I am not an adamant fan of fantasy literature. There I said it. (Sorry if I offend. If it makes you feel better, I am probably more well read them most my age and enjoy one of the widest variety of novels and genres you will ever see). Though I enjoyed novels like Eragon and series like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time I grew out of the genre. Out of all book genres, Fantasy grates on my nerves the most. Most of them I feel are simply copy cats of Lord of the Rings or fail miserably at being philosophical or original. If I have problems with Fantasy novels you can imagine how I feel about fairy tale remakes. Most fairy tale novels I find. . . what is the word. . . ahhh, cute. Most lack substance or identifiable heroines or heroes. Others take a 180-degree turn and make beloved tales modern, sensual garbage. Somehow, my sister convinced me to try this series. This was only after I had exhausted my library and bored myself into insanity. I looked to her skeptically, shrugged and finally began reading.
(Is my back story boring you? I apologize. I tend to ramble. I promise there is a purpose to this). The first novel from the series I read was The Wizard of London (2006), its fifth installment. Each of the books in this series are loosely based on fairy tales. This novel’s model was Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. As I started reading I felt myself drawn further and further into the story, utterly fascinated by its complicated social, political and philosophical tensions. That, and its references to Celtic, African and East Indian legends and myths. I read the book within a few hours, hungry for the other installments. Finally, while pursuing bookstores, I decided to buy all the books in the series and read them on my break. All of them were extraordinarily well written, original and thought provoking.
At first, I was simply fascinated by how she portrayed English Society, with the exception of The Fire Rose which took place primarily in San Francisco, during the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th century. She spoke multiple times of the horrors of WWI, how it tore apart the land in France, England and Germany, of The Feminist Movement which fought for gender equality, the realities, good or evil, of gender roles in high society or the plebeian (aka poorer than dirt people) and many more tensions and cultural aspects of the Anglo world. As a graduate of History, this was a fresh and fascinating outlook into this time period. She did not just depict the good. There were many aspects of that society that were ugly, yet inescapable. I will address these when I talk of all ten of these novels.
There was something deeper and infinitely more complex underneath these historical novels. Not only did she speak of more modern cultures and aspects but deep at its core she laid the foundations of Celtic society that pervaded even before the Middle Ages. When I read through at least three of the novels something kept bugging me. The Elemental Masters were, in these stories, magicians of sorts with deep connections to four elements fire, water, earth and air (No, not Avatar the Last Airbender, though the roots are the same) though I would more adequately call them people blessed with deep almost spiritual connection to them. With each element, specific creatures adhered to each masters call. For fire, there were salamanders, for air sylphs, water had undines and for earth there were gnomes. If one was a master in these stories, they could command these creatures and cast spells pertaining to the specific nature of their element. However, if they were lower magicians they couldn’t control them but hoped to persuade them to help or protect and cast weaker spells of protection.
Now we return to the subject that bugged me through a third of these books. I realized, to my astonishment and pleasure that her ideas were not some new concoction from her head. The Elementals, as the basis of life and root of the spiritual world, dated back all the way to the time of Aristotle and extended to what is called, in a branch of Indian theology, Jainism, or the path towards ahisma/ nonviolence towards living things and the works of the 16th century alchemist Paracelsus. I learned about this in my college Renaissance and Reformation class and you can imagine my delight in realizing how thoroughly she did her research. Often, at the beginning of her novels she thanked those who helped her with this research and historical accuracy. Of anyone, I think she came closest to portraying the roots of each fairy tale, ironically in a modern setting.
Many hated these novels and they are not well received. At first I was dumbfounded, especially after reading two or three of them. Then I thought about it and realized many who read the books expected the drippy fairy tale remakes in teen literature and steamy “adult” romance novels. Let me make some things clear.
First, if you are not even slightly familiar with English history in the late 19th and early 20th century or the roots of mysticism and pagan religion these books will be incredibly hard to understand. I think this was the pot hole many fell into. In the novel Phoenix and Ashes (2004) readers learn that it is a remake of Cinderella and lo and behold they do not get a glass slipper and carriage or even a prince. No, it has characters torn by grief, war, abuse and fear set in the English countryside during WWI. It has a setting that is all too real. There are no heaving bosoms and dramatic love triangles. That is a turn off for many who don’t want a heavy thinking read.
Second, these novels are not for children or even young adults. This is not because it has pornographic content or gratuitous violence. The subjects broached in her novels are sometimes hard to understand because most do not understand, with good reason, where most of her references come from. There are so many layers in these stories it makes me giddy. These are stories that have SUBSTANCE that can reach readers on an intellectual and philosophical level. Not only that, but she spoke of hard subjects hidden throughout our childhood: forced prostitution, poverty, shell shock, adultery, sexual abuse and many others which many would find offensive. On the subject of prostitution, what most do not know or wish to understand is that most were forced into that role because of woman’s place in society. What if as a young girl your father and mother died or you were born to a prostitute? How do you earn your bread? Do you go to a poorhouse? Most would rather die. Yet, she does not advocate immorality. She merely shows that that was reality. Will many find this hard? Yes.
Thirdly, there is little mystery in her novels. Not only do we have the perspective of the heroes or heroines but that of the villains. Plus, its ending is not what you would expect. For example, in The Serpent’s Shadow (2001) Maya, the educated surgeon and mixed heroine (she was half Indian, half British) who embodied the ideal of a strong woman was saved by Peter Scott, her future husband, from her aunt. Most modern fairy tale woman save themselves or better yet save their man instead. (She does that too, but I will explain that when it comes). I think the problem is that people lean to either extreme in the battle of the sexes, where men or woman are the strongest rather than finding a balance. Ahem. . . anyway I find her writing style very inventive and interesting. Perhaps it is because she and I think very straightforwardly.
Lastly, the romances DO NOT SCREAM AT YOU THE ENTIRE NOVEL! Sometimes, they did not even kiss. Gasp! But it is a fairy tale remake! Oh mercy No! (If you cannot tell, this is sarcasm). Her romances are very real and free from stress. Yet, that does not mean that they are not beautiful or lovely to read. Many readers probably hated them because Lackey did not focus the story on dramatic kisses or passionate encounters. In all of them, they developed deep friendships and in future novels, like with Maya and her husband Scott, were still very much in love. I loved the way she handled their love stories. In my honest opinion, love is not that dramatic but when it is found, it is powerful. It does not just happen either. It develops and KEEPS DEVELOPING even when they marry. All her characters are beautifully flawed and I love them all the more for it. Plus, the main characters for each book is a female, strong minded but perfectly willing to fall in love and fight for her freedom and choices.
I wanted to talk about each of the books from my least favorite up so if you are interested you can look them up yourself. I love all of them for different reasons, so do not get the idea that any of them are inferior. I think it is a matter of opinion and taste.
10. The Fire Rose (1995)
This is the first book in the series and sadly my least favorite. That is not because it is poorly written or I did not enjoy it. Actually, I finished it in a night. Based on Beauty and the Beast, it takes placed 1905 in San Francisco where a mysterious man Jason, a fire master, brings to his estate a medieval scholar Rosaline to read to him. He had foolishly transformed his body into a half wolf and wishes, since he cannot read for himself, to change back with her help. I loved the idea of such a intelligent woman changing the heart of such a pig headed man. She knew five or more languages and was incredibly well read. I also found it intriguing how Lackey unashamedly talked of the prostitution business in San Francisco and how they captured young girls, broke them and used them to appease the appetites of wicked men. The reason I did not like this book as much is because of Jason. His character was. . . brash , crude at times, immoral and angry. Granted he changed near the end because of his love for Rosaline but I still did not emphasize with him. I liked that, in the end, she married him even though he had not changed back. That touched me.
“”Oh Jason–” She shook her head. ‘I — is he really–‘
‘He is,’ Cameron said gravely. She did not pull away from him.’And unfortunately, the manuscript went with him.’
‘I don’t care,’ she replied fiercely, taking hold of him as if she never planned to let him go.
He took a deep breath, and in his turn sagged against the remains of a building beside them. ‘I am not apt with words of romance–‘ he began.
‘Nor I,’ she replied awkwardly.
‘Then I will reply for both of you,’ said a dry, impatient, ancient, and utterly exhausted voice. . . ‘You are in love with rose; she with you. You are compatible, all will be well. . . ‘” ( (Page 428)
9. Reserved for the Cat (2007)
Based on Puss in Boots, this tells the sad story of a Parisian (Paris) ballet dancer Ninette who, after out dancing a famous prima ballerina, is left jobless, destitute and with no alternative than to turn to prostitution. Thankfully, a cat Thomas intercedes and takes her to England to work at a theater under the false name Nina Tchereslavsky. In the process, the real Nina, who is a Troll, discovers what Ninette has done and plots her revenge against her. What I found sad in this novel was the fate of women in European society. Because her father had disappeared, her mother could not prove that her daughter was legitimate, even though she had a marriage license. Consequently, to keep her daughter from the streets and inevitable death she sold herself as a subject for paintings and men’s beds. For Ninette, she pushed her through ballet school so her daughter could catch the eye of a rich gentleman who would hopefully take her on as a mistress. Thankfully, this novel saves Ninette from such a tragic lifestyle and brings her to a man who would love her, a fire magician Jonathan. Since I have been studying ballet for my middle school classes, I found this book enchanting and informative.
“‘Ninette! Ninette!’ She rolled over in time to see Jonathon vaulting the iron bedstead, running for her.
‘I’m–we’re–all right–‘ she said, dazed. She looked around for the gun, but it was gone. . . ‘I lost the gun.’
Jonathon said something unrepeatable about the gun, and scooped her up, and Thomas with her. ‘If you ever run off like that again,’ he threatened, Nigel and Alan shoving the bedstead out of the way so he could get through the door, ‘I will–I will spank you! I swear it!’
She began to giggle, first weakly, then hysterically. She hid her head in the folds of his jacket to smother her giggles as he glared down at her.” (Page 324)
8. Home from the Sea (2012)
This story is based on several fairy tales: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Tam Lin, and The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry. It begins with a young girl Mari who learns that her family has, for centuries, taken selkie spouses from the sea in return for riches as long as, after an extended time, their spouse and one child returns to the sea. Obviously, she is upset by this and unknowingly holds incredible Water powers. Instead of succumbing to her fate, she strikes a deal with the ruler of the selkies so that she could CHOOSE her spouse and receive proper teaching in her powers. Tales with selkies are often sad and lonely, often resulting in the bondage of unassuming selkie maids or losing a selkie spouse to the sea, for they can not stay on land indefinitely. (Watch The Song of the Sea (2014). It shows the nature of these stories very well). I liked how, in this story, she chose a man, Idwal, who she called her dearest friend. He was not the handsomest but intelligent, introspective and kind. In the end, she kept her children and husband with her above land and won her freedom. The only problem I had with this novel was their treatment of sex and marriage. Luckily, Mari and Idwal were married when it counted and not merely as a formality to cover the appearance of children.
“He looked down at her, gravely, but with just a hint of hope in his expression, ‘I am here, because I cannot bear to be anywhere else,’ he said. ‘I thought. . . perhaps. . . you might be inclined kindly towards me, for all that I am an old man.’
She snorted. ‘You, an old man? You are younger than my da.’
‘Well. . . I am older than the boys,’ he said, and laughed weakly. ‘And I am not nearly so comely.’
‘My da is comely,’ she said, ‘And feckless. . . I’d rather a kind a sensible man than a comely boy.’
. . . He laughed. ‘A bit of both, I think. I shall declare that I’ll sacrifice my freedom on the altar of the clan, and you grudgingly accept, on the grounds that I am at least not some trollish old walrus.’
And with that, he pulled her into his arms. Which was, after all, what she had been hoping for, so she did not even put up a token of resistence.
‘Ah you entrancing little thing,’ he said, as he bent his head down to give her a proper kiss. . . ‘Why do I have a feeling this was what you had planned all along?’
‘Not all along, ‘ she murmured, and then there was no more time for talking.”
7. The Wizard of London (2005)
This lovely and innovative novel is based on The Snow Queen and takes place in London in the heart of the Industrial Age. In it, two young girls Sarah and Nan under the tutelage of Isabella and Frederick Harton who run a school for children gifted with psychic powers (closely akin to the element referred to as Aether or spiritual power in the theology I mentioned earlier) form a friendship and learn if their unique gifts. But Lord Alderscroft, The Wizard of London and leader of an organization of elemental masters called the White Lodge is mentally imprisoned by the evil spell of a woman under the guile of a ice dragon and a dream for political gain. The two girls had to fight to gain control over their powers and free Alderscroft from spiritual death. I like this story because of its mix of Eastern and Western philosophies. I believe that Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity are not as diametrically different as people assert. This is certainly the case in this novel where Isabella and Frederick are dear friends with a Sufi man and a mystic. I also love Isabelle’s and Frederick’s relationship. In the novel, they had been married for perhaps five to ten years yet they still loved the other passionately. They were equals and turned to each other for advice and encouragement. If only we all could have a relationship like them, but then again that would require working through both the good and bad times, old age and life. It is not a self-centered endeavor.
“Isabelle was just finishing her correspondence when the sound of a familiar footstep made her raise her head and swivel swiftly in her chair.
Just in time to have Frederick stoop over her and kiss her passionately, his arms including her and the ladder-back of her chair, which was probably the only reason why he wasn’t crushing her into his chest. Not that she would have minded being crushed into his chest.
. . . Being together, in that way that stole her breath and stopped her heart and held them in timeless time. The moment passed, as such moments always did, leaving behind echoes that created their own kind of song in her. She felt him stand straight and opened her eyes, smiling.
He looked down at her, chuckling, his eyes crinkling at the corners. ‘Once again, we scandalize the servants.'” (Page 324-325)
“‘Good gad, I have missed you,’ she said, contentedly, and yet with some sadness, knowing that on Sunday night he would once again take the train back to London.
She felt him smile in the darkness. ‘What a scandal!’ he replied, contradicting his own words by pulling her closer. ‘Wives aren’t supposed to miss the carnal intentions of their husbands. They are supposed to endure them for the sake of children.’
She chuckled. “And what idiot told you that?’ she responded. ‘Not the Master, that’s for certain.’
He laughed. ‘Something a well-meaning clergyman told a young officer a very long time ago, in an attempt to persuade the young officer that his pretty wife would be happier living in England. He swore that women would rather, on the whole, be left alone by men, and that she was merely being dutiful when she told him she didn’t want to leave.’
‘And what young officer was that?’ She asked, curiosity piqued.
He chuckled deep in his chest. She felt the sound vibrate through her and smiled. Of all the things she loved about him, hearing him laugh was one of the best.
‘Myself, of course,’ he said.’Who else?'” (Pages 269-270)
6. Blood Red (2014)
If it isn’t obvious, this is loosely based on the fairy tale Red Riding Hood and takes place in the more Slavic European countries. Rosa, while living in Germany, is attacked by a werewolf (a man who through black magic turned himself into a monster) who had killed her tutor and thrown her remains in the food closet where Rosa takes refuge. Once saved by an elk and several Lodge hunters, she leaves to train with her adoptive father Gunther as a hunter of evil creatures. This is definitely the darkest of these novels, yet given I have a German soul I found it engaging and thoroughly interesting. I liked Rosa as a character, because though she was a killer by profession she still lived at one with goodness, nature, God and love. She also unashamedly loved dresses, parties and flirting. Plus, the young man Markos whom she fell in love with was a shifter, whom she grew to care for despite her prejudices. Most importantly, she wept without shame in the face of incredible tragedy. I love the history rooted in this novel, again because I have a German soul, and recommend this novel to those who love books like Dracula (1897) and Frankenstein (1818).
“She thought she had gotten inured to it all, after the slaughter on the rough altar. She hadn’t. She stared in stark horror as she tried to take in the sheer volume of victims and. . . couldn’t. It was impossible. The bones, scarred by tooth marks, were heaped in a pile that filled the cave, which was at least the size of an average cottage, and in the back they were piled as high as her head. Decades upon decades. . . more victims than anyone had ever guessed, even her.
The horrid sight just unleashed everything she had been holding back. She sat down on the cave floor, and wept until she was sick, then she threw up the water she had drunk, then she wept until she didn’t have any tears left.” (Page 305)
“‘It was just. . .’ He shuddered. ‘It was like a nightmare. It was worse than a nightmare. . . It wasn’t even a day and a night, and I thought was going to go mad. And then–‘
He face relaxed. ‘Then . . . the zane came. . . ‘
Tears began to fall from his blackened eyes, and he broke down. Awkwardly, she put her arms around him and he sobbed on her shoulder. ‘Rosa, you can’t imagine what it meant to me. In the middle of this. . . this horror, these horrible, horrible people, in the middle of being tortured and told that a sorcerer was going to take my own mind away from me came—cleanness. Something clean, and good, and wholesome. . . ‘
‘And they drove those — half human things out of my prison,’he continued sobbing. ‘And stayed with me and tried to heal me. And they promised me that if they somehow were driven away, they would kill me. You can’t believe what that meant to me!’
. . . She patted his shoulder, self-consciously, and held him until he recovered himself. It was a little strange, holding him like this, because there was nothing remotely sensual about it, even though he was half naked.” (Page 302)
5. The Gates of Sleep (2003)
Based on Sleeping Beauty and set in Victorian England, this novel took me for quite a ride. The Heroine, Marina, lived not knowing her parents, in fear for her life, sent her to live with their friends, Bohemian artists in Cornwall after her aunt cursed her to die. After their unceremonious death, she is forced to leave to live with her aunt and face her fate. Marina is an interesting heroine partly because she reminds me of my elder sister. She is strong minded, kind, shrewd and more mature than her age suggests. One moment she wept like a babe, the next she faced her situation in her cold aunt’s home with calculating intelligence. I like the man she fell in love with Andrew Pike because he was kind and thought only of her good and of others. He knew his limitations but still fought hard for her and for his beliefs. I found it funny when she suddenly announced she was his fiance. He insisted she waited until she was of age before they married. We need more men like that.
“She smiled, charmingly, a smile that made him melt. ‘Besides, it’s perfectly proper. My Guardians are here, and you’re not only my physician, you’re my fiance.’
He blinked. Not that he minded, but– when had that happened? ‘Now wait a bit–‘ he said.
‘Are you saying you don’t want to be my fiance?’ she asked, her serene smile wavering not at all.
Of course he wanted to! He couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his life with anyone else! But she was so young– it wasn’t fair to her– ‘No, but. . . , Marina, you’re only seventeen!’
‘Almost eighteen,’ she interrupted.
‘You’ve never been anywhere but Blackbird Cottage and Oakhurst!’ he continued stubbornly. ‘You’re wealthy, you’re beautiful, you’ll be pursued by dozens of suitors–‘
‘–none of whom are worthy to polish your scapels,’ she said impishly.” (Page 384)
“The doctor seemed, oddly enough, to fix first on what she’d said about the odious Reggie. ‘Your cousin? Don’t you mean your fiance?’
She stared at him blankly. ‘What fiance?’
‘The gentleman who came to get you–‘
Reggie. He thought she was engaged to Reggie? What an absolutely thick thing to assume!
‘Good gad!’ she burst out. ‘Whatever possessed you, to think the Odious Reggie was my fiance? I’d rather marry my horse!'” (Page 264)
4. The Serpent’s Shadow (2001)
Here is our Snow White Tale. Ironically, however, our heroine does not have skin white as snow and lips as red as the rose. Rather, she was of mixed ethnicity (India and English) and not your pushover Disney heroine. At the stories beginning she introduces herself as an acclaimed physician at only 25 years old. She and I are around the same age so I felt that we were of the same mind set. She fled to London to escape her aunt, a priestess for Kali Dugha, one of the scarier and misunderstood of the Hindu Gods, and established herself as a protector of ALL including the “scum” from the opera houses, prostitution houses and dance halls. She inherited from her father her Elemental powers over Earth but doe not know how to handle them. That is where our Hero comes in, dear Peter Scott, who falls for her almost instantly. I like this novel for how it addresses The Feminist Movement, the clash of Eastern and Western perspective and love. What I like about this hero, among the others in her novels, is that he is not an Adonis. He is older than her by perhaps ten years, has served as a captain, and injured himself irreversibly. Yet, when compared to another handsome young man who attempts to molest her, he is more a man. Also, Maya is not perfectly strong and impenetrable. She undergoes a terrible experience, at the hand of the same said young man, and turns to (GASP) Peter for comfort. Food for thought for the potential feminists.
“‘Maya?’ There had been no footsteps to warn her of Peter Scott’s approach, but he was normally soft-footed. His voice startled her; she rose swiftly and turned to face him, the light from the hall lamp falling on her face, and her wide and dilated eyes.
His face was in shadow, but there was not mistaking the gasp he uttered. Not the words he blurted out.
‘Maya, my God– you are beautiful– ‘ His honest, clean reaction undid her. With a sob, she flung her self into his astonished arms.” (Page 242)
“I think I may be the happiest man in the world.
Peter had forgotten his original intention of warning Maya about the mysterious deaths the moment she had flung herself, sobbing, into his arms. When he’d seen her in the light from the hallways, dressed in her exotic sari with her hair down and her eyes as wide as a frightened deer’s, the last thing he would have said to her, had he had time to think about what he was saying, was how beautiful she was. But the exclamation had been startled out of him, and it resulted in this–” (Page 247)
3. Steadfast (2013)
(Though the next three books are placed as they are, I could not decide between them.) This is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and tied as my favorite novel in this series. This story begins with the flight of the heroine Katie Langford from the circus and her abusive husband, the strong man who coerced her into their marriage. Being half gypsy, Katie follows the advice of her people and flees further to Brighten to eventually work at a theater as a dancer and magician’s assistant. Lackey tactfully adressed the reality of marriage and divorce. A woman could not divorce her husband with allegations of abuse. Because she was his property, the only way she could separate from him was if someone caught him in adultery. I followed this girl’s journey to freedom and felt for her and the pain she carried. When she found she was a fire magician from Jack, the doorman, she confronted him about how she could use her powers. He made it plain that she could not use them in revenge or hate. How do you tell that to a victim of physical and mental abuse? She comes to love Jack, who lost his leg in the Boer wars and carried incredible guilt and pain for what the British did to natives of the lands they fought in. He was gentle, patient and steadfast (just as our tin soldier should be) and I came to love him for it. I have a soft spot for men like him who carry such deformities yet remain kind and gentle despite their circumstances.
“Now more words came, faster, as if he was trying to get them all out before he lost the courage to say the,. ‘Katie, I know you might not want to think of such things as a fellow talking to you like this, because all you know of men is what that. . . foul creature did to you. I know this divorce could take a great deal of time. And I know you aren’t free now to even think about possibly finding someone else. But when you are. . . I would consider it the greatest honor. . . it would make me terrible happy. . . if you would consider me. . . letting me. . . pay my attentions to you.’He flushed deeply. ‘I mean. . . honorably of course. Pay court to you, is what they’d say back when I was a boy. If you’d–‘
It finally it penetrated to her what he was asking, and a startled laugh bubbled up from inside her. For a moment he looked startled, then a touch angry and a great deal embarrassed, but before he could take it wrong, the words all tumbled out of her, impelled rush of feelings she couldn’t define, but which were exciting, breathtaking, and utterly intoxicating.
. . . ‘That would be amazing!’ she said. ‘I-I like you better than any fellow I have ever met, Jack, and the more I am with you, the better I like you! I wish you would!’
It was not the most elegant way to respond, but his face cleared and then he smiled. And he took her hand and kissed it. ‘Then we can start by becoming the best of friends,’ he replied. Which was an answer she liked, a great deal- – not the least because it had never even entered Dick’s head to be friends with her.” (Pages 185-186)
“‘Well, that’s a relief,’ he said, lightly. ‘When you two get married, I won’t lose the best assistant I’ve ever had.’
Jack barked a startled laugh. ‘You selfish git!’ he replied, mostly in jest, though with a hint of irritation. ‘Is that all you can say? Here I’ve gone for years, thinking no woman would ever want to be saddled with a cripple, then I find the dearest, sweetest girl in the world, and she’s a fire magician, and she wants me, and all you can think about is that you won’t lost your assistant?’
‘It’s not me she’s marrying,’ Lionel pointed out, and laughed. ‘Oh, congratulation, old man. Where would you like to go for a honeymoon? A nice volcano, like Vesuvius? That should suit a couple of fire magicians.'” (Page 198)
“She was preceded and accompanied by a veritable horde of salamanders, Fire sprites, and firebirds, who swarmed around her and lit up the room. But nothing lit up the room like her smile.
And then, at long, long last, she was in his arms, as the Elemental wreathed around them both, and all the world was right, as it would be right, from this moment on.” (Page 298)
2. Unnatural Issue (2011)
The fairy tale Donkeyskin, which this novel is based on, is not a well-known Grimm’s fairy tale but I recognized it immediately as I started reading. This is definitely one of the more disturbing books in the series. In a nutshell, outside Yorkshire Richard Whitestone, stayed locked in his room in a state of grief after the death of his wife for twenty years and in a fit of insanity decided to use black magic to bring back his wife, which he could do as an Earth master. Having never accepted or loved his daughter Suzanne, he decides to use her body as his wife’s new vessel. She replaced her father as the earth’s guardian, having been appointed by Robin Goodfellow (look him up he is an interesting figure in Celtic legend) but in hearing her father’s less than virtuous intentions she flees to another man’s estate in disguise. I would recommend reading the original fairy tale (It is one of my favorites because of the man she falls in love with). I like her as a character. She is flawed and foolishly falls in love with a pretty face but is beautifully gentle and resourceful. The last stretch of this novel takes place at the beginning of WWI and I love how it shows her kindness and self sacrifice as a war nurse. Not only that, but she goes back to continue her work once discharged the first time. Peter Almsley, whom she eventually comes to love deeply, is one of my favorite heroes. He is witty, charming but takes on the face of fool for all but his closest friends. He is an altogether dynamic character and loves Suzanne deeply, without seeking to receive anything in return or caring about his rank.
“But this is a woman I would fight my entire family and all the world for, if she would have me.
The realization hit him like a body blow, and he almost gasped. But he was an Elemental Master, and disciplined above all, he kept himself steady, and he knew that of what he was thinking or feeling showed on his face.” (Page, 311)
“‘Please be careful,’ he insisted instead. ‘If things look grim, run. We can’t replace you, you know.’
He thought for a moment she might retort, but she didn’t. At least not at once. She ate a few bites of her grilled kidneys, then looked up and said, wryly, ‘Better a live dog than a dead lion?’
‘The dead lion won’t get a second chance; the dog will certainly learn from his defeat and come back with a pack,’ Peter pointed out. Then, despite his best intentions, his emotions got the better of him. He put down his fork and captured her free hand. ‘ Please, please be careful and be wise,’ he said, with intensity that made her eyes widen. ‘I . . . care for you, you know.’
He quickly took his hand away, before she could pull back, an attempted to pull a mask over his raw emotions. He was rather good at that. He had had a lot of practice.” (Page 343)
“Charles couldn’t see past his own walls. And one of those walls was class. She realized now that she would never have been someone he would look at as–
–as Peter was looking at her now.
Idiot, she thought, suddenly. I was like a silly thing with a pash for a theater actor. He was kind because it cost him nothing to be kind to me. But Peter is kind, and cares, when it costs him everything.” (Page 361)
1. Phoenix and Ashes (2004)
Our Cinderella novel is not what your everyday teen would love. It begins with Eleanor, bound by evil magic by her Stepmother to the hearth by cutting off her finger, working in the kitchen of her house. Slowly she finds that her powers as a Fire Master are burning away her stepmother’s curse. With the help of her godmother, a local earth magician, and the tarot cards she encounters in her dreams she gains power over herself and fights to become free from her stepmother. The man she had loved since she was young, Reginald Fenyx, returned from fighting in the Great War a broken man suffering from shell shock and torture inflicted by evil earth demons. By providence they meet and develop a friendship despite the hardships they both have gone through. I love this novel for so many reasons. Firstly, Reggie was not an Errol Flynn or stereotypical knight in shining armor. Lackey unashamedly wrote of how he wept and cowered in fear after what he had seen. (If you have learned of WWI you will understand. War is only romantic in silly novels and the minds of fools.) He had to fight through these fears and come back to the light. Secondly, Lackey talked about the war from many perspectives: the soldier, the mother, woman left behind, an old general, and even the selfish higher class. People are diverse and complicated, but it is very rare that they are truly evil. In her Stepmother’s case, she chose to be evil consciously. She was not born that way and neither were her daughters. They were outwardly beautiful but inside they were monsters. They were the real monsters born from such wars. Lastly, this is another case where the main characters worked TOGETHER to free themselves from evil. They both had their own demons to face. Yes, Eleanor was a strong minded female who dreamed of going to Oxford but that did not mean she was perfect or unwilling to turn to a man for help. Same with Reggie, he took his aunt’s admonishing sincerely and accepted Eleanor’s criticism though they were women. Plus, he specifically stated that he wanted to marry someone who was his partner, a woman he could actually have an intellectual conversation with.
“‘No more guns,’ someone else moaned. ‘All day and all night– pounding, pounding, pounding–‘
‘Ah,’ said Reggie’s neighbor in an undertone. ‘PBI. I’d’ve done a funk six weeks ago if I’d been in PBI.’
Reggie turned his head, took in the neat mustache and what he could see of the other man’s remaining hand, and made a guess.
‘Calvary?’ he suggested.
The other finally turned his head and looked at Reggie. ‘Most useless waste of man and horseflesh on God’s own earth,’ the other agreed, and though the voice was cheerful, the bleak expression on the man’s face gave it the lie. ‘Should have put my horse on a gun-carriage and me in a trench. All we existed for was to be shot to pieces. All they could think to do was send us across the wire again and again and let the machine guns have us.'” (Page 77)
“He looked a great deal different from the last time she had seen him, and it wasn’t just the little mustache or the close-cropped military haircut. He was very pale, and every movement had a nervous quality to it, like one of those high-bred miniature greyhounds that never seems entirely sure of something isn’t going to step on it or snatch it up and bite it in two. He was also very thin, much thinner than she remembered him being.
And his eyes, his gray-blue eyes, were the saddest things about him. “Haunted” was the very expression she would have used, have anyone asked. These were the eyes that had seen too much, too much loss, too much horror.”(Page 145)
“It occurred to him that if she was working, working hard somewhere now– well, she wasn’t going to be all that sheltered anymore. Maybe he could talk to her, about some of the things you just didn’t talk about among men. All right to bitter, angry, depressed; all right even to admit to being white-knuckle terrified in the night, and ready to do a bunk. All right even to admitting to want to take your faithful old Wembley and stick the barrel in you mouth and–
But you didn’t talk to another man about losing your sense of wonder and beauty. You didn’t tell him how your ideals were lying dead beside your comrades.” (Page 155)