Unnatural Issue: An Elemental Masters Novel Hardcover – Jun 7 2011
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Raves for Unnatural Issue:
"Set in an alternate England on the ve of World War I, the latest addition to Lackey's 'Elemenal Masters' series features a strong female protagonist in search of her true calling and a sophisticated nobleman who discovers that there is more to life than magic. Verdict: historical fantasy and gothic romance combine beautifully in this fantasy adventure from the author of the popular Valdemar novels."
"Lackey has delivered another fine entry into the Elemental Masters series with this take of an abandoned child suddenly thrust into the center of a very class conscious London at the start of WWI. Readers cannot help but admire Susanne's pluck, determination, and desire to do right while building a new life and experiencing her first serious crush. The storyline and subplots are smoothly woven together and as usual, Lackey's character development is delightful. The climax offers a small surprise as assistance comes not from a magical source but from something even scarier."
—Monsters & Critics
"All in fairy-tale tradition....It's grim fun, with some nice historical detail, and just a hint of romance to help lighten things."
About the Author
Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the best-selling Heralds Of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots. She can be found at mercedeslackey.com.
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Ok, the first paragraph is ok. She should have stuck with that and not gotten into details (those pesky details that prove you've actually read something to read it, not skimmed it for your review pile.)
Sir Richard Whitestone was an Earth Master, as his family before him, tuned to the elements of hearth, home, and healing. He was called to London to capture and kill a dreaded Necromancer, practicer of forbidden blood and spirit-binding magics. Just part of his duty as a "good" magician and Master to help protect the innocent. While away in London, his beloved wife dies in childbed, and as he sees her lying dead hours later, he blames it on Susanne, their newborn daughter.
He forgets his grief by isolating himself on his magic-filled second-floor, poring over tomes of dusty magic practice, while Susanne is raised by the servants in the equally-isolated Yorkshire moors.
After 20 years, grief and desperate desire have driven Sir Richard to become what he once hated, and with his need for a perfect "vessel" for his wife's spirit, he chances to see Susanne out on the moors, and realizes that she is the perfect image of his wife. Now his hatred and bitterness has an outlet. Now all he must do is catch her.
Now, I won't go any further to avoid spoilers, but here's some highlights.
Susanne is feisty, spunky, and a better magician than her father, with an interesting magical sponsor.
Sir Richard is suitably mad, and totally misogynistic. I think the progression of his obsession with Susanne came up a little quickly, but otherwise, he's an excellent villain.
Lords Peter and Charles are interesting, and the sections with Peter and his man Garrick (especially the "impersonating a mad artist" bits) out investigating in Yorkshire are quite fun. I love the way Charles' manor and holdings and people are described.
The tale gets very dark around the midpoint, with the intro of WWI into the characters' lives. Everyone is threatened both by war, and by the mad, unimaginable power that Sir Richard now posesses.
Some slight flaws:
At the very beginning, Sir Richard gets magical 'poisoning' from being in London for only a week or so, due to the death and pollution and etc, but later on, Susanne is living in London for months with no ill effects. Likewise on the battlefields of France, with death and poison and shattered magical earth-bonds, there's no mention of this causing trouble. Perhaps a niggling point, but it bugged me enough to take me out of the story at several different places.
In another type of niggle, Susanne herself, other than having a mad father, isn't ever really challenged or directly threatened magically. She deals with any number of difficulties, but these aren't ever exactly threats. That, coupled with the insistence on her magical prowess (which we never really see either) made everything seem slightly unreal, and a litle less dramatic - I wasn't ever worried for her.
Last niggle, the "love triangle" was totally unnecessary, and really wasn't handled as well as it could have been. Either make it more realistic, or leave it out entirely, I don't care which. Please don't throw silly love stories into something which otherwise tries hard to be a gritty portrayal of people dealing with the horrors of the undead and of WWI in the trenches. The contrasts do neither storyline any good at all.
Niggles totally aside, a very fun read, and totally worth the 2 hours of sleep that it cost me to finish last night.
Lord Peter Almsley, this magical world's analogue of Lord Peter Wimsey, is a major character in this novel, in which he's an operative of the White Lodge in London and MI13, the magical intelligence agency. He's dispatched to go north to find a mysterious necromancer whose illicit, corrupt blood magic has been detected.
Susanne is the magically talented daughter of this necromancer, Richard Whitestone, who has renounced his daughter ever since his beloved wife, Rebecca, died giving birth to her 21 years ago. He has become an embittered recluse, who is obsessed with the thought of bringing Rebecca's spirit back to life, using his daughter's body as a vessel for it. In her father's absence, Susanne has been lovingly raised by the manor's servants and has learned Earth magic from Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck.
Like all of Lackey's books, this tale has plenty of likable characters, along with the requisite evil wizard. It's a very enjoyable and entertaining story, though it does turn dark and grim in some scenes set on the WWI battlefield. There is a bit of sloppy writing, and the book could have used some editing and proofreading, but on the whole it's a fun, light read, with the portrayal of Lord Peter a real treat for Sayers fans.
Unnatural Issue is loosely based on the tale of Donkeyskin, which isn't my favorite myth but Lackey does a fantastic job of retelling it in a way that gives the heroine more agency than Perrault. She no longer relies on magical dresses, a fairy godmother to tell her what to do, or marry the "prince" at the end but rather takes matters into her own hands and shapes her own destiny. We may not no much about her in the beginning but our interest is in her development, not her past. She may not be my favorite heroine of the series but she is far from a poor, dry damsel in distress.
Lackey's choice of myth also gives us a chance to see a good Elemental Master evolve into the villain, rather than beginning with an already evil outsider. Richard Whitestone's psychosis is a well developed and believeable story of how much a person might do to get back a lost loved one. While it develops rather quickly, I find Whitestone's motvation and actions logical and (scarily) plausible given the situation.
Fans of the previous novels should rejoice at seeing Peter Almsley and Robin Goodfellow again; they are among my favorite characters that needed more page time. Both are loyal, intelligent, possessed of an excellent dry sense of humor, and make for deadly enemies...what's not to love about them!
There were a few objections to Lackey's bringing up class limitations "again" in this novel and I would respond that class was still a rather large, glaring issue in England at this time and cannot be set aside or not mentioned. Modern readers may not understand how much class factored into everyday life at this time and would need reminders of where barriers are put up or tugged down. It is not laziness on Lackey's part but rather a way of adding character depth to the Branwells, Whitestones, and Almsley. It creates sympathy among present day readers for the more "modern" characters who look beyond class and station to individual worth.
Those who are fans of retold myths and tales, England in the early 1900s, and an overall enjoyable read will love this novel. Once you're done with this one I would highly recommend the rest of the series; Serpent's Shadow, the Gates of Sleep, Phoenix and Ashes, Reserved for the Cat, Fire Rose, and the Wizard of London.
Keep them coming Mercedes!
Even if the author isn't paying attention anymore, what excuse do her editors have for allowing this logical inconsistency to remain in place?? I don't object to the plot device, just to the fact that the return to this element seems contradictory to the facts as established early in the story.
When this series began, characters had internal lives, motivations, emotions, feelings, experiences unique to that specific universe (of elemental masters).. This volume follows the not-so-interesting trend of other Lackey works, in which the author spends the entire text explaining things to the reader, not telling a story.
Do we really need to hear (again) that social class and gender roles can be limiting and frustrating? I for one, picked up on that point many volumes ago (See The Fire Rose, in particular) If the author wants to tell a story that uses those limitations to frame a tale, to let the reader see the world from that specific view, sure, I'll bite. Well crafted stories are worth reading. If the author wants to repeatedly lecture me about these facts in the most literal minded way possible for the length of an entire novel? Go ahead, but I'm likely to tune out.
If she'd gotten all literary and used the elements of unnatural life, reanimation and blight in some too-clever way just to tell the tale, I'd be far less annoyed. At least then I'd know she was paying attention.
I'm left feeling frustrated that I know almost nothing of Suzanne's life, beyond the most shallow and limited bare facts. Her upbringing was quite appalling, her survival and the rest of her story would have been quite interesting to know, but Lackey keeps the reader at arms length throughout.
I know Mercedes Lackey can use her imagination to let the reader see a new world from a specific character's perspective, because she's done it before many times. Not in this book, apparently.
The Fairy Godmother, Reserved for the Cat, By the Sword, Exiles Honor, Exile's Valor and Take a Thief all have far more respect for the reader's time than Unnatural Issue.
I used to look forward to her work, but nowadays I'm less certain of a satisfying read.
Definitely not getting this one when it comes out in paperback. Not worth a second read, much less actual ownership. Thank goodness I got this at the library.
I enjoy the Elemental Masters books. I've read each one as it came out. The twists on the classic fairy tales have been fascinating. This one, based on Pygmallion, not so much.
"Unnatural Issue" reads as if Misty is trying to take advantage of the current zombie fad in fantasy fiction, and not doing anything particularly original with it. It feels like she just tossed it off. I normally expect mind-candy, and would have given it 4 stars anyway, but for a couple of inconsistencies. I can deal with minor inconsistencies, like changing the color of a character's eyes, but one of them tossed me right out of the story, to the point of going back to make sure I had remembered what she'd written earlier correctly. Early in the book she describes a magical object one of the protagonists has made as being burned and the ashes scattered. She makes a major point out of that. And then at the end of the book, when it becomes the key to defeating the (entirely evil, hopelessly irredeemable and completely one-dimensional) villian, the object hasn't been destroyed after all. I'm not sorry I read it, but unlike others Misty has written, I doubt I'll read it again.