Magic's Promise

by Mercedes Lackey

Cover image

Series: Last Herald Mage #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: January 1990
ISBN: 0-88677-401-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 320

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Magic's Promise is the second book of the Last Herald Mage trilogy and a sequel to Magic's Pawn. As tempting as it is to skip the first book, which isn't very good, I think you'd miss a lot of the emotional dynamics between Vanyel and his family if you didn't read it.

Magic's Promise opens years after the end of Magic's Pawn. Vanyel has become the most powerful Herald-mage of the kingdom, which is lucky for the kingdom because it's beset on all sides by magical attack. Heralds are being killed, countries on the border are looking for opportunities to spring, and Vanyel is being run ragged. Ragged enough that he's worried he's going to hurt someone by mistake when surprised. It's time for a desperately-needed vacation.

Unfortunately for his ability to relax, that vacation means going home to visit his parents, who have never understood him and who disapprove strongly of his sexuality. (Not that he's actually had a lover in years.) It also means being in the same household as the armsmaster who broke his wrist as a child, and his father's deeply disapproving priest. And the border near his parents' lands may be heating up as well.

Magic's Promise is the book where this trilogy hits its stride. After the events of the previous book, Vanyel is ridiculously overpowered and will be for the rest of the trilogy, but the problems in this book aren't the sort that raw power can fix. (That's a balance Lackey handles well in general.) There are a few places where Vanyel can simply overpower his problems, but the heart of the plot is a mystery that requires analysis, investigation, and a bit of undercover snooping.

I enjoyed the defense of the kingdom plot (more than I had remembered, in fact), but the heart of this book is Vanyel and his family coming to terms with each other. Vanyel is a lot older and more confident than he was in the first book, and his service to the kingdom forces some grudging respect. But the way that grudging respect turns into real affection over the course of this book is a delight to read. This degree of reconciliation is wish-fulfillment — most of the Valdemar series is heavy on wish-fulfillment — but it's the sort of wish-fulfillment that matches the way that you wish the world would work. People figure out that they've been ignorant and cruel and actually change, and Vanyel learns some important lessons about giving people room to change. I particularly liked that the growth of respect wasn't one-sided. Most of the movement comes (and has to come) from Vanyel's family, but Vanyel gains some new-found appreciation and empathy for some strengths that he'd previously been blind to.

Lackey's writing is still not the best here. There's something a bit awkward about the dialogue patterns in places, one gets a bit tired of the repetitive narrative focus on Vanyel's exhaustion, and the sentence-level construction of the story is more workable than delightful. You have to be invested in the characters; the beauty of the writing itself isn't going to win you over. As with a lot of Lackey's writing, I think your enjoyment will depend greatly on whether she happens to hit your emotional buttons. But the story she tells here, of people finding the inner goodness in each other and healing over past wounds, is one that I very much enjoy reading.

I think this is the third time I read this book, and it's the first of the Valdemar series in this re-read that held up to my memory. So far, it's the best of the series.

Followed by Magic's Price.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2015-09-19

Last modified and spun 2015-10-14