Tag Archive | Magic’s Pawn

10 Book Challenge

I was challenged to share the 10 books that have most affected me as a reader on Facebook by my friends J and P.  I then spent at least the last few weeks paralyzed every time I tried to compile the list because it’s SO hard to do.

Keep in mind that this list could change over the course of an hour, much less over a day or a week, but here we go–In no particular order, 10 books that profoundly changed my life.  The links will take you the goodreads page for each book.  I’m going to cheat and use a lot of series to count as a single book

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 3.16.18 PM#1–Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

I have already done a blog post specifically about Magic’s Pawn and how profoundly it affected me.  The short recap, though, is that Vanyel was the first gay person I ever met, and in knowing him I became a better person, and I was better equipped to deal come to terms with my own queerness (I’m bisexual).  The importance of that can’t be overstated, and I only wish that I could tell Brian–the clerk at my local Waldenbook’s who handed it to me–how much I appreciate his bringing Vanyel into my life.  I reread this (and then usually the other two Last Herald-Mage books) every year or two.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 12.48.27 am#2 Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the Wind makes this list because it was the first super long book I ever read.  There are very valid critiques of the book, including a dangerous romanticizing of the antebellum South.  When I think about Gone With the Wind, I think about how I have viewed Scarlett over the years each time I reread it.  When I first read it, at 11-ish years old, I thought Scarlett at 16 was amazing and headstrong.  I then reread it every 3-5 years.  Most recently I read it around the age of 30, and I thought Scarlett was an idiot teenager and a pretty horrible adult.  In rereading this book, I have watched myself grow up and mature.  My understanding both of the actual setting of the book and the context of the time in which Mitchell wrote it have grown as well, and that allows me a more nuanced read of the book each time I’ve read it.

While I’m not sure I will read it again, or how many years will pass before I do, it stands as one of the important books from my transition from child to teen to adult.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 5.54.50 PM#3–The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin (link is to book #1)

Considering I’m re-reading and snarking these books, I don’t their inclusion will come as any surprise.  The BSC books were the first series I felt passionate about.  They were the first books whose release I awaited with rabid desire, and that I devoured on the day I bought them because I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.  I’ve felt this way about many book series over the years since, but they were the first and while I mock them, I do so from a place of deep, deep love.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.03.17 am#5–The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (link is to book #1)

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy, but even as a young reader I noticed a certain lack of estrogen when it came to heroes and adventurers.  Alanna changed all of that for me.  A girl who disguised herself as a boy to earn her shield, does so, comes out as a woman and faces a lot of misogyny, AND who has sexual agency (having three sexual partners over 4 books–off screen because it’s YA, but still) was a revelation for me.  Not only could women star in fantasy novels, they could do so as complex and rich characters.

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Tamora Pierce is an amazing author.  She’s also incredibly gracious–when a writer for XOJane wrote an article about (among other things) meeting Tamora Pierce, I had to comment on it.  And Tamora Pierce commented back!  (She actually engaged with almost everyone on the comment thread, which is just so awesome of her.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.18.45 am#6–Fraud by David Rakoff

My first acquaintance with David Rakoff wasn’t on paper, it was through the NPR show “This American Life,” to which he regularly contributed.  I loved the stories he told there so much, I went out and bought Fraud (and eventually his other books).  Rakoff is a masterful storyteller and his essays, whether on the page or the radio often made me think as well as laugh.  Sometimes they made me sob, much as the last essay in Fraud does.  Listening to him and reading his work has made me a better storyteller.

“I used to bank here, but that was long, long ago” is about Rakoff’s early battle with Hodgkin’s disease which, when it came back years later, killed him.  You can here him tell that story here, or read a transcript of that episode of TAL, including the essay here.  I strongly encourage you to listen to him tell it.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.27.44 am#7-Pandora’s Box 2 by Black Lace books

The was the first (second?) erotica title I ever read.  It my introduction to any number of fetishes that helped me unlock my sexuality.  Given that I’m now a professional erotica author, I’m sure it had some impact on me professionally as well, in setting the bar far above my crappy online erotic fanfic.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.34.40 am#8 Man from Mundania by Piers Anthony (and Xanth books 1-20)

The Xanth books by Piers Anthony make this list because of their bad puns.  Anthony would have his characters walk by some seashells and the eyes of the shell would SEE them.  I started reading these around 9/10 years old and the fact that I got the puns in an “adult” book–although really they’d be better classified as YA at best, they were shelved with the adult sci-fi/fantasy books.  They made me feel smart because I got the puns, and in a way made me fall in love with words.  I’d always loved reading, but the Xanth books with their puns and later the Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun which used massive vocabulary words made me love words and language.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.41.20 am#9–Phantom by Susan Kay

I was already an Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom of the Opera fangirl (or phangirl as we’re known) when I found this in my local library. Kay’s extension of the Phantom character to a full life story (and a far more satisfactory ending) is just awesome.  This is one of my favorite books, period.  It makes the list because it’s okay to be an obsessive nerdy fangirl.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.46.33 am10–Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

This books looks at how the Civil War lives in on in the modern American South.  My BA is in history, and the intersection of history and memory is very interesting to me.  The reason it makes the list is that it highlights some fairly odd/disturbing aspects of this living history within Southern Culture but never makes it a cartoonish representation that you can then disregard.  Horwitz brings humanity to his subjects and shows them as fairly complicated people, not caricatures.  It’s also an incredibly readable book for a layperson.  One of the reason I didn’t pursue history at the PhD level was that I hated the level of depersonalization I had to do to write about history.  Horwitz isn’t a historian, he’s a journalist, and that impacts the flavor of the book in a positive way.  (Which is not to say that historians don’t write good books, it’s just that it wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.)

So there you have it…for this second anyway.

If you want to play, consider yourself tagged.  If you blog it, please link in the comments.

Book Review–Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

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Magic’s Pawn   by Mercedes Lackey

Rating 5/5 stars

It is damn near impossible for me to have any objectivity about this trilogy in general, and about Magic’s Pawn specifically.  There are books you will read during the course of your lifetime that so fundamentally alter who you are as a person that they become far more than a story to you.  Magic’s Pawn was one of these books.

Somewhere around 1990/91 I’d given up reading kid’s books.  YA wasn’t really a genre at that point–there were a few shelves at the bookstore devoted to things like Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, and Lurlene McDaniels novels–so I transitioned to the adult section.  My local bookstore (anyone else remember Waldenbooks?) had a fairly small Sci-fi/Fantasy section, and every week I would be there pouring over books, trying to decide how to best spend my allowance (and/or baby-sitting money).  There were few enough employees that after a while we were on a first name basis.  One employee, Bryan, was a fellow sci-fi/fantasy nerd and I took his recommendations fairly seriously.

In 1995/1996 (when I was 17 and a senior in high school) Bryan turned me onto Mercedes Lackey with her book The Black Gryphon.  After reading it, I wanted to read more Lackey–but her catalog was so big that I was overwhelmed by which book to read next.  Bryan offered me Magic’s Pawn.

Growing up in the part of Massachusetts where the line between suburban sleeper community meets rural countryside in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’d never met anyone who was gay.  Ellen hadn’t come out yet, and Will & Grace was years away from airing.  I understood that being gay wasn’t socially acceptable–the tone people took, the slurs, and the messages I’d picked up from from pop culture and the people in my life had taught that to me.  I was guilty of saying things like “Who cares who you sleep with, but why do I have to see two men kiss in front of me?”–as if I ever had, or even knew what I really saying–I was parroting what I was taught.

Vanyel was the first gay person I ever met.  Magic’s Pawn took me on his journey, and in doing so changed who I was.  After that book I would never say something like “why should two men kiss in front of me,” instead feeling infuriated that someone would dare question their love as less valid than mine.  When I moved to Boston for college, my mind and heart were ready to meet and ally physical (as opposed to fictional) LGBTQA individuals.  And when I went though my own realization and outing as bisexual myself a few years later, I found myself visiting with Vanyel all over again.

Mercedes Lackey is an infuriating author.  She can write books like Magic’s Pawn, and then she can write just some of the worst Mary Sue filled, ignore your own cannon, why can’t I forget you ever wrote this in the first place dreck like Exile’s Honor and Exile’s Valor.  These days I tend to avoid her new work as I’ve been disappointed far more often than I’ve enjoyed it.  That said, her back catalog, particularly some of the Valdemar books remain some of my favorite books almost 20 years later.  Someday I will give you my full rant about which books are good, which are okay, and which flat out need to be burned.

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Picture Credit-Drunkfu on DeviantArt

Vanyel has only one thing he’s ever dreamed of being–a Bard.  Unfortunately he’s also the heir to his father’s estate, so music isn’t a career that’s in the cards for him.  He’s too small and fine boned to sword fight like his larger bulkier brothers and cousins, but his swordsmaster feels that the fast feint and dash method that would match his build is “cheating.”  Jervis promptly breaks his arm in punishment for “cheating.”

Apart from his older sister Lissa-who is sent away within the first chapter to become a guardswoman (there’s one girl in every generation who bucks tradition–and you always know who because they inherited the “Ashekevron nose)-he’s left without close friend or ally.

When he’s sent to Haven-the capital city of Valdemar-he’s told that he can’t even take his horse.  Insult after insult is given–he’s taken to the city between two of his father’s guards like a common criminal.  He’s so hurt that he decides

It was so simple–just don’t give a damn.  Don’t care what they do to you and they do nothing.

But like every emotionally abused child who has ever thought that before or after Vanyel, all it does is serve to isolate him further.

Left in his aunt’s care, he has no clue what to make of his unexpected freedom, his lessons with the bards, or Tylendel (one of his aunt’s students.)  His lessons, though, only serve to crush his one remaining hope–that he would be taken into Bardic Collegium and be made a Bard.  He’s a beautiful musician, but he doesn’t have the bardic gift and he doesn’t compose–and he’d need one of the two for them to remove him from the position of his father’s heir.  Vanyel is left without hope for the future.

Vanyel’s drawn to Tylendel, but has no words to describe what it is he’s feeling or why until a girl at court mocks ‘Lendel’s sexual preferences.  It is a lightning bolt to Vanyel, who hadn’t even realized that such pairings were even possible.  Watching them come together is powerful, as is the scene from the next morning when they sit down with his aunt to talk about what will happen now that he and Tylendel are a couple…

“The first problem and the one that’s going to tie in to all the others, Vanyel, is your father.”  She paused, and Vanyel bit his lip.  “I’m sure your realize that if he finds out about this, he is going to react badly.”

Vanyel coughed, and bowed his head, hiding his face for a moment.  When he looked back up, we was wearing a weary, ironic half-smile; a smile that had as much pain in it as humor.  It was, by far and away, the most open expression Savil had ever seen him wear.

“‘Badly’ is something of an understatement, Aunt,” he replied rubbing his temple with one finger.  “He’ll–gods, I can’t predict what he’ll do, but he’ll be in a rage, that’s for certain.”

“He’ll pull you home, Van.” Tylendel said in a completely flat voice.  “And he can do it; you’re not of age, you aren’t Chosen, and you’re aren’t in Bardic.”

“And I can’t protect you,” Savil sighed, wishing that she could.  “I can stall him off for a while, seeing as he officially turned guardianship of you over to me, but it won’t last more than a couple of months.  Then–well, I’ll give you my educated guess as to what Withen will do.  I think he’ll put you under house arrest long enough for everyone to forget about you, then find himself a compliant priest and ship you off to a temple.  Probably one far away, with very strict rules about outside contact.  There are, I’m sorry to say, several sects who hold that the shay’a’chern are tainted.  They’d be only to happy to ‘purify’ you for Withen and Withen’s gold.  And under the laws of the kingdom, none of us could save you from them.”

Looking back, it’s pretty revolutionary that this scene was written in the late 80’s when homosexuality was a huge cultural taboo and AIDS was a death sentence.  The Reagan administration was delaying research into HIV/AIDS because it was seen as a “gay disease.”  It was written long before conversion therapy was debunked as dangerous and damaging.  Lackey’s sex scenes are all off-page, but she was writing relationships like Tylendel and Vanyel (and even a potential all female triad relationship years earlier) long before we were having cultural discussions about LGBTQA representations in media and critiquing lack of representation.

While the spectre of Vanyel’s father looms over the relationship and has them playing a double game, the real danger to the relationship is from ‘Lendel.  More to the point, Tylendel’s obsession with a family feud his family has going with the Leshara family.  Lendel’s twin brother is the lord of their holding, and Lendel wants to take his side.  Heralds must be neutral, and Lendel is anything but.  When his brother is murdered, Tylendel’s control snaps, and he uses Vanyel to seek revenge.

—and that’s just the first half of the book.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 5.10.08 PMMercedes Lackey signs autographs at CONvergence (source wikipedia)

The book isn’t just noteworthy because it was before its time on LGBT characters.  These are complex characters.  Vanyel is hurting and emotionally damaged, but he can also be a jerk.  He’s dependent on Tylendel and he never really stops to wonder if ‘Lendel’s plans are a good idea.  He is self-centered and arrogant.  He’s also starving for love, sweet, and deeply caring.  Tylendel is obsessive, but doesn’t mean to use Vanyel in the way that he does.  Savil is aware of Tylendel’s obsession but doesn’t take it seriously enough.  Characters are imperfect and they screw up.

Her characters go on emotional journeys–they grow and they change and those moments are often painful.  The first time I read the book, it had me sobbing.  Rereading it over the past few days, even though I knew what was coming and what will happen in the next two books in the series, I was still blinking back tears.

If you like fantasy, I really can’t recommend Magic’s Pawn highly enough.