Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Series Review: The Five Hundred Kingdoms by Mercedes Lackey

Having a Kindle is a wonderful thing for me. I get to read books that I normally would pass by without a glance. I'm downloading YA fiction by the bucketful, and I don't think I even know where the YA section is at Barnes and Noble, and then I found the romance section, an area I would have passed by with my nose in the air, but one eye on the covers, or perhaps would have dragged my friend over to and picked up the cheesiest bodice-ripper to tear apart.

Mercedes Lackey falls into the latter category, though I believe she's a "lime" rather than "lemon" author? If I recall, a Lime author teases sex, whereas a Lemon author gives it to you several times a book.

Anyway, I was recommended to read her after I downloaded "Snow White and Rose Red" by Patricia C. Wrede (which I found on Heidi Anne Heiner's blog, Sur La Lune, Ms. Heiner is one of the leading folklorists in America right now), and I thought the snippet of "The Fairy Godmother" sounded good, so I downloaded it, and I was right. The book was great from start to finish.

The book follows Elena Klovis, who is set up to be the Cinderella of her kingdom. The problem is that the prince is only 11 and she's 21, and even though a duke would appease The Tradition (the driving force of the Five Hundred Kingdoms), there's none to be found, and as it turns out, Elena wouldn't have "settled" for anything less than Happily Ever After (but not in a snobby's explained better in the book.).

So what's a would-be-princess to do? Elena's evil stepmother and self-absorbed stepsisters skip town in order to avoid creditors, and Elena decides to hire herself out at a mop fair. That is where she meets the Fairy Godmother for the kingdom she lives in (can't be arsed to remember what it's called). It turns out that someone in Elena's position can become a godmother and help move The Tradition along for people, and help direct it into less horrid tales; for instance we meet a woman who would have been a "Fair Rosalinda", or a woman who is destined to be killed and have her bones turned into a harp, but The Godmother intervened and gave her a normal life. When her daughter is set up to be a Rapunzel, Elena and The Godmother twist The Tradition to make the child a Princess and the Pea. After that escapade is done, The Old Godmother retires, turning Elena into the new Godmother, and her adventures begin.

The best part in this book was that Elena is never a Mary Sue or Speshul Snowflake. She learns to use The Tradition to her benefit, but what she does is not unprecedented. She gains the favor of both the Fairy Queen and King, and while it's rare to have the King's blessing, it's not unprecedented. She also "conserves" her magic, which is a finite force in this world, but that is also something that intellegent Godmothers do, and not some great thing that Elena thinks up on her own.

The Fairy Godmother is a great book to start with, and is the first book in the series, though having read several others, their order doesn't matter as much, because you learn right away about Godmothers, Sorcerers/esses, Hedge Witches/Wizards, Champions, and the basic way The Tradition works.

The second book, One Good Knight, sort of disappointed me, because "Godmother Elena" is made out to be something special in the world, although I suppose if she's The Godmother of a specific kingdom, she is special to that kingdom (she has several kingdoms under her belt, it's true), and by the sleeping beauty story, I was sick to death of white, blonde heroines. I'm currently reading Beauty and the Werewolf, a sort of combination of Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, and the heroine is still freakin' blonde. It's okay to have dark-haired or even red-haired, or even (gods forbid) dark-skinned and dark-haired heroines, people! I'm expecting an Aladdin-type story with a blonde heroine to come along next because that's what Mercedes Lackey seems to like. I had a hard time with a blonde Snow White, and I'm having an even harder time with a blonde Bella.

Still, the books are good reads, and I'm enjoying them. The sleeping beauty story figured in Sigurd the Dragonslayer (as the German Siegfried) of Norse mythology, and since it and Der Niebelungenleid are my favorite Norse myth (you can keep the rest of the Volsunga Saga), I really enjoyed that one. Overall, I'd give the series a B.

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