by Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey’s Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms are exactly the sort of books I thoroughly enjoy. I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the earlier books to enjoy the current one, but characters from previous books are mentioned, and if you’ve read them you already understand the key to that world: The Tradition.
The Tradition is a powerful magic woven through that world, molding people’s lives into fairy tale format. It falls to a league of Godmothers to bend the Tradition to good results and avert tragedy.
I never really liked the story of the Snow Queen. I love the way Mercedes Lackey twists it. In this version, the Snow Queen is the heroine. She’s a Godmother who saves selfish and spoiled boys from ruining their lives completely.
Here’s the Snow Queen, Aleksia, thinking about Kay, the latest boy to come to her Ice Palace:
“He could be redeemed — he would not be here, in the Palace of Ever-Winter, the home of the Ice Fairy, if he was not capable of redemption. The Tradition had made that part clear enough by building such an enormous store of magic about him that, if Aleksia had waited until Winter to fetch him, he would have found his initials written in frost on the windowpane, snowmen having taken on his features when he passed, and the cold having grown so bitter that wildlife would have been found frozen in place. Even so, things had gotten to the point that Ravens had taken to following him, which was a very ominous sign had he but known it. Presumably if Aleksia had done nothing, and no other wicked magician had discovered him and virtually eaten him alive for the sake of that power, he would have gone to the bad all by himself. He was too self-centered and arrogant to have escaped that particular fate — and most likely, given his turn of mind, he would have become a Clockwork Artificer, one of those repellant individuals who tried to reduce everything to a matter of gears and levers, and tried to imprison life itself inside metal simulacrums. While not usually dangerous to the public at large the way, say, the average necromancer was, Clockwork Artificers could cause a great deal of unhappiness — and in their zeal to recreate life itself, sometimes resorted to murder.
“Judging by the Ravens, Kay would have become one of that sort.
“The only cure for this affliction was a shock, a great shock to the system. One that forced the youngster to confront himself, one that isolated him from the rest of the world immediately, rather than gradually. He had to lose those he still cared for, at least marginally, all at once. He had to learn that people meant something to him, before they ceased to.”
And I love the lesson Aleksia has for the other character in the story:
“It took two to make this dance, and Kay’s little friend Gerda, the girl who loved him with all her heart, who was currently trudging toward the next episode in her own little drama, was the coconspirator in The Traditional Path that ended in a Clockwork Artificer. Her nature was as sweet as her face, her will as pliant as a grass-stem and her devotion to Kay unswerving, no matter how much he neglected her. She needed redemption almost as much as Kay did. Such women married their coldhearted beloveds, made every excuse for them, smoothed their paths to perdition, turned a blind eye to horrors and even, sometimes, participated in the horrors themselves on the assumption that the Beloved One knew best. Gerda required a spine, in short, and an outlook rather less myopic than the one she currently possessed. And this little quest she was on was about to give her one.”
But Kay and Gerda’s story is on the beginning of this book about Aleksia, the Snow Queen. Because someone else is impersonating her. Someone else is calling herself the Snow Queen and abducting promising young men. Aleksia needs to find out what is going on. She’s not used to having adventures of her own, living alone in the Ice Palace. But this time, setting things right means Aleksia has to get involved herself.
Mercedes Lackey spins a good tale! I love her cleverness in weaving in all the ways the Tradition works. I read lots and lots of fairy tales when I was a little girl, and Mercedes Lackey brings up themes and tropes I’d all but forgotten. I love the whole concept of godmothers bending the Tradition to go the way they want it to — having to know what sorts of things work. That amounts to a vast knowledge of fairy tales.
And as well as inventive use of fairy tale themes, since there are five hundred kingdoms, each book presents a different culture and heritage. This one deals with the Sammi, a people of the far North. We also get new characters in each book (with some mentions of previous characters), and I love looking at the aspect of what life would be like for a powerful Ice Fairy. It would indeed most likely get lonely. There’s always a touch of romance in these books, too.
This book was one that simply made me smile. It was precisely the type of light-hearted reading I was looking for at the time. I had actually purchased the book when it first came out, but then never got it read because it didn’t have a due date. Well, I recently made myself a rule to alternate between library books and books I own. Then I heard that Mercedes Lackey’s next book was coming out, so I thought I really should read this one I bought some time ago. I was so glad I did!
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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.