One Good Knight, by Mercedes Lackey

>> Thursday, March 23, 2006

My first Mercedes Lackey was The Fairy Godmother, and it completely blew me away. Since I read it I've accumulated a few books from her backlist, but the next I've read is the following book in the 500 Kingdoms series, One Good Knight. Actually, this one arrived at about the same time as Moontide, a 500 Kingdoms short story published in the Winter Moon anthology, but I went for the long book first.

I'm loving the covers on this series. The colouring is gorgeous, and they really evoke the feel of the books (see the cover of The Fairy Godmother here).

Traditionally, marauding dragons are soothed only by a virgin sacrifice. And so practical-minded Princess Andromeda -- with the encouragement of her mother's court -- reluctantly volunteers to do her duty, asking only for a sword to defend herself. Well, her offer is accepted, but the weapon isn't forthcoming, and so Andromeda faces the dragon alone.

Until a Champion arrives to save her -- sort of. Sir George doesn't quite defeat the dragon, but as Andromeda finishes rescuing herself she discovers that beneath the Good Knight's well-meaning though inexperienced heroics lies a further tale . . .

Still, Andromeda can't leave her seacoast country in further jeopardy from the dragon's return, and so she and . . . er . . . George join to search for the dragon's lair. But even -- especially -- in the Five Hundred Kingdoms bucking with Tradition isn't easy. It takes the strongest of wills, more than a hint of stubbornness, quick thinking and a refusal to give up, no matter what happens along the way.

Somehow, though, none of this was taught in princess school . . .
I did like One Good Knight, but I thought it wasn't nearly as good as TFG. Still, this tale of princesses, champion knights and dragons has charm and sparkle to spare. A B.

Plain and studious, Princess Andromeda of the small trading kingdom of Acadia has spent her entire life being overlooked and neglected by her mother, Queen Cassiopeia. But Andie is sick of feeling useless, and so she manages to find a way of making herself useless by preparing well-researched reports... only to become a liability to her tyrannical mother and her right-hand advisor when her research unearths a bit too much of what's going on in the kingdom.

What better way to get rid of Andie than to make her one of the virgin sacrifices to the dragon that's been "terrorizing" the kingdom for the past few months? That will also kill two birds with one stone, since having the Queen's beloved daughter come up in the weekly virgin lottery will quiet all those pesky rumours that it's being rigged by the Queen to get revenge on the people who oppose her.

(BTW, who the hell writes these blurbs? Andie very defintely does NOT volunteer!)

So Andie is left at the sacrifice site, but she's not left defenceless, as the other maidens were. The members of her household and her loyal Guards give her the means to at least give some fight to the dragon. And when the time comes, she's given even further help by the arrival (finally!) of the champion that was sent for months before from the Glass Mountain Chapter-House (run by none other than Alexander, consort of Godmother Elena, from TFG).

Obviously, having survived the dragon and very suspicious of her mother, Andie can't very well return to Acadia, so she joins George, the champion, on his hunt for the dragon, and, after some interesting twists, joins with several others to rid the Kingdom of its tyrant.

What did I like? Well, I loved how Lackey played with different fairy tales, and I loved the way she evoked a charming, magical atmosphere. Andie is a worthy heroine and her hero (whose identity I will not give away here) is very definitely unique. The writing is witty and elegant and often very, very funny. And I did like the many interesting twists Lackey provided, though, even if I saw a few of them coming. SPOILER: [The description of the dragon's "sad eyes" in his initial appearance was a dead giveaway that he wasn't going to be evil. Then I latched on to the word "androgynous" when George was first described, and, together with the fact that she slept in her armour, I wondered if she might not be female. And I wrongly guessed that she and Andie were going to be falling in love, so I did get it right that there was going to be some kind of "forbidden" love there, only it wasn't a same-sex relationship, but an interspecies romance! That, BTW, I began to suspect when we first found out how Peri was so fond of books ;-)] END SPOILER

So why wasn't as crazy about this one as I was about TFG? I guess it might be unfair of me, but the main reason I didn't adore it was because some of the elements that I loved so much about TFG weren't present here (or were present to a smaller degree).

I think the main thing I found lacking here was the Young Adult feel the story had to it. TFG was just as much of a fairy tale, but it was still an adult, grown-up romance. Here we do get a hint of romance and a tiny bit physical desire, but I guess the very nature of the romance precludes something a bit clearer. The ending in this area felt to me as if it came out of nowhere, with a resolution that relied way too much on deus ex machina.

Also I wanted more about The Tradition. One of the things that captivated me in TFG was the many ingenious ways in which Lackey included The Tradition and its effects in the action. Here we do get a bit of how Andie and her friends manipulate it in order to get better chances in their mission, but it wasn't nearly as satisfying.

Don't lose sight of the fact that, for all my complaints, I'm giving this a B. It is an enjoyable read, and I'm going to keep reading this series. Next book? Fortune's Fool. Here's a link to a B&N newsletter, which contains an interesting interview with Lackey, in which she's asked about it. A little excerpt...

Can you give your fans a little teaser about Fortune's Fool, the next tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms?

ML: I'm combining the Russian folktales of the Sea-King's Daughter -- which is like The Little Mermaid, only with a happier outcome -- with the legend of Sadko, who is another one of those "wise fools" from Russian folktales. The Katschei will make a reappearance on his home ground, there will be a touch of Japanese myth, and a reappearance of some old friends from One Good Knight. Now, because I'm not slavishly following the folktales, the Sea King's Daughter is not the pretty, passive girl-on-the-beach. She's her father's secret agent! She investigates and solves problems where the sea and land meet.
Well, I can't wait to see what she does with this!


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