Last Herald-Mage, The by Mercedes Lackey
I have to admit I’m rather angry. This series had such great potential, and especially in its conclusion, Magic's Price, Mercedes Lackey fell fall short of that potential.
That being said, there were variations in the quality, such that some parts were quite good, while others were really quite poor. Overall, the biggest problem was pacing. Ms. Lackey attempted to tell in three (small) books what should have been told in 6, maybe even 12 books. There was not enough time for sufficient characterizations or sufficient exposition as to make the plot believable or emotionally engaging. This made the plot seem very contrived, formulaic, and rushed. (She's also cured me of the habit of overusing italics.)
Only Vanyel was honestly characterized in any deep way, and where the stories were strongest were definitely those passages concentrating on what he was feeling and thinking. Those were the times that I was moved, and really no others. That's a shame, because those parts really grabbed me, wringing out more than a few tears.
The ending of Magic's Price is the most poorly-done part of the entire series, and leaves in my mouth a taste of truly profound disappointment, to the level of resentment. It stems from the fact that no other character was well characterized besides Vanyel, not even Stefen. Stefen is who we’re left with in the end, whose grief we should feel after Vanyel’s death; but since he’s characterized only cursorily, we are presented with this grand ending that evokes nearly no emotion at all. The ending is the most formulaic, contrived part of all, and I almost feel betrayed for having wasted so many hours reading this trilogy. Talk about an ANTI-climax! The epilogue was so desultory as to be nearly insulting.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. It was clear from the beginning that this book was written about a 16-year old for 16 year-olds. Maybe Ms. Lackey purposely wrote the trilogy on an adolescent's level, and so I’m being far too hard on these stories. And yet … The subject matter of the series is on the mature side, at least as far as the sexuality. While it is true that she left the actual sexual activity mostly to the reader’s imagination, the references to prostitution, general promiscuity, and a rather too-detailed brutal serial rape scene suggests the author actually wasn’t writing for adolescents. Come to think of it, by the time I was 16 I had read many of literature’s “greats,” and understood them just fine. This writing level is distinctly below adolescent, somewhere in the 12-13 years range – in which case some of the subject matter (especially the prostitution and the rape) is wholly inappropriate.
The novels were a waste of my time; I’d have been far better off re-reading some Lynn Flewelling or Melanie Rawn.
Unless you’re just desperate to read some fantasy with gay characters in it, I would not recommend these books.