ends on a concrete image, a metaphor, which is a good way to end any piece of writing.

So it’s very well paced. In fact, overall, this series shows great craft, care and attention. While I still don’t like those Foresight dreams, I can tolerate them. They don’t detract much. And perhaps they work for other readers? It’s my particular opinion that stories should be chronological and not jump around time much.

(See, I don’t like the implications of destiny—all along Van says, Foresight only shows the foreseeable future, I can take actions to prevent it. Why, then, is the dream always, essentially, the same? Is it to imply that Vanyel always had it in him to be a self-sacrificing hero? Or to show that he made a big mistake all along, disregarding the dreams after Krebain is defeated? Except they went away after Krebain was defeated, and the book implies Leareth was picking off Mage-gifted children for years, likely most of Vanyel’s lifetime. Why would they go away unless they were linked to Krebain? Was Krebain also a descendant of Ma’ar, and it was only around the time Van hooked up with Stef that Leareth started consolidating power? {Krebain does share the Ma’ar characteristics after all: flamboyance, bisexuality, use of seduction …. although it seems all Vanyel’s villains try to seduce him!}

Foresight, here, just doesn’t make sense to me. Hence, I don’t like it. It makes weird statements about destiny and free will that I’m just not comfortable with. Perhaps I’ll revisit this topic when I get around to the Mage Winds books, since I believe these issues are something Elspeth takes issue with.)

Ultimately, these are very good books. Perhaps they don’t feature a flashy prose style, and they suffer from Misty’s overdose of italics, but the solid characterization, riveting character growth, romantic and mythic qualities tempered by common-sense, earthy, realistic detail make these well worth the read. I think, especially, that these are valuable books for any teenager, straight or otherwise, male or female. Or anyone who has ever felt alienation, and wants a book from which they can walk away feeling compassion, for themselves and for others.

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