Review posted 1/3/13.
Luna, 2010. 345 pages. Starred Review
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Fantasy Fiction
I do so love Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms! They are fairy tale variants, but for once they are written for grown-ups. They appeal to the reader's intelligence, and a vast storehouse of Tradition powers the magic in the tales. It's so much fun the way she looks at the way the Tradition would affect real people's lives.
Take the princesses that get awakened from sleep by a prince's kiss, for example. There's Snow White. There's Sleeping Beauty. And who knew, the Siegfried saga involves him waking a sleeping shieldmaiden who's actually his aunt surrounded by a ring of flaming roses.
Chapter One of The Sleeping Beauty opens with Princess Rosamund fleeing from a Huntsman and mourning her situation.
It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. Why did her mother die? She had been so good; she'd never done anything to deserve to die!
But of course, the part of her mind that was always calculating, always thinking, the part she could never make just stop, said and if it hadn't been that, it would have been something else. You just turned sixteen. You know what that means in the Tradition.
Oh, she knew. Sixteen was bad enough for ordinary girls. For the noble, the wealthy, The Tradition ruthlessly decreed what sort of birthday you would have -- if you were pretty, it was the celebration of a lifetime. If you were plain, everyone, literally everyone, would forget it was even your birthday, and you would spend the day miserable and alone. Traditional Paths went from there, decreeing, unless you fought it, just what the rest of your life would be like based on that birthday. For a Princess, it was worse. For the only child who was also a Princess, worse still. Curses or blessings, which might be curses in disguise, descended. Parents died or fell deathly ill. You were taken by a dragon. Evil Knights demanded your hand. Evil Sorcerers kidnapped you to marry you -- or worse.
Fortunately, Rosamund's kingdom, Eltaria, has a powerful fairy godmother who is trying to divert all the magic swirling around Eltaria into less harmful channels. But her task isn't easy.
To add to the fun, Siegfried wanders into the kingdom. I love the summing up Mercedes Lackey gives of Siegfried's story. When he drank dragon's blood as a boy and learned the language of beasts, he picked up a bird as a traveling companion who warned him about The Tradition and the fate planned for him.
At ten years old, Siegfried of Drachenthal learned that he had been a game piece all of his life in the metaphorical hands of The Tradition. That he was supposed to go and wake up a sleeping woman, that they would fall in love, and that this was going to lead to an awful lot of unpleasant things. And that if he didn't somehow find a way around it, he was Doomed.
At ten, Doom didn't seem quite as horrid a fate to try to avoid as a Girl was. But it seemed that by avoiding that one particular Girl, in those particular circumstances, who would be the first woman he had ever seen who was not an aunt, he would also avoid the Doom. So he did. He got away from Drachenthal, had the bird scout on ahead so that the first woman he ever saw was not his aunt but someone's lively old granny, and began searching for a way to have a Happy, rather than Tragically Heroic, ending.
At twenty, the idea of a Girl all his own seemed rather nice, but Doom was definitely to be avoided. He had begun to think about this, rather than just merely avoiding all sleeping women in fire circles wearing armor. Other Heroes ended up with Princesses, castles, happy endings, dozens of beautiful children. Why couldn't he?
The bird had been of the opinion that he ought to be able to, if he could trick The Tradition into confusing his fate with some other sort of Hero's. That sounded good to Siegfried. . . .
"So in order to hoodwink The Tradition, all I have to find is someone blond, asleep in a ring of fire and flowers, who is not a Shieldmaiden demigoddess, and wake her up?" he was asking the bird, as he hacked his way through the underbrush with his eversharp, unbreakable sword.
It's an easy to get an idea where this is going, but you will only get an inkling of how much fun and humor is to be found along the way.
Another thoroughly enjoyable offering from Mercedes Lackey.