Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

This seems like a departure from the norm, but it's really getting back to one of my roots. I know I read and post a lot of mystery and haven't really delved outside that area recently until now. I love fantasy and science fiction, but just haven't gotten a chance to read much of it lately, except for maybe the Dresden files. I almost forgot how much I love fantasy, when the author doesn't get to carried away with the paranormal and tries to make the fae sound "hip" and ultra-chic. That just annoys the heck out of me for some reason. I guess I feel the author is bending the rules to suit him or her and I feel it's a violation of all the laws of fantasy. I guess I should stay away from a lot of urban fantasy (with very few exceptions) and stick to the classic fantasy.

This one involves the classic tale of Cinderella with Elena Klovis in the starring role, only her prince hasn't been cast yet and she's growing a little restless waiting for him. She decides to take matters into her hands when her standard issue evil stepmother and two stepsisters depart town to get away from the creditors leaving Elena behind to deal with the mess. However, Elena decides she's not staying behind. There just so happens to be a Mop Fair where people can sell themselves for their services (cooking, cleaning, farming, etc) in exchange for a decent wage, wardrobe, meals, and room. Sadly, no one picks Elena, but her hopes don't set with the sun and a latecomer arrives who offers Elena a position as an apprentice. Elena doesn't ask the important question "An apprentice to what?" figuring anything is better then her life here. Turns out it will be. The woman who hires Elena is Madame Bella, Godmother to many kingdoms (twelve I think with more on the horizon). Bella takes Elena to her enchanting (literally) cottage and Elena quickly settles into her new role. After some time of training with magic and potions and learning of the Godmother heritage and how the Tradition works, Madame Bella hands over the wand of Godmother to Elena. Elena doesn't feel she's ready, but there's nothing she can do as Bella flies off into the distance. One of Elena's assignments is to help a sorceress with three Questors, who happen to be prince brothers (Octavian, Alexander, and Julian), seeking the hand of a certain princess. A witch is supposed to handle this task, but has been called away to supervise the delivery of twins or triplets and Elena is left to handle this task. Elena appears and finds the first two brothers act as arrogant asses, Alexander more so, and she turns Alexander into an ass. Later, the third brother appears and Elena gives him some clues to help with the Quest. Octavian wanders around the forest until he "happens" upon a Dark (in name only) Witch who shows him the error of his ways and offers him a chance for redemption. Alexander suffers the same fate under the tutelage of Elena and the brownies who help around the house and grounds. She lets him return to his manly self every seventh day, but he still has to work for his supper. He's not very happy about his predicament and thinks if he can run away, break Elena's wand, or "ruin" her he'll be home free. Elena's already prepared for his tricks with some of her own. Resigned to his fate, he resumes his life until he slowly becomes human in soul and body. That's when the magic really happens. Long story short, Alexander has picked a new fate for himself: he's a Champion. Just in time, too, his brother Julian is in danger. An evildoer has killed the king (Julian's father-in-law), locked away the princess, and has unknowingly thrown Julian in the dungeon. Elena and Alexander hatch a plan to rescue the survivors and set things right. But Elena has bigger problems looming on the horizon: she and Alexander are in love and want to get married, but she's never read anything about a Fairy Godmother taking a lover or a husband. Still, she and Alexander tie the knot once the dust has settled and pity the fool who tries to null their marriage. But the council who meets to discuss such matters wonder why Elena was so worried in the first place and inform her Godmothers are only human too, except for the real Fairy Godmothers and not to worry and to continue business as usual. In case anyone is wondering what happened to those Evil Ones who originally wronged Elena, they returned to their house only to be caught by the creditors and are forced to work off their debt in their former home turned Bed and Breakfast. The Evil Stepmother and one of the Evil Stepsisters are not faring too well, while the third of the bunch might get a happy ending.

What I liked about this was the magic in the book and how Lackey stayed within the rules of classic fantasy. She created her Olde Fairy Kingdoms and stayed in those boundaries. There was the romantic element, even sex, but it didn't overshadow the plot nor extraneous and was woven quite well into the story. I got to see Elena and Alexander grow and develop over a period of time. Bella warned Elena she would be attracted to princes because of her role set down by the Tradition. Elena refuses to let this unseen force make her choices for her, but she is drawn to Alexander, not by his looks, but by his deeds. Eventually, she and the Tradition come to an unspoken agreement. She'll let the Tradition lead her only so far, but her life is hers to lead as she sees fit. The Tradition is an interesting element. It's a force which guides the residents of the 500 Kingdoms. The magic creatures don't know its true nature, only that its will is strong and it doesn't like chaos it doesn't make. In one portion of the book, Bella speaks about Ladderlocks (aka Rapunzel) and the pitfalls of this story. Many Ladderlocks have killed themselves over their captivity and many Questors have lost their lives trying to save the fair Ladderlocks. Bella won't have that in her kingdom. They have a potential Ladderlocks in the village nearby. Bella and Elena devise a plan to satisfy the rules of the story, but turn it around. They turn Ladderlocks into The Princess and the Pea. I also like how practical Elena is. She's not wasteful with her magic (always afraid she's going to run out of it, especially during a crisis) and learns to expect the unexpected when the spells she cast don't always occur in the same fashion (fairy folk sometimes have a hand in that). However, the few things that disappointed me is even though Elena was practical, she needed to find the positive in things. When she turns the Ladderlocks into the Princess and the Pea, she grieves over the mother losing the daughter to the prince when the girl reaches sixteen years of age. She fails to notice the daughter won't die, she'll be married off. She also laments she'll be married to someone she hadn't met before. Bella quickly reminds her about all the arranged marriages that take place throughout the kingdoms and the Tradition will see her husband is kind and fair where the girl might do worse in the village. Elena has a hard time seeing this and I'm not sure she ever did see it. I'm sure she'll have plenty of time to get used to situations like this and her attitude might change over time.


hamilcar barca said...

have you read much by Mercedes Lackey? her name keeps showing up on the Fantasy bookshelves. i'm tempted to read something by her, but my fear is that it'll be more chick-fic than fantasy.

Christina said...

This is the first I've read of Mercedes Lackey. I wouldn't qualify this story as chick-fic, even with the romantic elements and there were one or two times I rolled my eyes at Elena's attitude. It had plenty of fantasy elements and primarily showed Elena and Alexander growing into their roles. Lackey is a very popular fantasy writer and I've heard lots of good things about her writing. I'd say give her a try.

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