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12/14/2003 Entry: "Mercedes Lackey's THE FAIRY GODMOTHER--first look"

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I'd love to report that Harlequin's new Luna line of romantic fantasy had been launched with a bang (or at least a shower of magical sparks)--a wonderful, fresh new classic of romantic science fiction and fantasy like ARCHANGEL, SORCERY AND CECELIA, or WAR FOR THE OAKS. While I can't say that, the good news is that Mercedes Lackey's THE FAIRY GODMOTHER is a solid piece of escapist entertainment, worth curling up with on a cold winter's night.

Elena has always felt that her life was supposed to be different, that she was intended to be something more than a drudge for her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. Yet nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her. [...] She is taken on as an apprentice by the local Fairy Godmother, and learns why some people lead (literally) fairytale lives--a frustrated fairytale in the case of Elena, who would have been a Cinderella figure if only the nearest prince had been the appropriate age.

[...] Her attempts to instigate change begin to affect Elena's own life in unforeseen ways, especially after she transforms an arrogant prince into a donkey to teach him a lesson in humility. It works--but then Elena is faced with a newly-charming prince bent on courting her. The romance between Elena and her prince is sweet and relatively uncomplicated, at least after he learns how not to be an ass anymore, and would have worked just as well without the strictly routine love scenes.

The relative ease of Prince Alexander's conversion from boor to paragon highlights another problem; almost no villain in The Fairy Godmother is irredeemable. It seems that all one needs in order to become a better person is a short sharp lesson courtesy of magic, or a chance at true love, or both. While heartwarming, that doesn't seem appropriate for a world that draws on folktales in which nasty people are regularly punished in equally nasty ways.

Lackey's imagination is at its best showing just how strongly magic in the Five Hundred Kingdoms wants to flow into its accustomed channels, whether that be cursing a princess at her christening or making a maiden in distress fall in love with her rescuer. She has set up a world with an intriguing premise and nearly limitless possibilities for storytelling. A return visit in the future would be welcome.--Danielle

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