The Fairy Godmother, by Mercedes Lackey

>> Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Fantasy is a genre I would really like to read more of. It's such a huge genre, though, that I don't really know where to start. Fantasy romance written by authors best known for their fantasy books seems like a good place to start. I can try out authors and if I like them, I can then move on to their fantasy titles. I started The Fairy Godmother (you can read the first 3 chapters here), by Mercedes Lackey, in that spirit.

In the land of Five Hundred Kingdoms, "Tradition" rules, and everyone is expected to fit into established fairy tales.

Enslaved by her wickedly avaricious stepmother and stepsisters, Elena should have had a Cinderella-like life, but when things didn't work out, she flees and seeks work. Her fairy godmother, in fact, the fairy godmother of several kingdoms, makes her apprentice fairy godmother, and it's her duty to prevent the bad things that come with Tradition.

Her life takes yet another curious turn when, disguised as a crone to test three questing princes, she loses her temper with Prince Alexander. He acts like an ass, so she turns him into one. Unwilling to let a defenseless donkey wander the woods alone, she takes him home and puts him to work transforming his life.
TFG was one of the best books I've read lately. In fact, so far, I've only rated 3 non-reread books A this year.

For me, this was just so different, so original and it felt so fresh! And now a fantasy fan will come tell me she thought it was derivative, that it followed very predictable paths, blah, blah, blah. Well, see, that's the beauty of being just starting out in a genre. Everything will probably feel new to me for a while. Maybe it will feel new in the same way that, for someone reading her first romance, an amnesia plot will feel new, but the thing is, reading this book brought me a great deal of pleasure.

Ok, enough yammering an on to the book. TFG has two pretty distinct parts. The first half shows Elena's transition from put-upon, overworked and abused quasi-Cinderella to powerful Godmother, and man, was this fun! There's a lot to learn for the reader here, and some of it, like how exactly this force called "The Tradition" works, not particularly straight-forward, but Lackey manages not to do any info-dumps and, even more important, to make it all truly fascinating.

I just can't get over how ingenious, and even elegant, some of the little ways Lackey plays with The Tradition and classic fairy tales are. I especially like Elena's "saving ways", how she quickly manages to find her own, individual style in working as a Godmother and how this style entails not simply shoving magic at The Tradition, to make it go her way, but understanding it completely and subtly manipulating it with tiny amounts of magic, using what Elena knows about it to make sure an outcome comes about with the minimum amount of effort.

The second half of the book has Elena acting as an excellent Godmother, one who is very comfortable and confident in her role now, but who still is very open to learning and knows she doesn't know everything. This part of the book introduces a hero, a failed Quester who does so badly at his courtesy test that Elena decides to give him his comeuppance. So we see Prince Alxeander grow from a rigid, close-minded man, wholly lacking in compassion, to one who is more than worthy of Elena.

And it does take a lot for him to become worthy of Elena, because she's such a wonderful protagonist. Strong, intelligent, with plenty of common sense and decency and very human, she was a joy to read, and remained so until the end.

I've already gone to the Reader to Reader board at AAR and asked for more Mercedes Lackey recs. You can see that thread here. Other suggestions, whether in that thread, or here in my comments, are very welcome.

The Fairy Godmother Cover

Oh, and I shouldn't forget to mention that I thought the cover was spectacular ;-)


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