Saturday, February 20, 2010

Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey


I'm aware that my posts have been erratic for a while. We're hopefully back on a weekly, weekend post schedule now.

Way back in September I gushed about The Fire Rose and how much fun it was. I mentioned that it was the first of a series. Well, I finally finished the rest of them, and instead of taking up five more reviews I'm doing them all at once. It's a little on the long side, just to warn you.

The Fire Rose (awesome!) was written in 1994. Then, in 2001, Lackey started the Elemental Masters series, which is the same series, but without The Fire Rose listed as number one. So... I have no idea what's up with that, but at any rate, each book retells a classic fairy tale, but set in the 1800s (I think) in England, and centered around various elemental magicians. Some characters have cameos in multiple books, but each book stands alone and has a different set of protagonists and villains.

Another warning: Two of these books are awesome, including The Fire Rose. Two of them are enjoyable. Two of them are hideously awful and should never have been published, and I can't believe the same author wrote all six.

The Serpent's Shadow

This is one of the enjoyable ones, a very loose rendition of Snow White. (It's not like Beauty and the Beast, where the recognizable elements ARE the plot. The recognizable elements aren't as significant to the story in Snow White.) It stars a half-Indian lady doctor, Maya, who is also a magician. She was a fantastic, strong woman with anything BUT a stock character profile. She had a unique perspective on things and a pragmatic attitude that I found refreshing. The plot involves a lot of Indian mythology, and that put an interesting light on things without overwhelming the story.

Lackey spends a lot of time ranting about the anti-feminism of the time period, and even though she has a point, it was really frustrating because it's not like I can do anything about it. It was two hundred years ago. Stop ranting at me and tell a story, for Pete's sake!

The Gates of Sleep

Sleeping Beauty! Perhaps the one fairy tale in which the heroine does the absolute LEAST! Surely that'll make a great heroine-centered book, right? Well, no, not really.

The first 120 pages of the book could have been cut and it wouldn't have mattered, because NOTHING happens. The whole thing is a long, boring ramble on the social conditions of the time and how terrible it would have been to be poor back then. Another situation which I am powerless to rectify, and also, not a first act of a story, which, when that annoying interlude is removed from my mind, was still horrible. The first event is a mother's baby being taken away without her even getting a chance to get used to the idea, when that kind of urgency was totally uncalled for, and the next interesting thing that happens (120 pages later) is the same child being taken away from her new parents without being given any inkling of the danger she's headed for.

And, when the curse finally takes effect on the girl, her guardians go into fits. What did you THINK would happen when the woman you've been hiding from this entire time got her hands on the EXACT THING she wanted? HELLO?! The stated reason why they didn't come to rescue her at the beginning was that "as long as we didn't hear anything, we assumed the witch hadn't figured out how to curse her." So, they just waited to hear something. Um, okay.

I didn't really hate the characters, but I didn't like them either. They were all so unremarkable that they might as well not exist at all. I enjoyed the book more than I'm letting on, and the villains were fantastic (and the book was freakishly similar to Hotel Transylvania for some reason). Read it if you're a completionist, love Sleeping Beauty, or just like this series and want to look at some of the intricacies of the magic system Lackey's created, but otherwise you won't miss much if you skip it.

Phoenix and Ashes

Awesome! And yet, I have no idea why. I keep a book journal, and my notes are basically "I love it! I'm enjoying it so much!" for half a page. Fantasy and/or romance fans, definitely read this one.

It's a fairly faithful retelling of Cinderella, but there's a little bit of a role reversal here. The Prince needs saving almost as much as Cinderella does, and to me, she was the strong one in the relationship. Not that I don't like strong men, because I do, and this Prince is no weenie, but there's just something different about this romance. It's not just a marraige of equals, if you'll pardon the pun, but a place where two separate, damaged people come together and make a whole relationship. The Prince isn't the kind of romantic hero that I swoon over, but at the same time I really love and respect him and I can actually cheer on the princess even more, be more invested, because I'm not jealous of her. :)

I think the two things this book has in common with The Fire Rose are 1) the special romance at the heart of it, and 2) how it stays true to the fairy tale, but isn't bound by that fairy tale. The rest of the books either kind of wander off to do their own things or wander WAY off and are just in the same territory. These two fantastic ones take the immortal heart of the story and go from there, rather than taking the trappings and trying to force a new story into them.

The Wizard of London

Skip this one, if you have the power. (I, too, have felt the urge to finish terrible books just because I started them, and to start them just because I've read the rest of the series. I feel your pain, completionists, especially where this book is concerned, and I support you in your coming time of trial.)

This is one of the most mindnumbingly boring books I've ever read, and I've read The Grapes of Wrath. It's based on "The Snow Queen," a very odd and confusing fairy tale to be sure, but that doesn't have anything to do with how boring this book is because the book doesn't seem to have a thing to do with the fairy tale.

What it does have to do with is two special kids in a boarding school and their animal companions. Two sickeningly average special kids in a boarding school and their sickeningly average animal companions. Seriously, the majority of the book is the two little girls doing... Well, not much of anything. It's SO day-in-the-life that MY life was infinitely more interesting, and it took me about three weeks of two or three chapters a day to get through this beast.

I did like the new things Lackey incorporated into the magic system, how it's all very systematic but still complicated, but still a lot of elements just seemed stuck in there to take up space. I also liked how sensible the characters (mostly the kids) were, always telling someone else where they were going and when they'd be back, etc., but at the same time, they keep foiling the villains' plans and the plot never goes anywhere.

I kid you not, the villain is defeated by two small children overwhelming him with the power of love. Um, okay. END SPOILER.

The one character I liked never stuck around longer than a few pages. (And it's not the woodland spirit you might be thinking of if you've already read it. It's the husband.) The depths that were available were never plumbed. I kept reading hoping it would get better, but it never did. Skip it.

Reserved For the Cat

It's based on "Puss in Boots." You guessed it--talking cats! Woohoo!

I love talking cats!

Anyway, the basic story is that a Russian ballerina comes to England and pretends to be a famous Russian ballerina, at the behest of the talking cat.

This book was fun. It wasn't mindblowing and the writing wasn't magnificent, but I did enjoy it. I had a good time trying to figure out who the prince was going to be (it could have been one of three or four people at one point,) and there were machinations! I also love machinations.

It's pretty standard stuff, so don't let it preempt something awesome on Mt. TBR, but if you love ballerinas, talking cats, and/or machinations...


Surely, if Ms. Lackey can write glowing tomes of happiness, she shouldn't also write (or at least publish) horrible piles of drivel. Or even enjoyably average novels. I just don't get it. But I'll keep reading all her stuff, because I'm pathetically addicted to her glowing tomes of happiness...