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Now they say you should never judge a book by its cover but luckily this book turned out to be an exception. I picked this book up while travelling simply because I liked the look of the cover little knowing that I was about to become a fan of Mercedes Lackey's work.
The book is based in the five hundred kingdoms where fairy tails happen all the time for better or worse and those who know how to use the Tradition (note the capital "T") can change the world.
The main character Elena should have followed one of the traditional fairy tails to become the little Cinder girl however like so many others who should have lived a fairy tail life but don't she was just born in the wrong place and the wrong time and there was no dashing Prince Charming available. The problem with this is that the Traditional powers don't like to be foiled and if they can't send someone down their preferred path then they just find another one which doesn't necessarily have to include a happily ever after.
Luckily for Elena a fairy godmother senses the build up of power around her and decides to take her as an apprentice. It would be cruel to tell you any more of the story but needless to say Elena's strong and individual nature, the power of the Tradition which is always trying to make her fall in love or come to a sticky tragic end and the appearance of a stuck up prince who needs to be shown who's boss results in a funny and original tail which will have you laughing out load and scurrying to the book store for the next instalment.
Having read some meaty and serious books over the last month, I have been looking for lighter and less intense reading material! Not being a huge fan of modern literature, especially the chick lit genre, I turned instead towards the fantasy section on Amazon where I found this novel by Mercedes Lackey. I haven't come across her before but she appears to be an established 'light fantasy' writer, whose work seems designed to appeal more to women than men. The cover of this book immediately suggested I wasn't going to have to engage too much of my brain so I turned half of it off and settled down to read it.
Elena Klovis lives in one of the Five Hundred Kingdoms where the mighty magical guiding force of Tradition encourages the people to live out fairy tales. Elena should have been her country's Cinderella but the prince of her kingdom is underage and she is left to suffer life with her stepmother and sisters. She is rescued by a Fairy Godmother and is trained up to help other people reach their happy endings, occasionally by thwarting and reorganising Tradition. One of her stories puts her in a difficult position and she comes home with a prince that she has turned into a donkey-what will happen next?
I have to say that this book surprised me a little as I wasn't expecting to enjoy it so much. Sure, there is no depth of description, the dramatic events are obvious and the romance takes no complicated twists and turns, but there was enough there to encourage me to finish it in one day. The story was interesting and was a take on the traditional fairy story that was both unique in my experience and amusing, but also well thought out enough to seem at least slightly plausible. I have read some truly appalling books in the past and I can say that this is certainly not the worst book I have ever read, indeed it is nowhere near it (it is also nowhere near the best either though!).
Whilst the characters are relatively shallowly plotted, the two main characters have been fleshed out enough to generate some emotions in the reader. Elena in particular is a very strong and capable heroine who is very easy to like and sympathise with, although her counterpart Prince Alexander has a less appealing or deep personality (thank goodness for magic!). The secondary characters are often only thin sketches, lacking more than the most perfunctory description and just merging into the background. This is the main area I disliked about this book, I feel this one set of storylines is good enough to have been expanded into several books and I would have loved to have heard more about the Five Hundred Kingdoms and some of the other characters. Instead we get a slightly superior romance story, with tantalising glimpses into alternative storylines or explanations. More description and filling out of the plot would have made it more convincing and enjoyable for me.
There are adult themes in this book; some very funny (but sadly not intentionally) sex scenes which had me sniggering I'm afraid. Its very hard to write good sex scenes and I think in this case Ms Lackey would have been better off with the trite 'and she fell into his arms' as the sniggering sort of ruined whatever other emotions she was trying to excite in me.
So, my conclusion is that this is a fluffy and light romance story but with the potential to have been so much more. It is perfectly enjoyable, completely unchallenging (although I could say the opposite about the appalling font that has been chosen for this edition) and is a step up from the soft focus romances favoured by women of a certain age and the brash, label obsessed chicklit with pictures of shoes and bras on the cover. The use of a fairy tale world has an appealing charm and also enables plot twists etc that are only capable in a story when you can say 'its magic, that's why!' as an explanation for something!
There are other books in the Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms Series- currently:
One Good Knight
***ISBN and Price***
Amazon have it for £3.41 which isn't bad for 496 pages.
*The Five Hundred Kingdoms and its Tradition*
Elena Klovis, step-daughter of Madame Klovis and step-sister to Delphinium and Daphne, quaintly nickname the Horrid Stepsisters despite them being attractive in an interesting kind of way, was supposed to be her kingdom's Cinderella - unfortunately fate didn't agree and left her with completely inappropriate choices of princes. Although Otraria was one of the most pleasant of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, sometimes Tradition and fate have a way of seeking to cause the most damage, rather than reward, this was evident in the fact the Elena, despite feeling the threads of Tradition weaving around her from the age of 16 had been denied her chosen path.
Because of this, Elena worked her fingers to the bone for Madame Klovis, and The Horrid Sisters reminiscent of the Cinderella fairy tale but never being allowed to pursue the Tradition of finding a prince. Thankfully, Madame and her daughters soon felt the need to depart from Otraria due to their inability to retain the wealth and fortune of Elena's father (and their keen desire to spend!), and their desire to escape the debt collectors. Unfortunate Elena was left on her own, in a house that had been ravaged of anything of value, even her tiny attic room which barely contained any personal possessions as it was. Not being of the same thread as Madame and her daughters, Elena, a 21 year old woman with no education, or hope of Tradition finding her, decides to enlist at the local "Mop" fair in the hope that she'll be hired as someone's servant, because at least this way she'll be paid for her share of the hard work.
When the day finally arrived, Elena despite spending a tortuous day at the "Mop" fair still presented a brave, opportune face as she remained the last to be selected. Here is where fate finally decided to intervene, and her own fairy godmother decided to provide a little help, and offer Elena the most unexpected job.
"Elena thought about the tension she had been feeling for so many years. Was that magic?
The old lady nodded with satisfaction. "So. You have felt it. All over the Five Hundred Kingdoms there have been countless girls like you for whom the circumstances were not right. And magic keeps gathering around them, trying to make it work - and by the way, we call that The Tradition"
Now instead of sleeping in the tiny attic, Elena spends her days in a house that from the outside appears to be a small cottage, but expands to a multitude of rooms on the inside, living alongside Brownies, and dealing with arrogant princes who keep trying to change their place in The Tradition.
*Sometimes a Fairy Godmother's work is never done*
A Fairy Godmother's work is not just about diverting the path of Tradition, but of helping those in needs in the Five Hundred Kingdoms. From simple pleasures as tending Unicorns, and making herbal remedies, to creating enchantments to ensure the Tradition is satisfied with its tale.
"The Princess will awaken with her hair binding her to her bed, so knotted that she cannot move" - Enough of a curse to satisfy the Tradition
"Scissors will be blunted, knives useless, and not any of her handmaidens will be able to loosen so much as a single hair. All will seem lost" - This provided the despair the Tradition needed.
"No man's hand will free her" - a sly trick on words, meaning a female could assist Tradition likes these quirky loopholes.
As well as diverting the path of Tradition, Elena was also involved in the Quest of young Princes who were seeking their own paths to follow, whether it is untangling the knotted hair, fighting dragons to reach the castle, or finding the one princess that bruises when lead atop a hundred mattresses atop a single pea. Here is where the tale of Elena, really becomes interesting as she tests the young men on their quest before allowing them to proceed what will become of young Octavian, Alexander and Julian.
*An enchanting tale*
Despite the work and tales detailed above, I have barely touched upon the lives and work of Elena, Fairy Godmother in the Five Hundred Kingdoms. The novel is written in such a way that twists and turns are continually apparent, and as the reader persists finds themselves recognising fairy tales from childhood but with an adult perspective. Speaking of which there are several more adult style pages but they are written in a tasteful way so as not to offend.
The main character Elena Klovis stems from a simple, hardworking life, and despite the fantastic opportunity she has accepted, her way of life never deviates from this goodness. There are some excellent, humorous scenes in the book; in particular those regarding unicorns are their personal fetish of only being attracted to virgins.
Character descriptions are all very well thought out, even if the main male lead is typically handsome, strong and rather well designed - oh he is incredibly arrogant though but this is a Fairy Tale and why not allow for a little romantic enhancement.
Mercedes Lackey is a renowned fantasy writer, and although her work isn't as popular over here she has an incredible fan base in the US. Because of her years experience at writing fantasy, this book almost flows from her fingertips, and whilst this isn't a bad thing, it does make the writing quite simplistic at times, and very easy to read. I personally devoured the tale of "The Fairy Godmother", partly because of my love for fairytales and romance, but partly because I personally found it an easy to read novel.
I must admit I have now read "The Fairy Godmother" several times because I fell in love with the characters and because I'm a lover of fairy tales. In a world such as today where we would rather execute someone than listen, is it no wonder I like to escape from realism. Thankfully Mercedes Lackey has written a sequel although this isn't due until December 2006.
For those who enjoy fantasy type novels, interjected with a little romance, would be well advised to purchase "The Fairy Godmother". It's a healthy dose of fairy tales, combined with a little love story, and a sprinkling of romance, ensure the Five Hundred Kingdoms remains true to Tradition a tale you don't want to miss.
Mercedes Lackey "The Fairy Godmother" is available from Amazon for £3.67 (an unusual price, but she predominately sells in the US).
Her follow-up novel "One Good Knight", continuing with the Five Hundred Kingdoms, will be available to purchase from December 2006.
*Praise for Mercedes Lackey*
"Lackey has created an intelligent, self possessed heroine with whom many readers will identify" - Publishers Weekly
" proving why she's an acknowledged master of her craft with this awesome take on the world of fairytales" - Romantic Times
From the bestselling author of the Heralds of Valdemar series comes an enchanting new novel. In the land of Five Hundred Kingdoms, if you can't carry out your legendary role, life is no fairy tale. Elena Klovis was supposed to be her kingdom's Cinderella -- until an accident of fate left her with a completely inappropriate prince! Determined not to remain with her stepfamily, Elena set out to get a new job -- and ended up becoming the Fairy Godmother for the land. But Breaking with Tradition was no easy matter. True, she didn't have to sleep in the chimney, but she had to deal with arrogant, stuffed-shirt princes who kept trying to rise above their place in the tale. In fact, one of them was so ornery that Elena could do nothing but change him into a donkey. Still, her practical nature couldn't let him roam the country, so she brought the donkey -- er, the prince! -- home to her cottage to teach him some lessons. All the while keeping in mind that breaking with tradition can land everyone into a kettle of fish -- sometimes literally!