Spellbound Square: Vanyel eventually manifests the mage and herald abilities in this early Valdemar novel.
Vanyel spends his days dreading practice with his father's brutal arms-master, weathering the scorn of his father towards his 'soft' son, practicing music, and fending off the advances of his mother's ladies. Vanyel doesn't enjoy bedding those worthy women like his younger brother. As his father's heir Vanyel has responsibilities that make it impossible for him to follow his dream of becoming a Bard.
He is ultimately sent to the capitol to be under the eye of his stern aunt who is one of many Herald-Mage's in the Kingdom of Valdemar. Vanyel faces the usual pressures of being a gifted young person, but also must keep truths about himself secret from those at Court and those who would harm him. The book ramps up as Vanyel faces many personal challenges.
Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books were the queerest things going in fantasy for a long time, and I owe a lot to that. Her books were not only queer friendly, they had empowered women, talking horses, and more pink and violet covers then you can shake a stick at. There are some mixed messages in these novels, to be sure, but reading these as a scared closeted kid in high school must have offered some comfort.
I say must have, because, honestly, I'd forgotten just how big a part Vanyel's sexuality played in these books. My ultimate disappointment in how the love story played out was likely a factor in my willful amnesia. Three recent reviews (Linda, Carolyn, Wanda) mention the sudden melodrama, the off-screen action, the lazy short-hand in developing all the romantic relationships here as really downgrading the reading experience. That is why the book gets an 'OK' review from me today, but at the time of publication and for a long time after there was nothing else in genre-fiction that talked about prejudice and coming-out so directly. Like it or not, many readers needed to experience the course in Queer Empathy 101 Lackey offers here. I read these around 2001-2, and it was still revolutionary. The fact the book is from '89 makes it that much more extraordinary.
With so many other options out there in fantasy, I will probably not revisit these books again, but they were there for me when I needed them.
The Last Herald-Mage
Next: 'Magic's Promise'