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. Now that her stepfamily has left town (just ahead of their debtors), she is finally free to make whatever she wants of her life--or is she?
Outside forces continue to shape Elena's life, as 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. But Elena is not content merely to go on playing a Godmother's appointed role as guide to the heroes and heroines. She is determined to do things her own way, to rewrite some of the basic plots underlying the familiar tales, and so create new ones.
The forces of magical tradition can be overwhelming in the Five Hundred Kingdoms, though, and working against them, even when trying to improve things, is fraught with difficulty. 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 (12 Dec 04)
Mercedes Lackey's THE FAIRY GODMOTHER takes place in generic fantasyland but is deliberately recursive and self-referential in its exploration of magic and plot. This would have been fabulous if Lackey had pulled it off completely, but it is still pretty darn good.
Our heroine is in a conventional Cinderella tale (exactly precisely) but there is no suitable prince, so she ends up as a Fairy Godmother herself. "Tradition" is a/the source of magic and will continue to push individuals to fit patterns in a fairly-acknowledged creepy way. She rescues one of the typical "three princes on a quest" and turns him into a donkey, and he learns his lesson. But she resists falling in love and being pushed by tradition back into one happily ever after. Together they manage to move to a new paradigm, though, one where he and she become co-magic workers doing interesting fun stuff. In the process they rescue his brother's beloved and fix assorted outside evil.
This story is fun, partly because it "knows" it is a fairy tale and pushes against the boundaries. What it lacks is any of the depths of Lackey's THE FIRE ROSE or any of the other Elementals books. The setting is "fairy tale land" and it never quite goes beyond it, although the characterization is much more competent and consistent than in Catherine Asaro's THE CHARMED SPHERE, the other Luna book I've read so far. But in spite of being recursive in a way that a literary author might envy, the characters are out of central casting with only a light gloss of personality, like well drawn and competent cardboard. Just to be clear, though, I liked the book.--Lynn (11 Jan 04)