There is something charming in the concept of retelling classic fairy tales. Audiences seem endlessly amused when old characters, myths, and legends are taken and twisted into a new way to look at old concepts. Gregory Mcguire’s famous books like Wicked and Son of a Witch certainly hit the nail on the head. I have already mentioned my deep love for Robin McKinley’s Beauty. Gail Carson Levine enchanted more than just her character with her book Ella Enchanted. The list of fairy-tales by modern authors goes on and on. But while each of these books tells the tales in a new light, none of them ever ask why these tales happened in the first place. There is only one series that masterfully explains the force working behind the fairy-tales and that is Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series.
The first book in the series came out in 2004. Fairy Godmother was not only the debut of the series; it was also the debut of Luna, Harlequin’s new fantasy line of romance books. While my taste for Mercedes Lackey is hit and miss (I swear the woman can crank out a novel faster than I can read one) I loved the concept and immediately bought the book the day it came out. These books are a perfect example of the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Or its publisher. Yes, they are romance. Yes the covers are cheesy. But you will find no Fabio look-a-likes quivering to make love to his Barbie wannabe princess. It’s not that kind of romance. These books are fun, witty, and filled with moments of dry humor poking fun at traditional tales. The women in these books are not about to swoon at a flexed bicep or a shiny, white smile. They are smart and more than adept to give a few princes a run for their money.
Take Elena Klovis for example. As the heroine of book one, she was born to follow the typical Cinderella story-path. Unfortunately something went wrong in the timeline. Her personal Prince Charming was a little more than fashionably late when being born. He was still toddling around the palace when she was already a grown woman ready to be married. Without even knowing how close she had come to a life of luxury, Elena was stuck slaving away for her wicked stepmother and indenturing herself out as a servant.
Then something wonderful happened. She was rescued by her Fairy Godmother and placed in a very different sort of occupation. She would become the Godmother’s apprentice and then eventually take on the role for herself, serving as a magical guardian for several of the 500 kingdoms. This isn’t exactly what Elena had in mind when she wanted to escape her life, but considering her alternatives she wasn’t about to shrink at the opportunity.
Throughout Elena’s training she, as well as us readers, learn about the force that is constantly manipulating and directing the lives of those within 500 kingdoms. Elena had always felt a force building around her. There was something pressing down upon her that needed released, but she didn’t know how. This pressure she felt was a powerful magic placed upon her by the Tradition. The Tradition had its eye on her, and the magic would have continued to build until she finally went down a fairy-tale path that it could accept. This is how it works in all the books in this series. Special men and women, such as Godmother Elena, try to work both with and around the Tradition to save heroes and heroines from some of the less pleasant sorts of fairy tale endings – usually these consisted of painful and unnecessarily embarrassing deaths. Each book focuses on a different fairy-tale involving the countries within this world.
The second book asks the question of whether or not we can change our fate. Can a young lady just be a pretty face, or can she be a daring knight who doesn’t give a damn what the Tradition wants. Then again, what if a princess doesn’t want to be a princess? What if she preferred the company of dragons to that of royalty. While this book is entertaining, it felt rushed. If there is a weak point to this series, this book would be it.
Book three is the story of a little mermaid who comes into her own. Ekaterina is clever and quit to assess a situation. That is good because her hero is not a man of great power, though he certainly knows how to make a little magic go a long way. Between the two of them, they must figure out a way to get Ekaterina and several prim princesses away from the grasp of an evil Jinn.
The heroine of book four is another godmother. Most people don’t know that about her though. She is typically seen as the evil Snow Queen of the Northern Lights. She uses her chilling appearance and her icy castle as a means to scare people back onto the Traditional paths that are best for them. But things get complicated when another Snow Queen starts mucking around in her territory, causing the blame for some rather heinous acts to fall upon Godmother Aleksia. Aleksia must get to the bottom of this while simultaneously protecting the false snow queen’s next victim.
Book five twists the story of the Sleeping Beauty. Rosa finds herself a young, beautiful, and unmarried heir to her kingdom’s throne. Countries on every side of Eltaria are chomping at the bit to seize her hand and, more importantly, her crown. Godmother Lily must protect her. This requires some rather strategic matchmaking techniques. A tournament is scheduled and Lily is determined to make sure that the greedy are weeded out. That proves more difficult than it sounds.
Book six is set for release on June 21st 2011. I’m already intrigued as it is to cover one of my favorite fairy tales. Lackey changes the tune of the traditional Beauty and the Beast tale to that of Beauty and the Werewolf.
Check out Mercedes Lackey’s website, where you can read the first three chapters of Fairy Godmother (and her subsequent books) for free!