on April 19, 2004
THIS SCEPTR'D ISLE may be 496 pages long, but it's still too short.
Why do I say that?
Well, it's not just because I enjoy the writers so much (although I do), and it's not just because it starts off so well (even though it does).
It's more that the story as a whole suffers when the authors turn away from Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII's "natural," i.e., illegitimate, son. Fitzroy is a very engaging character, and while the book stays with him (and the Seleighe elves protecting him), I enjoyed it immensely.
However, about 2/3 of the way through, the story shifts more to protecting Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I). Because of this, we don't see Henry's marriage, we don't see much of his life after he hits age 13 (the then-age of maturity!), and we don't really see why he likes Elizabeth so much. The best the authors came up with was that Fitzroy didn't know, either, but since he did, he was going to do his best for her.
This is quite plausible, considering Fitzroy was around age 17 when he died; how many 17 year old boys are close to their sisters? And if they are, how many of them know why?
Still, it's a fairly weak thread to weave your plot over; it worked, because the authors are both fine writers, but I would rather have seen this book go another fifty to one hundred pages and see Fitzroy's marriage, maybe see him yearning for his own kids (and that might be why he took to Elizabeth, who was portrayed as not only very smart but very loving as a youngster?), and have the plot fully fleshed out.
As it stands, 2/3 of this book is exemplary, but then it falls off to a very rushed ending that wasn't very satisfying.
Be that as it may, THIS SCEPTR'D ISLE is an entertaining prequel to Ms. Lackey's "Bedlam's Bard" and "Serrated Edge" novels, and I especially enjoyed the portrayal of the two sets of half-sibling twins, Rhoslyn and Pasgen (raised by the Unseleighe, or Dark, Elves) and Denoriel and Aleneil (raised by the Seleighe, or Bright, Elves).
A shade under four stars, recommended.
on April 8, 2004
Mercedes Lackey is one of my favorite authors. I am facinated by the Tudor age. These two reasons alone are why I bought this book, and I feel that it was worth the money. However, it does have some problems.
Unfortunatly, my interest in the time period ruined what was otherwise a very good book. The plot seemed to me to be unfinished, because I know that there is more to what happened than what was told. I am probably being too picky, and I won't go into specifics, but if one is going to go into such specific details about the clothing of the characters, one should go to the trouble of getting it right. Also, the dialogue should, I think, be either in modern grammatical style or in period style, not some strange combination of the two.
That being said, the concept of elven manipulation in the court of Henry VIII is an interesting one. I liked the play off of rumors of Anne's witchcraft. Henry Fitzroy is not a figure that I have studied in the past, but I shall certainly do so now. I do recommend the book, but only with the warning not everything that is presented as historical really is.
on March 19, 2004
Seers in both Selieghe and Unselieghe courts see two visions of the future. In one, Queen Mary rules England, enforces the grim rule of the Church and the Inquisition, and destroys the Elf-court of Avalon. In the other, a red-headed child grows to create a new England--one that practices tolerance and that creates a flowering of literature, art and science. For both, the choice of the future is critical. The Selieghe would be destroyed by the inquisition as surely as the elf-courts of Spain had been. The Unselieghe will gain power from the suffering.
Open battle between the two courts is impossible and too-overt manipulation in the affairs of mortal men has its own danger, but this doesn't prevent them from sending their agents into Henry VIII's England. The Selieghe see the bastard son of Henry as a key to the child of prophesy and send Demoriel, one of their warriors, to protect him. The Unselieghe send Demoriel's half-brother to thwart him. The result is a battle that unfolds over a decade as King Henry seeks a legitimate son, a child who can secure the English throne and prevent it from becoming a tool of the Spanish or French. Because a ruling Queen must marry, and whomever she marries would soon control England.
Authors Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis combine to create an intriguing alternate history set in England at the dawn of the modern age. Elves and men conspire and plot to chose the next Queen of England, to strengthen or weaken the bonds of Church over State, and to gain control of the future in a pivotal moment in history. Lackey and Gellis add amusing jaunts through the 'underhill,' letting the reader savor the joys of magic.
There's a lot to like about a story that brings history to life, adds a bit of magic, and is written by two such accomplished authors. (Baen makes the offer even more intriguing by including a CD-ROM (in the hardback version, at least) with the full text to at least 40 other Baen novels). Still, I found myself feeling somewhat cheated at the end. After all, Mary did become Queen and did her best to bring back the Catholic church with all of its late-medieval cruelty and oppression. Elizabeth was protected and did become the Queen that maintained England's independence, allowed writers including Shakespear to flourish, and began the global trading empire that grew into the largest and most powerful nation in the world--but was Harry FitzRoy really that critical?
THIS SCEPTER'D ISLE is an enjoyable read. I certainly recommend it to anyone interested in Henry VIII and his many wives--and to those who track the doings of the elf-courts. Still, am I the only one who thinks authors with the talent of Lackey and Gellis couldn't have done a bit more?
on March 7, 2004
Vidal Dhu abducted the Unseleighe Dark Court Elven twins Rhoslyn and Pasgen Silverhair when they were young. The siblings were raised as Unseleighe Sidhe. Now they see two potential futures for England. One version has a red-headed child sired by King Henry VIII leading Britain to prosperity. The other forecast depicts a different descendent of Henry VIII sitting on the throne and taking the country down the path of Inquisition and depression.
At the same time without the kidnapped duo's awareness, the Seleighe Bright Court twin elves Denoriel and Aleneil Silverhair see the same double vision of future England. The latter duo is also unaware that their half-siblings shared their forecasting. Each pair of twins tries to influence the outcome of the shared vision with different goals in mind, which leads to the inevitable.
This is a terrific historical fantasy that uses real persona and events to tell the tale of the successors to Henry VIII with a delightful Elven twist. The two sets of twins differ on whom they want sitting on the throne so when the magical battle occurs, fans have the added treat of a solid twist to the often told rivalry between Henry's daughters. Fantasy guru Mercedes Lackey and historical fiction champion Roberta Gellis combine their tremendous individual talents to create a wonderful delight in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts even with the parts being from two of the greats.
on March 4, 2004
This Scepter'd Isle is a prequel to the SERRAted Edge series. During the reign of Henry the Eighth of England, the Farseers of both the Seleighe and the Unseleighe gained visions of a red-haired babe who could possibly reign over an England of unprecedented prosperity and achievement. Although none knew who the babe would be, the Seleighe Farseers, with the assistance of Aleneil Silverhair, determined that Henry Fitzroy, the King's illegitimate son, was the key to the realization of that particular future. Aleneil also perceived that her brother, Denoriel Silverhair, must be Harry's guardian, protecting him from all harm.
In this novel, Denoriel gains admittance to the English court in the guise of a Hungarian nobleman, Lord Denno, and gains access to Harry in the household of Lord Norfolk. After foiling an attempt to drown Harry, Lord Denno becomes an accepted and frequent quest at the Norfolk estate. Gradually, Denoriel adds his agents to Harry's household as grooms and servants and also provides protective amulets to Harry's guardsmen. Later, Denoriel contrives excuses to visit Harry on a regular basis after the household is moved to Sheriff Hutton in the north country.
At first, the Unseleighe are unaware of Harry's special role in furthering the reign of the red-haired babe. However, the Unseleighe take a closer look at the possibilities after Denoriel saves Harry from a drowning attempt by mortal henchmen and, this time, they notice that Harry is a key player in the struggle. Now they start trying to kidnap him and to put a changeling in his place.
In this story, Vidal Dhu uses Pasgen and Rhoslyn Silverhair, half-siblings to Denoriel and Aleneil, to counter the Seleighe efforts to bring the red-haired babe to the throne. Dhu wishes to make Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, the reigning queen since she would bring the Inquisition to England, resulting in unimaginable death and suffering. The Unseleighe keep trying to frustrate King Henry in his attempts to annul the marriage to Catherine while the Seleighe try to keep Harry Fitzroy alive and free. Later, the Seleighe also try to keep Anne Boleyn from consummating her relationship with Henry prior to their marriage.
This story works on three levels. At the top is the public events surrounding the efforts of Henry of England to gain a legitimate male heir. At the next level are the private maneuvers of the king and his ministers, King Francis, Emperor Charles, the Pope and other mortals. Below that is the covert struggles between the Seleighe and Unseleighe Courts.
This story incorporates vast chunks of actual history, drawing many of its scenes from recorded events. However, there is a certain amount of interpretation involved and many of the scenes are more or less fabricated to incorporate the Sidhe. Despite all this, the story is a fascinating glimpse of a version of history that never happened. One feels impelled to discover the real events behind this fiction. Also, a sequel to this novel, Ill Met by Moonlight, is currently under development, so look for more adventures in this milieu.
Highly recommended for Lackey or Gellis fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales with historical characters interacting with wizards, witches and Elves.
-Arthur W. Jordin
on February 1, 2004
If you take two premier writers, each in their own genre, and add them together, what do you get? You get, "This Scepter'd Isle" co-authored by Roberta Gellis; stellar author of the historical novel, and Mercedes Lackey; high flyer in the genre of fantasy.
See the reign of King Henry VIII through the eyes of the Queen of Historical fiction, Roberta Gellis. Her grasp of the life and times of Renaissance England is astute. Her research is impeccable and her talent is legion. Nobody writes history like Ms. Gellis as evidenced in works like The Roselynde Chronicles, and The Magdalene la Batarde trilogy of A Mortal Bane, A Personal Devil and Bone of Contention.
Very few authors can compare with the skilled and imaginative world building of Mercedes Lackey. From her wonderful Heralds, Companions, Hawbrothers, Bond Birds and other magical beings in the Heralds of Valdemar series, to the elves, bards and elvensteeds of the Serrated Edge series, her imagination takes flight and never lets up. Able to endow her characters and worlds with intelligence, emotion and magic, she is definitely top drawer in the fantasy world.
This book is rich with detailed and in depth description of a truly fantastical world! A world where the thought is parent to the deed and magic forces are controlled with the flick of a finger. A world where wondrous beauty can disguise malevolent evil that will stoop to any depths to insure the continued presence of despair, indignity and depravity for the benefit of its kind.
In the land of Underhill, two futures have been seen for the people of King Henry VIII of England by the Seleighe and Unseleigh alike, in their farseeing mirrors. One future is rife with evil and chaos. Persecution is rampant and prevails over the mortal lands. The other future blossoms with prosperity, art, and music. All is well and happiness flourishes.
Both futures hinge on the life of one red-haired, red-face, scowling, squalling infant, as seen held in the arms of King Henry VIII in their visions. Who is the child? Has it even been born? Is it male or female? Does it's life? Or death? determine the wondrous future seen? If the child is born will it need to live or die to fulfill the wondrous future? These are questions the Seleighe and Unseleighe must find answers to in order to further their own future existence.
The Seleighe decide that the child will need to be born and live to insure the happiness and wellbeing of England and its people. To that end, they choose Denoriel and Aleneil, twin brother and sister, to go into the mortal world as protectors and guardians of the red-haired child. Denoriel's first words when hearing of the decision "But I am a warrior, not a nursemaid!" He soon comes to see that his future is set and he must grow determined to protect this child with his very life or see the Seleighe cease to exist.
The Unseleighe; who thrive and prosper on pain, evil and misery, are determined the child shall not live to reign after the death of King Henry. They will do anything to prevent the continued prosperity of England, even if they must attempt to prevent the birth of the child. Vidal Dhu, leader of the Unseleighe, has chosen Pasgen and Rhoslyn, also twin brother and sister, to guarantee that the child shall not survive to adulthood.
So the battle lines are drawn and the contest is about to begin. Will the Seleighe or Unseleighe prevail? Will Denoriel manage to confound and confuse the evil Pasgen over the identity of the child? Will Pasgen's machinations conquer all and guarantee the domination of Vidal Dhu over England's lush countryside? Enter Underhill and see the forces of good versus evil battle for the life of one precious, child.
Come walk through the medieval worlds of England and Underhill where Seleighe and Unseleighe determine the fate of England. You'll be glad you came and will look forward to the next volume in this saga.
on February 15, 2004
I'm not sure which put me off more -- the cover of this book (I didn't want anyone to see me holding it) or the absolutely trivial, trite and generally adolescent level of writing. Now, there's nothing wrong with writing for adolescents, but Lackey has been doing that a great deal over the past few years. This is just another one of her hackney'd, get 'em out as fast as you can titles. When she's in form, she's great. Wait for this one to arrive at your local library, or for it to be remaindered at your local book store. But don't pay full price -- you'll waste your money!
on July 31, 2014
Classic Lackey in a slightly different setting, the collaboration with a historical fiction writer is cool.