Some of my favorite fantasy books are from Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. The Fire Rose, The Gates of Sleep, The Serpent’s Shadow, Phoenix and Ashes, The Wizard of London, and Reserved for the Cat are the titles so far. I like all of them. I LOVE some of them. They combine alternate history, classic fairy tales, magic, and the setting of early 1900s England (except The Fire Rose, which is set in America). They stand alone quite well, but are set in the same world, and some of the same themes and characters make appearances in each book.
And while Phoenix and Ashes is my personal favorite in the series, I think The Serpent’s Shadow is very nearly as good, and actually a much better recommendation for anyone who’s a bit wary of ‘fantasy’ and ‘magic.’ Why? Because the heroine Maya’s story isn’t just a re-told fairy tale, with magic added in. It’s also a story about women’s rights, race and ethnicity, about cultural traditions and religion, and how one navigates those channels while also finding out if they will survive to find happily ever after.
Have I confused you? The plot’s not as noisy or as crazy as I might have made it sound. Or maybe it is, but Ms. Lackey just tells the story much better than I can.
Mercedes Lackey’s The Serpent’s Shadow takes place in the London of 1909, and is loosely based on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Echoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers pepper the plot, and the author turns the dwarves of fairy tale lore into seven animal avatars who masquerade as pets.
Some of Maya's challenges come from the fact that she is not "snow white," she is a female physician, and that she has fled India for her father's English homeland after the suspicious deaths of her parents. But the implacable enemy who killed her parents has come to London to search for her, and there is mysterious death stalking the streets…
Kiplingesque descriptions, a vivid Victorian context and a layered story are enhanced by a surface that is as glossy and brightly colored as an action comic.
That gives you an idea of what the book is about, at least. It’s got a bit of mystery, solid doses of suspense and action, magic and magical description, and a plucky Eurasian heroine who is quite able enough to fight her own battles, thank you very much. She meets many interesting and eccentric characters on the way, and each of them inspire love or disgust as well, and leave one hoping they find their just desserts.
I couldn’t help but admire Maya. She’s the character who won’t give up, won’t let any sort of prejudice stop her, and who bends the traditional lines of race, religion and class just enough to make a space for herself and her loved ones. Add into that a really GREAT plot, and enough magic and alternate history to ground the story, and you have a recipe for a favorite.
Recommended for: fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-type mystery, historical fantasy, really interesting plots and sub-plots, fairy tale re-tellings, and action-filled adventures. Onward!