When we left Vanyel last week, he was riding to Forst Reach for some R&R and an opportunity to catch up with his family. The last time we saw Vanyel’s family, Van was an emotionally intense teenager, and his family were agents of The Man, bent on destroying his dreams of becoming a rock star.
In chapters 4-6 of Magic’s Promise, Vanyel is a mature and rational 28-year-old, and we need to get to know his family as real people. Unfortunately for Vanyel, he’s getting reacquainted while recovering from the fatigue that is the result of his recent deployment to the Karsite border. He’s on a short fuse.
When Vanyel was a teenager, his father, Withen, was distant and disapproving, and his brother Mekeal, had a natural rapport with the world that Vanyel envied. Now, Vanyel finds that his dad is worried about him—as a former mercenary, Withen knows what it looks like when someone has seen too much combat. But this experience also commands respect. Withen and Meke both turn to Vanyel to resolve their conflicts. Meke has turned the south pasture over to a new breed of sheep and has purchased a “Shin’a’in stud.” Withen appeals to Van to make Meke get rid of both. Meke admits the sheep were a mistake, but stands by the stud even after Vanyel points out that its conformation bears no resemblance to the legendary horses of the Shin’a’in. Mekeal is concerned about the conflict between Lineas and Baires, the countries on Valdemar’s northern border. Forst Reach breeds excellent hunters, but Meke worries that they need horses who can carry a man in armor. The stud will play a role in the rest of the story. It’s useful to know that he’s big and ugly, with terrible manners. The horse-lovers here will also need to know that Shin’a’in horses are smaller than The Stud, deep-chested, short-backed, and slightly downhill, with broad foreheads. If you don’t know what those words mean, a horse lover can explain it to you in the comments.
Before he left Forst Reach, Vanyel saw his mother as self-absorbed and ineffective. Now, he begins to see similarities between Lady Treesa and his Companion, Yfandes. Treesa is responsible for some of Vanyel’s problems in this book—she’s been telling young women that Vanyel lost his first love under tragic circumstances and refusing to elaborate. This leaves Vanyel vulnerable to the advances of Treesa’s maid, Melenna, who is also the mother of Vanyel’s illegitimate nephew. Marriage to Vanyel would provide Melenna with social status and respectability, as well as the economic security of Vanyel’s stipend. And it’s not like he’s around a lot. Melenna could get everything she wants and Vanyel could go right back to Herald Mage-ing, which requires a lot of travel. If Melenna was fully informed about Vanyel’s preferences and situation, she might have tried approaching him directly to negotiate for a position as his beard. Instead, she strips naked and waits in Vanyel’s bed. Vanyel retreats to the stables to sleep with Yfandes.
Treesa’s indirect advocacy is more effective for Melenna’s 12-year-old son, Medren. The Ashkevrons haven’t neglected Medren—Withen has insisted that he be educated alongside his legitimate grandchildren. But they haven’t thought out a career plan or sought musical training for him. Medren is so desperate that he makes Vanyel a cringe-tastic offer of sexual services in exchange for music lessons. This is, of course, completely unnecessary. Treesa has already made sure that Vanyel heard Medren play. Vanyel immediately noticed Medren’s Bardic Gift and arranges for Medren to travel to Haven with the Harvest taxes to begin his training at the Bardic Collegium.
Medren also plays a role in Vanyel’s re-acquaintance with Arms-master Jervis and the family priest, Father Leren. Medren has alarming bruises from weapons practice. Vanyel worries that Jervis is abusing Medren the way he abused Vanyel. Jervis keeps asking Vanyel to spar. At the end of this section, the issue is unresolved. When Vanyel was a teenager, Father Leren was a creepy guy who had Withen’s ear. Vanyel worried that Leren would convince his father to send him off to a distant monastery and disinherit him. Leren seems less of a favorite now, but can’t resist pointing out the time that Vanyel has been spending with Medren and suggesting that Vanyel’s motives are less than pure. Vanyel responds by suggesting that he would be far more interested in Father Leren’s company. This is as swishy as Vanyel ever gets. For a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about the impacts of homophobia, Vanyel rarely confronts it directly. It’s fun to see him cut loose.
Vanyel also spends a lot of this section pondering his feelings for Shavri. He cares for her, and Jisa and Randale, a great deal. He can’t figure out why he’s spending so much time thinking about the mother of his child. Although, to be fair, she’s only the mother of one of his children. The mother of his other children doesn’t seem to be pre-occupying him in the same way. Vanyel considers the possibility that he isn’t really gay. Maybe it was just Tylendel and the lifebond, and he really is straight. Which is ridiculous because:
- You can’t write the first gay male protagonist teenage readers got to see in the early-90s and then un-gay him halfway through book 2.
- Vanyel knows as much about his own death as we do, and the presence of his male lover is a notable feature.
At the end of chapter 6, Vanyel is awakened by a distress call from two Companions in Lineas. We’ll join him there next week to take a look at chapters 7-10.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.