So, in the last review I had a look at Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey first published in 1989. In that post, I concluded that while it was a wonderful story with great characters and quality writing it was also a deeply unhappy tale. With Vanyel being left alone because his soul mate dies by suicide. So how does the next installment of this series hold up? Well my perception is the same as last time really. There is a lot that is good in this but also things that could have been done a lot better. As usual I’ll start with the things that were good and then get to the things that could have been better. First off massive spoilers for the whole book. Also, a trigger warning for emotional and sexual abuse. With that out of the way lets jump in.
The first thing I really felt the book did well was Tashir’s subplot. Because of the rumours surrounding his paternity he has been abused by his father for his entire life. His mother is no better, a woman with many demons of her own she sexually abuses her son. While in the previous book Lackey shows that she is able to portray how emotional abuse happens and the effects here she shows how sexual abuse can affect the victims. Also, this story tells the tale of a mother who sexually abuses her son instead of the more common found story of father daughter abuse. While all abuse is wrong and should not be stood the former is a very much misunderstood. Often when older women take advantage of young boys it is not treated like the traumatic situation it is. However here this is not the case. When Vanyel hears of what this boy went through his reaction is one of horror and sympathy. Tashir is scared of any older woman especially a motherly one because they remind him of his own mother. This is how many abuse victims respond, anyone that reminds them of their abuser can be triggering. When Vanyel’s mother Lady Treesa attempts to comfort the boy, he loses control of his powers and causes chaos. What is especially good here is that the story does not condemn Treesa who only meant well but instead focuses on how trauma can effect a young person.
Tashir is confused about his sexuality-another common response to sexual abuse. He believes he must be gay because he is so scared of older women. It takes a conversation with Vanyel to make him see otherwise. Another feature is how he lies to people he wants to like him about the abuse. This can be seen with his relationship with Jervis. Tashir is convinced that if Jervis knows that he was the victim of both emotional abuse by his father and sexual abuse by his mother then Jervis will dislike him. In other words, the poor boy is blaming himself for what happened. Once again, another common response to being an abuse victim-shame. While this happening to a girl would be just as horrible by having a boy be the victim it brings attention to the fact that boys too can be victims of such things. It is a testimony to the writing that she is able to weave all this into a narrative in the way she does.
With that being said there is another topic of sexual abuse discussed in the book, the myth that gay men are more likely to abuse boys. While this nasty trope is certainly one that needs to be deconstructed and thrown out, one deconstruction and throwing would have done the job just fine. Instead this idea is brought up repeatedly. The culprit for this is Within, Vanyel’s father. The first time this is addressed is when Vanyel’s own nephew Medren offers himself sexually to Vanyel for music lessons. Vanyel is of course repulsed and turns such a thing down. He does of course help Medren but because the boy has talent not for sex. He also gives Withen a telling off for having such ideas. While Vanyel’s speech to his father comes off a little bit over the top in that situation most people would be. Then later on there is pretty much the same situation with Tashir. Then Medren’s mother saying she trusts Vanyel because the songs are always about him and men not boys. By the third time this is brought up I was ready to yell ‘I get it okay’ But let’s just keep hammering the point home.
As for Vanyel himself he is very different from the last book when he was a teenage boy. He is now a young man of twenty-eight who has fought on battle fields. He is more than capable of standing up to those who emotional and physically abused him the past. Including his father, bother Mekeal and arms master Jervis. It’s very enjoyable to see him cut down the people who mistreated him in the past. I also liked that Jervis came to see the error of his ways and that Vanyel also came in the end to forgive him. The idea of redemption for a person who behaved as Jervis did in the past is not one seen often. Also, that it allows Vanyel to heal from what happened to him as a boy. So Vanyel has come a long way in about thirteen years but what about his love life since Tylendal died? Answer it does not really exist.
While Vanyel has had brief relationships since the last part of the story-including two with women by which he has fathered children. But he has never found anyone to replace Tylendal because they were soul mates and no one can replace his one true love. Hmmm, so that the take away is that you can only find love once? Throughout the whole book Vanyel has experiences doubts about his homosexuality because of his close friendship with a woman called Shaveri, whom he has fathered a child with called Jisa. Vanyel is only ‘Uncle Van’ to his daughter as she has a father in her mother’s life bonded King Ranyel-who is sterile and dying. While a story line with a bisexual Vanyel and Shaveri could work Vanyel dismisses it. Because he could only truly loved Tylendal and Shaveri is simply a friend who needs him. So, your friend whose spouse is dying needs you to be there for so there can’t be anything else there? I understand Vanyel is a gay man but we already knew that and so does he. Really what was the point of all this? To show he can never move on from Tylendal no matter how much time passes, no matter who else he meets and what may happen between them? Yes, sounds like a wonderful take away and really healthy outlook. If you can’t tell that last line was sarcasm there is no hope for you. This is the reason why I am rather uncomfortable with and dislike soulmates plots. When taken to logical extremes like this they can become uncomfortable to say the least.
Even with those criticism above would I still recommend this book? The answer is yes. If you can get past the preachiness and unhealthy relationship dynamics then what is left is still pretty good. There is plenty of magic, fighting, intrigue and character development to enjoy here. There is even a bit of humour when Vanyel taunts the homophobic father Leren from the first book by flirting with him and the book ends on a pretty funny joke. There is also an element of tradgy as many more people have died who are close to both Savil and Vanyel both during this story and in the time gap. Vanyel himself nearly dies but the personification of death lets him return to the realm of the living because he has unfinished business. This scene was my favourite as it showed just how strong Vanyel really is. The magic in this book builds on what we learned about magic in the last. I would still recommend this book but I do wish it didn’t have this unhealthy view of relationships (you can only have one true love) and were not so preachy.
I’ll be reviewing Magic’s Price in the next post.
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