Review: Magic’s Price (The Last Herald-Mage #3)

[Trigger warning: rape]

As the last book in the trilogy, the following review will contain SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE TRILOGY! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

WTF Mercedes Lackey? WTF?

Actually, before I get into that, here’s a quick recap. When we last left Vanyel, he has a crapton on his plate: the king is dying, Valdemar’s neighbours are either trying to wage war or sitting on their asses being neutral, and he needs to find a way to keep the nation’s protective spells up without taking a toll on his fellow Herald-Mages. Also, he’s lonely, he’s very, very lonely….

Magic’s Price is, without a doubt, probably the darkest book in the trilogy (although the second was pretty dark), characters you have grown to love will die, no doubt about it, and you’re anticipating and dreading the epic conclusion that you know is coming….

And then, and then…..

WTF, Mercedes Lackey?

I’ve noticed a trend regarding Lackey’s books. There’s a lot of buildup at the front of the book, and it’s only in the last couple of chapters that we really get to resolving the conflict. This is part of the reason it took me so long to get into this book. The book doesn’t start to get exciting until around chapter ten, then it stops for a bit, then characters start dying, and the major battle, the conflict that’s been driving the entire trilogy, begins and ends in chapter nineteen, the very last chapter.

To put it simply, this book has so much buildup in it that you could build a castle out of it and have enough left to build a nice mansion with its own heliport.

Now, before I get to the real WTFery, I should spend some time talking about what I liked about the book. Firstly, Vanyel gets a new love interest in the form of Stefen, which was a relief, because I was tired of him wangsting about it. Now, I should mention that this is a May December Romance (Stefen is a teenager, and Vanyel is, I believe, pushing thirty) which, to be honest, was kind of creepy at first (a feeling that Vanyel shared) but there’s actually a good reason for it. By the time they actually were together (Stefen is definitely the seducer, with Vanyel trying his hardest to not be seduced) I found myself actually forgetting the disparity in their ages.

I said in my review of Magic’s Promise that Vanyel has come a long way from the spoiled brat I couldn’t stand in book one. That he’s gone from constantly referring to his mother as “hysterical” to admitting that she can be “warm-hearted” at times made me feel proud of him. And he finally, FINALLY gets to reconcile with his father, which, I’m not going to lie, brought me to tears. It’s even more surprising to me that Lackey didn’t do what so many authors have done: drop the bigoted family like a hot potato and never speak of them again. Not in this trilogy, in this trilogy, the bigots get character development, and then they become much more tolerant (even if it’s still hard for them to grasp). This is just awesome.

Oh, and Moondance and Starwind return. I like them, so I was happy to see them in this book. YMMV, of course.

Right so, now we get to the WTFery, and the reason for the trigger warning. If you’re still reading this, this is where you should leave, you should leave and pretend that Tylendel never died and him and Vanyel adopted kids together, or something. Also, SPOILERS! MAJOR BOOK-RUINING SPOILERS!

So, chapter seventeen, this is it, Vanyel and Stefen are going to confront the Big Bad responsible for murdering the last of Valdemar’s Herald-Mages (making Vanyel the last Herald-Mage, hence the title of the series) when they are ambushed by bandits and Vanyel is captured. During the course of his captivity (during which he is paralyzed by a magical dart) Vanyel is beaten and raped, repeatedly.

W.T.F.

Predictably, Vanyel goes into shock and, completely and utterly enraged, massacres almost all of the bandits and almost forces their leader to disembowel himself.

….And then Morality Pet Stefen barges in and gives Vanyel a If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him and Vanyel is all My God, What Have I Done? and then he spends some time healing from the trauma by way of the Power of Love, with the kyree, Big Badass Wolves that are as intelligent as the Companions. And before you ask, Vanyel’s healing from his traumatic experience does NOT involve Stefen pulling a Magical Healing Penis.

The thing is, I’m not sure the whole ordeal was really necessary. Sure, Vanyel came out of it with a firmer resolve and more focus than ever (instead of single-mindedly lusting for vengeance) but did that really have to come at such a price. Was it to show how evil the bad guys really were, because that was kind of established when it was revealed that he was killing off all the Herald-Mages, never mind what he’s been doing since the beginning of the trilogy, if not before it. It’s made even creepier by the fact that even when he’s beaten and bruised and traumatized, characters keep remarking that he’s, you know, a very handsome man. Now, Vanyel is handsome, but talk about not being the time nor the place for it. The ending, in which Vanyel is killed off-screen, except he’s not really dead, and then we have the sickeningly sweet epilogue that made me cry, AGAIN!

But, on the whole, this book felt underwhelming, and this isn’t a good place for a third book to be, IMHO. Don’t get me wrong, in spite of the unnecessary rape scene and the slow start, it’s still a good book, it’s just not the epic conclusion that I thought it would be.

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