The Last Herald-Mage trilogy continues with this second novel, in which Vanyel has accepted his responsibilities as a Herald and has aged, not only in years but also in experience. Gone is the whiny and insecure teenager we knew from the previous book, replaced by an older and wiser man, one who has seen far too many battles, and far too many dear friends fall in the line of duty.
We have, in short, someone who's quite earned his chance to be a nervous wreck.
What starts off in a fairly boring way (Vanyel returning to his family home for a rest) quickly gets the action going when he and his Companion receive an urgent call for help, and quickly get embroiled in a murder investigation, political and magical assassination, and something that, improperly handled, could devestate more than two countries with a spectacularly large and magically-triggered earthquake.
Business as usual, then.
When I'd first read this series, I was much younger, in my teens, and this book was my least favourite of the trilogy. Now I find myself liking it a lot more, partially because I can relate a little more to the adult that Vanyel has become. While this doesn't necessarily say much for Lackey's ability to convey characters well to any age group, it does speak well for her ability to create characters that readers of certain age groups can relate to.
If there's anything that really grated on me while reading this, it was Vanyel's identity crisis. He goes through a period of not being able to figure out if he's really homosexual or just happened to hall in love with a man. Which, on its own, may sound like a wise thing to ponder, but half the time, the way he went about it made me want to smack him on the head. Consider the time he's in disguise and is being pawed at by a rather despicable woman, who turns his stomach, and then is hit on by a creepy man who gives him the same reaction. He spends the next few pages wondering why, if he's really gay, didn't he just give in to the man hitting on him, and if he's not gay, why doesn't he just sleep with the woman the way she wants. And it took him over half the book to figure out, "Oh right, being gay doesn't mean I'll automatically hop into bed with every single male I come across." Admittedly, he chastises himself for forgetting then what he knew so well when he was young, that sex and love are different things and that he prefers love, or at least affection, to go along with sex, but still. Hearing him debate over and over again whether or not he's really gay just wore on my nerves after a while, and it got frustrating to read.
I still enjoyed the book, following along with the murder mystery and piecing together little clues myself (that's the fun of reading about mysteries, after all), but frankly, this book could have been cut from the trilogy without affecting the main plot very much. It's good for building character, for tying up some minor loose ends, for introducing a character or two that will play minor parts later on, but aside from emotional healing, it doesn't play a very large part in Vanyel's story. More could have been written about him battles on the Karsite border, I think, and have been more important to the plot of the trilogy as a whole.