As I mentioned in my review of Winter Moon, I keep forgetting how much I enjoy Mercedes Lackey’s books. I also mentioned that I immediately ran to the library and took out a copy of one of her books. Not, mind you, one of the Five Hundred Kingdom books — in whose world the novella from Winter Moon was set — but rather one of the Elemental Masters novels, Pheonix and Ashes. I realized, at the very beginning of reading this book that, heh, I’d started it years before and lost interest in it almost immediately. I also discovered, upon returning home and visiting SciFan.com (if you haven’t, you should) that the book that I thought was the start of this series is, in fact, not, and I had yet to read the first one. In short, I’m reading them all sorts of out of order and I need to remedy that.
One thing I thoroughly enjoy about these books is a touch of fairy tale retelling to them. Take Phoenix and Ashes
Eleanor Robinson was the daughter of a successful merchant in pre-War Britian. She and her family were not members of the aristocracy, but they were well enough off that when Eleanor decided she wanted to go to Oxford to study, by golly, she was going to go. Her father was successful enough to indulge his daughter in this dream of hers, that women too can have a place in academia. (Mind you: pre-War Britian). But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mr. Robinson brings home a new wife with two daughter’s of her own, and then the War (that is, WWI) breaks out, and then her father dies, and suddenly Eleanor is at the mercy of her step-mother, and her step-mother does not have a generous supply of mercy. I adore Cinderella tales.
So, we meet Ellie who spends a number of years tied to the hearth of her home, playing maid to her evil stepmother and her two wretched daughters as they scramble to climb the local social ladder. Step-Mom is, of course, an elemental master, and not a very nice one indeed. We also meet Reggie, the local Lord and veteran of the war, sent back home after a horrible attack (and Attack) on the Front, with a busted knee and a busted sense of self. And, we eventually meet Sarah, Ellie’s mother’s best friend, who reveals, if not all, a lot more than Ellie realized about her mother, and herself, and her potential to free herself from this captivity.
As I read through the book, newly aware of the fact that I do enjoy Lackey’s writing immensely, I discovered why. The Elemental Masters books are pagan-friendly — in fact, Mercedes Lackey’s writing in general seems to be pagan friendly. This series is decidedly written around concepts of Western mysteries and esoterica and Spiritualism . . . which is something I’m not generally a huge fan of. (When we talk mysteries, my mind is definitely wired a tad more easternly, if you follow). On top of that, this particular book is set during the beginning bits of the 20th century, in England. Now, my peoples come from Northern Europe, and mostly western Northern Europe, so I can’t say I’m disinterested in that region of the world and its history. I will say, though, that the early 20th century is not my favorite time period. It’s about a thousand years too recent. It hardly counts as history. Lackey does a brilliant job of texturing and layering her world. I came away intrigued by the time period, interested in the story, and pleasantly full, as if I’d eaten a nourishing, well-rounded meal that saw to all my needs. This book was the reading equivilant of a fresh spring salad followed by a hearty meal of stews and thick-crusted bread, a slice of apple pie and some rich hot cocoa with home made whipped cream on top. And, since I followed it up with the following book in the series, it only got better!