23 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Valuable more for what it can do than for the story itself.
, October 4, 2003
This review is from: Magic's Pawn (The Last Herald-Mage Series, Book 1) (Mass Market Paperback)
In many ways, "Magic's Pawn" deserves the "groundbreaking" labels that regularly get slapped on it. While a lot of fantasy books feature an angsty teenage protagonist searching for his or her true self, few feature a teenager concentrating so hard on a developing sexual identity. Because Vanyel, the hero, has come from a repressed atmosphere and has a severely homophobic father, he has to first discover the existence of people like Tylendel, who regularly sleep with and love their own gender, before he could even consider the possibility that he might be the same way. And here the book excels, showing just how hard it would be for someone who hadn't considered the notion before to deal with it. For a teenager who hasn't read any books with gay characters before (the situation I was in when I first read it), it's a wonderful and gripping story.
Unfortunately, on most other levels the book falls apart.
Vanyel embodies a lot of the harmful stereotypes of gay men- perhaps because Lackey was so intent on showing his sexual identity beyond a doubt that she shoveled too many easily identifiable labels onto him. He's pretty (described as more beautiful than most women over and over again), very effeminate and emotional, obsessed with fashion, suicidal. Again, the book's emotional intensity is captivating and gripping- for a teenager. Rereading the story, or trying to, as an adult, I was able to see how Lackey plays on the reader's emotions and uses shallow characterization and dirty tricks to make Vanyel's plight seem even worse. His father is a one-dimensional bully devoted to making Van's life miserable. Vanyel also happens to overhear the thoughts of the *one* homophobic member of the Heralds' college, which drives him to suicide. If the story had taken place entirely in a prejudiced society, it would have been more believable. However, most of the Heralds are accepting and welcoming of Vanyel's sexuality, all the better to drum in the point that the people who are not must be wrong, wrong, wrong. Though Lord Withen is characterized somewhat better in the last two books of the trilogy, in the first he seems like a stereotype himself, defined by his biases. Even Vanyel's highly emotional and suicidal lover, Tylendel, comes off better.
So, this book might serve as an excellent introduction to the idea that homosexual characters are human as well, and not to be portrayed just for shallow laughs or hinted at darkly around the edges of a story. When I hear the series touted as the best of fantasy with gay characters, however, I grow uneasy. It's a beginning, but not the end. Try Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series or Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint for a look at male characters in relationships that are a little less over-the-top and focused towards the human rather than the extraordinary, and the extraordinarily angsty.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you?