I’ll never forget the thrill I had when reading Mercedes Lackey’s first book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy entitled “Magic’s Pawn.” A friend loaned me a copy, saying very little about it other than I might enjoy it. The story starts with Vanyel, son to an uncaring father and heir to his lands, struggling with his home life. We aren’t talking whiney rich kid here. Vanyel’s trouble are serious, both physical and emotional in nature, and it comes as a great relief to the reader when he is sent away to live with his Aunt in the capital city of Haven.
Often times while reading I pretend characters are gay until the plot forces me to think otherwise, and I did the same with Vanyel. Imagine my delight when he actually turned out to be gay. Vanyel doesn’t discover this until his exodus to Haven, an act intended as punishment, but one that becomes a blessing when Vanyel meets the love of his life, Tylendel. A decent chunk of the novel is taken up by this relationship, but happy endings don’t belong at the beginning of a story, so a parade of surprising conflicts soon interrupt their happy honeymoon. Where Lackey takes their relationship over the trilogy of books, is something better left experienced than described.
Lackey’s portrayal of a gay relationship is a bit hit and miss, occasionally coming across as too flowery and feminine. I suspect that’s partially due to the aristocratic backgrounds given to the characters along with the author obviously not being a gay man. Considering how few homosexual characters were present in popular media back in 1989, I think Lackey did a commendable job regardless.
One thing I certainly appreciate is that the story and characters aren’t preoccupied by coming out. Acceptance of their sexuality comes nice and quick, both internally and from the society surrounding them. Too often coming out dominates the entirety of a plot, but with this out of the way, Vanyel and Tylendel are able to get on with their relationship without having to tackle this age old issue.
On rereading “Magic’s Pawn,” I was surprised to discover echoes of Harry Potter in this tale, since Vanyel is a sympathetic character, misunderstood, unappreciated, and abused by his family until the day he is sent off to a more colorful and magical world. It’s a very effective way of getting the reader on the protagonist’s side. Who knows, maybe Rowling drew inspiration from this earlier tale when writing her own books.
It had been a long time since I read this trilogy, and naturally I thought of it when writing my own gay fantasy novel, but this made me avoid it like the plague. Lackey did it right, and long before anyone else had done it, and I didn’t want to step on her toes. Her success and bravery in incorporating gay characters long before the world had warmed to the idea was a constant inspiration to go ahead with my own vision, and for that I am eternally grateful to her. To me, the Last Herald Mage trilogy will always be the first and most classic gay fantasy series, and I can only hope there are many more to come.