Savil initially treats him as insignificant because he has no psychic or magic powers, but realizes Vanyel is not as arrogant as Withen has described. Vanyel finds schooling at Haven more suited to his physical and mental nature, but is told he doesn't have the Bardic gift, and so cannot become a true Bard. Feeling he's lost his lifelong dream, he drifts into depression.
Vanyel begins to have feelings for Tylendel, one of Savil's protegés. Van learns that Tylendel is shay'a'chern, or homosexual. Eventually, they become lovers and later find they are lifebonded. This lifebond and the tragic death of Tylendel nearly pushes Van over the edge.
Suffering from severe psychic and emotional damage, Vanyel is "chosen" by a Companion, Yfandes, who reassures him through mind-speaking of her love and friendship and his worth. Unable to understand or control his newly "opened" powers, he "hears" angry thoughts around him, and despairs, attempting suicide.
It is an early novel in the Velgarth series of books and establishes the foundations for much of the magical early history of Valdemar. It, along with the remainder of the The Last Herald Mage trilogy, Magic's Promise and Magic's Price, establish the magical environment and explain the complete lack of mage-magic in the remainder of the novels set in Valdemar.
The book also contains one of the clearest explanations of the Valdemarian Heralds' altruistic call to service, where duty to Valdemar must come before all else.
Mercedes Lackey's writing style leads the reader inside the minds of each of the characters. Along with rich and pervasive descriptions of the Velgarth-Valdemarian world, the element of "mind-speaking" fills in the characters innermost thoughts in a simple and elegant way.
Lackey concentrates heavily on the morality of actions and the concept of an innate sense of right and wrong, usually without directly naming the subject. The Herald's inner struggles of duty vs. desire mirror the real world that the readers inhabit, and may serve as a model for ethical behavior in society. Many readers respond to the definition of ethical values as an important part of their reading experience.
Magic's Pawn is one of the earliest written Mercedes Lackey Velgarth novels and does contain some subtle inconsistencies with the later more mature stories about Valdemar and its Heralds.
Vanyel Ashkevron - Heir to the fief of Forst Reach, he is a sensitive young man who is gay, and somewhat effeminate, hiding low self-esteem with emotional distance and pride in his personal appearance. He has been physically and psychologically abused by his father. A terrible accident opens him to unusually strong psychic and magical powers. His self-absorption enables him to self-analyze and to care for others. Eventually he will become the legendary last of the Herald-Mages.
Savil Ashkevron - Vanyel's aunt, a Herald-Mage who lived for some time with the Tayledras; she runs the academy for young Heralds and Mages at Haven.
Tylendel Frelennye - A young Herald apprentice, Savil's protegé. He and Vanyel fall in love and become lifebonded. His psychic link with his twin brother leads to the events which open Vanyel's psychic and magical abilities.
Lissa Ashkevron - Vanyel's outspoken older sister. She takes his side in family disputes. She is a soldier.
Withen Ashkevron - Vanyel's father. He is Lord of Forst Reach, a large fiefdom in western Valdemar, known for raising horses. He detests Vanyel's sensitive nature and musical talent, regarding these as useless traits for a provincial administrator.
Treesa Ashkevron - Vanyel's mother, an intellectual lightweight, prone to hysterics. Her formal speech masks her lack of education. Her main preoccupation is with social and courtly activities.
Staven Frelennye - Tylendel's twin brother, who becomes involved in a deadly feud between clans.
Moondance and Starwind - These men are Tayledras, human beings whose lives are imbued with magic. They live apart from the rest of humanity in "Vale" environments, designed and controlled by magic. Moondance was not born into the Tayledras but was introduced to them by Savil, he was adopted into the clan when he became lifebonded to Starwind. Moondance is a Healer-Adept, a rare combination of Healer and Mage. Starwind is a Mage-Adept and considerably older than his lover (closer to Savil's age). Tayledras dedicate themselves to protecting the land from harm and repairing the damage done by the Mage Wars which took place over a millenia before.