And I’m back! Its been a while, I know but its been busy, busy so far this year! Both good and bad I guess. At any rate, I just plowed through Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms novels recently. Normally I don’t go for the sort of pure fantasy novels. I prefer urban fantasy with guns and cars and pop culture jokes. Shallow of me perhaps but there you are. But I could not put these books down! These six books are new retellings of classic fairy tales that we all grew up with such as the Snow Queen and Sleeping Beauty.
Each book can be read on its own, which his nice, but they all tie together as well. The 500 Kingdoms are affected by a force called the Tradition. The Tradition is basically what happens when a story gets told and retold so often that it starts affecting the lives of people. Little girls with a nasty stepmother and two nasty stepsisters will find herself in a Cinderella type situation. Unfortunately, the Tradition isn’t perfect and doesn’t really care what the people themselves want. Sometimes the potential Cinderella will be a young lady who lives in a kingdom with an infant prince. She can’t have a happily ever after like that so what happens then? Why the Fairy godmothers of course! Godmothers are just very powerfully magic human women (though there are some real fairies in these tales) who are Tradition scholars and can manipulate it into a happy ending. They can transform a Cinderella into a Sleeping Beauty if that’s what it takes to get a happy ending.
The first book is The Fairy Godmother and it starts out with a sort of traditional Cinderella tale. The main character Elena Klovis has the nasty, wasteful stepmother (think Baroness de Ghent in Ever After) and the two nasty stepsisters and the deceased father. And, as hinted above, the prince in her kingdom is an infant. But Elena is far from helpless. She’s smart and determined to escape her currently life and make a better one for herself. She gets her chance when the stepmother decides to run from her creditors with her two daughters and try to marry them to quality in another kingdom.
Once the stepmother leaves and the creditors ransack the house, Elena goes to the town square to try and set herself up as a housekeeper. Everyone in town knows that Elena can clean, cook and mend and yet at the end of the day not one of them offers her a job. Just as you start feeling sorry for Elena, the ubiquitous ‘mysterious woman’ comes along and snatches her up. Of course, this woman is the Fairy Godmother for Elena’s kingdom. Since Elena was in a failed Cinderella story, the Tradition forced so much magic into her trying to make her fit a set path that Elena has the opportunity to become a Godmother and not just a mere servant. So the woman takes Elena to train
There is quite a bit of cliche in these books but I suppose one can only do so much to refresh well known fairy tales. Most of us could probably recent at least the gist of these stories in our sleep by the time we reach adulthood. Lackey keeps it from being a really yawner by throwing in a bunch of monkey wrenches at once to the newly minted Godmother Elena. At this point you’re wondering if Elena will keep her cool and fix things or break down like so many typical female characters in a variety of stories and media. Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!
I think this is definitely aimed more towards women than men. Not that there isn’t good fighting and puzzles but really, it’s fairy tales. I’m pretty sure my husband would find these stories dreadfully dull. All in all, I’d rate this book a B+ and I really think that they get better from here, since this book really had to lay out the whole world Lackey created.