The cover of Magic’s Promise features Vanyel in Heraldic uniform. A tasteful quantity of chains is highlighting an aesthetically appropriate expanse of his chest. Behind him, a child with a terrible perm clings to a Companion with slash-marks on its flank. Something is burning. The back cover has bat-like creatures with huge teeth.
There are peaches.
Everything about this cover says I’m going to have a lot of fun with this book, right up until the moment it punches me in the heart.
The story begins with Vanyel’s return to Haven. He’s been guarding the Karsite border. He’s not sixteen anymore! He’s twenty-eight and very tired. The fatigue explains why Vanyel spends an entire chapter thinking thinky thoughts.
Vanyel thinks about his room, and how it doesn’t feel like home. He thinks about his huge bed, which he chose so he could toss and turn, and not as an accessory to the wild sex life he doesn’t have. He thinks about his aunt, and how she has more sex than he does. I KNOW, RIGHT? Because she has the thing with Jaysen and Andrel that I told you about in the last book. When Vanyel drops in on his Aunt Savil, she’s chatting with Jaysen because I told you so that’s why. Polyamorous septuagenarians were more common in my late-80s reading experience than gay male protagonists. I’m unwilling to commit to an explanation of the global significance of this, but I feel confident in saying that I read too much Heinlein.
Vanyel falls asleep in the bath, and is woken up by his friend Tantras. Once Tantras has offered Vanyel some insights into the reason people avoid him – it’s because Vanyel is a walking nuclear warhead, not because he’s gay – Vanyel goes back to his room to answer his mail. He has a letter from his dad, asking him to visit and please not bring a lover. Since Vanyel is on leave and wants to stay that way, he has, in fact, been planning a trip to Forst Reach. Also, Mardic and Donni are dead. So is Queen Elspeth the Peacemaker. Randale is king now. Surprise!
But there is more! Vanyel had a brief fling with a Guard named Jonne. He sounds nice. Vanyel is otherwise very lonely. Vanyel’s sister is thrilled to hear he will be visiting the family, but is monitoring a situation on the northern border, and can’t promise she’ll be able to see him. Huge bummer, because Lissa rocks. King Randale sends an unofficial note to say welcome back to Haven. And now it’s not so much an info dump as a majestic info waterfall.
Randale is lifebonded to Shavri, a Healer who is also King’s Own. Their daughter, Jisa, is actually Vanyel’s child. Vanyel has three other children with other couples (for those of you keeping score, that’s Casual Lovers: 1, Natural Children: 4). He’s been very generous in helping out friends with fertility problems because to him, sex with a woman is a mechanical act, like dancing. I think Vanyel is probably a lousy dancer. Randale’s infertility is just one symptom of his worsening illness, which explains why his King’s Own is a Healer. Randale is dying, and though it’s going to take him over a decade to do it, Shavri is terrified. Vanyel worries for her because he lives with the pain of having lost Tylendel.
Randale wants Shavri to marry him, but she won’t because she wants to protect Jisa from inheriting the throne, and because Randale needs to be available for a possible marriage of alliance should Valdemar need one.
Which is a ridiculous idea. Look at it from a princess’s perspective:
Advisor: We’d like you to seriously consider this proposal of marriage from Randale of Valdemar. It’s a small kingdom on the edge of civilization.
Princess Juliet Lannister-Habsburg: I hear it has delightful psychic horses! Tell me more about this boy.
Advisor: He’s reputed to be a kind and fair ruler. He has a natural daughter, so we strongly suspect he’s not shooting blanks.
Juliet: That is reassuring. And I’m sure the King is also fair to the unfortunate woman who threw away her virtue and now lives in some comfortable but inconvenient part of the country.
Advisor: Um, no.
Advisor: The child’s mother is the king’s closest personal advisor and plays a central role on the Council and at Court.
Juliet: and the child is&hellip ?
Advisor: …only six, but a favorite among the courtiers and the Heralds. It’s thought she will become a Herald herself, at a young age.
Juliet: Well, surely that will keep her too busy to scheme against my children for the throne!
Advisor: Actually, being Chosen as a Herald is a prerequisite for the crown. The Valdemarans are adamant about it. They won’t guarantee that your children will inherit.
Juliet: We’re done here.
Advisor: Like us, Valdemar has had difficulties with Karse, and they’ve offered us the services of their Herald Mages. When Randale and his paramour sent this proposal, they had six of them.
Juliet: I would rather sleep with a stable boy.
But Vanyel is the one giving advice on diplomacy here, not me or Princess Juliet. And Vanyel is headed north with Yfandes, who lectures him about breaking hearts and then asks him to braid her mane for her assignation with a handsome Companion at an inn along the road. Yfandes has a great night. Vanyel is embarrassed by a Herald who gets overexcited about being in the presence of the Shadowstalker. Vanyel leads the inn’s patrons in a rendition of “The Crafty Maid” in a futile attempt to live down his new nicknames. Vanyel’s struggles with notoriety will continue until he notices that the forest he thought was creepy when he was fifteen is creepy for magical reasons.
Do you know the lyrics to “The Crafty Maid”? Who else should have Vanyel’s babies? Tell me about it in the comments and tune in next week for chapters 4-6!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.