Although it was originally marketed as an adult book and sold to fantasy genre fans, Magic’s Pawn, like many other books in the Valdemar Chronicles written by Mercedes Lackey is very much a young adult title. The protagonist, Vanyel, is an adolescent who clashes with his family, struggles to understand his place in the world, experiences the highs and lows of first love, and has several epiphany moments that change his worldview and will influence the rest of his life.
Of course nothing is ever that simple, however: Vanyel is living in a world filled with magic, one protected by incredibly honorable Heralds, who are mystically bonded with their magical horse Companions (and no, that’s not as cheesy and third-grade-girl as it sounds, I promise.) Vanyel himself wants nothing to do with the Heralds. He’s too busy sulking because his family just doesn’t understand him, though Vanyel simply can’t understand his father’s hostility towards him.
He starts to get a better idea when he is shipped off to the capital city to live with his Herald Aunt. Once there he learns that his Aunt’s protege Tylendel is “shaytch” – the Valdemar word for gay. Vanyel had never heard of such a thing, but he instantly understands … and not-so-instantly begins an impassioned relationship with Tylendel that has mystical undertones. But while Vanyel is happy for the first time in his life, ‘Lendel is still struggling with torn loyalties to his twin, who is embroiled in a blood feud. When he asks for Vanyel’s help, the teenager is only too eager to give it, with disastrous consequences for everyone involved.
This is the first in a trilogy about Vanyel, a figure of legendary merit in many of Lackey’s later books set in a Valdemar hundreds of years after Vanyel’s time. Although a familiarity with the world is helpful to get some offhand references or allusions, it is not necessary to have read other Valdemar books. Like many of the other books in the series, this is not high literature. It is, however, an engaging world with interesting characters and a page-turning plot. The angst in this particular book is particularly apparent, but is also done in a tone that almost all teenagers can relate and empathize with. Vanyel’s struggles with his family and within his relationships are believable and sympathetic. While there is a touch more telling than showing in regards to personality traits, that can easily be overlooked. I adored this book when I was a teenager, and while it doesn’t quite hold up as well now that I’ve reached adulthood, it is still a book that I revisit every few years or so.
Note to CLAMS readers: this book is not available through the CLAMS network at the moment.