on April 20, 2004
The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey is a fantasy re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It takes place, not in a fairy land or an alternate universe, but in England during the mid-1800's.
The premise was that Elemental Magic was practiced secretly by those with the gift--seeing Undines and Fauns and the like--while living alongside non-magical folk, impervious to it. (Yes, I felt there was a blatant borrowing of Harry Potter-isms in the 2002 novel.)
Marina, our Sleeping Beauty, has a curse cast on her at her christening and is shuffled off to other Elemental Magicians to protect her until her 18th birthday. If she lives that long, the curse would return to it's castor, her aunt, who (unbeknownst to Marina) practices the evil opposite of Elemental Magic.
The first hundred pages were truly dull, detailing her every day life and trying, unsuccessfully, to make the Elemental Magic believable. It picked up a bit with the death of Marina's parents, her introduction to her aunt and the inclusion of pottery factories.
I was quite unimpressed with this novel on the whole, and wouldn't have finished it had it not been recommended by a librarian whose tastes I trust. Other reviews I have seen mention that this is NOT Lackey's finest work, so I may try the other one that was also recommended. Regardless, this one should not be on anyone's "to be read" list.
on October 14, 2003
I found this the best-written of all the Elemental Masters books, somehow. The ending didn't seem as rushed and as un-satisfying as the others, and there was a feeling of more meat to it.
I didn't mind the excessive descriptions of clothing so much as it's typical of historical romances, but it did seem rather untypical of Marina as painted in the first half of the book.
Marina didn't appear one-dimensional to me, though it seemed weird that someone supposedly intelligent couldn't have found out about her curse earlier. How come she didn't ask her parents?
How come she didn't bother to find out more about the enemies her guardians had? And even if her guardians didn't want to mention Arachne, they could have asked her to beware of evil relatives.
The book did fall apart for me towards the end: it would have been nice to flesh out the romance; it wasn't really clear why Arachne and Reggie needed Marina at all - it wasn't as if, Sleeping Beauty style, Arachne wanted revenge for the way she'd been treated by her family; and it didn't make any sense for Marina's parents to appear and tell her all. For that matter, why couldn't Marina's guardians have made more of an effort to get in touch with her, especially since they thought Arachne didn't have any magic?
It'd be nice if, romance-style, Thomas and Eleanor could have their own story told. Many of the Sensitives mentioned at the sanitarium could have their own stories too.
on September 14, 2003
I have read many of Mercedes Lackey's books, and all of the previous fairy tale rewrites that she has done. This is not a very good book, compared to her others. There is an obligatory romance at the end, but it is forced, it FEELS obligatory, all developed within a few pages. The villains are badly written, in the ideas behind their crimes and even, a bit, in their own personalities. The heroine described in the early part of the book (age, upbringing, etc.) does not fit at all with the facets of the personality of that character as actually described in the writing, growing more and more so as the book goes on. Moreover, almost all of the characters are superficial in this way, or not developed at all. Things like the reason why a specific character does something or something happens do not satisfy the logic of anyone beyond an eight-year-old.
Some of the things in this book are good, I will give you that. The setting is well researched, to my mind. The story does hang together, if somewhat loosely, it is only if you start to question the story or think about it a bit that it falls apart. If you're looking for a quick read for the plane, this book is fine, although you could definitely make better choices. All in all, if you feel that you want to read this book, I would suggest that you get it from a library, because it doesn't really have that much to offer that you would want to own and re-read it.
on June 9, 2003
"The Gates of Sleep" was a highly disappointing novel.
I've read almost everything else Ms. Lackey, with and without her husband Larry Dixon, has put out. The novels are almost always fresh, involving, funny, incisive, and interesting.
This tried to be those, but fell flat.
Perhaps it's due to the subject matter. "Sleeping Beauty" is tough to retell; setting it in late 19th Century England might be involving and interesting in and of itself, but the romance must be believable. And yet, this one wasn't; Marina should have fallen in love with the Vicar, not the Doctor, if she had to fall in love with anyone at all.
Some other reviewers have pointed out the plot holes and consistency errors from other Elemental Masters novels. I don't see the need to go into them again.
I will say that the only reason this book even gets two stars is because of how well Ms. Lackey drew Margherita, her husband Sebastian, and her brother Thomas. Those three carried the first half of the book, and I really liked it while they were involved.
Then, after they left, I was left with Marina -- someone who supposedly loves fashion but hates corsets, and dwells on every single dress she owns or sees. And I'm supposed to like her? She seemed rather shallow at best; not stupid, precisely, but shallow. Well-meaning but ignorant, perhaps.
Then, the scene that sets up her "romance" with Dr. Andrew was very contrived, too. A girl, suffering from lead poisoning, gets away from Dr. Andrew's sanitarium/hospital, and Marina soothes the girl until Andrew takes her off her hands. And although Marina does many unselfish things in the book, this does not really add to her likeability in any way, because there isn't enough oomph to her personality, somehow.
I liked Andrew, even though I thought Marina was the wrong woman for him. (His nerves as seen by Marina at the end of the book were plausible; her not being concerned about marriage was plausible only because she's already been shown to be rather shallowly drawn.)
Only guess I have is that Ms. Lackey's turnaround time for this book was too short for her to give Marina a more well-rounded personality. That, or I just disliked Marina, and she couldn't hold my interest after her guardians were taken out of the picture.
Oh, Arachne and Reggie did make terrible villains, too. Boring; very, very boring. A cardinal sin in villainy.
Too bad this book couldn't have been written through Sebastian and Margherita's eyes; also, it's a shame that Thomas' romance with Dr. Andrew's nurse wasn't given more time as well. I'd rather have seen that than most of the last half of the book.
Btw, if you're looking for a good book, and you like urban fantasy, go read "Spirits White as Lightning." That one is by Ms. Lackey and another of my favorite authors, Rosemary Edghill, and is everything this book isn't.
on May 2, 2003
I really do like Lackey's work most of the time, and I particularly liked the first book in this loosely knit "series," (The Fire Rose). The second book, Serpent's Shadow, was slightly weaker, but very engaging. This one...well, despite the title, it's very, very tired.
To be fair to Lackey, a large part of the problem stems from the tale she is using as her starting point. "Sleeping Beauty" has almost no appeal anymore (if it ever did), as nothing HAPPENS in it. Of the many updates/rewrites/transformations that have been tried with this story, only McKinley's "Spindle's End" seems to me to manage any dramatic force. However, to achieve the drama, McKinley had to elaborate the tale to an almost unrecognizable degree -- and a good thing, too.
This version has some interesting characters (the artists), though the bad guys, alas, are not among them. However, one wonders if the christening curse affected the brains of Marina's guardians: they wait 'til she's SEVENTEEN to start training in magical protections? After her aunt kidnaps her, they never bother to call on her tutor, a woman with enough social clout to make contact with Marina?
And what's with the so-called romance? Lackey was building up an unusual and attractive character in the Vicar, and he appeared to have all kinds of potential, but all of a sudden, Marina is sure she loves the doctor. I think the irritated exchanges between the two of them are supposed to be viewed as expressions of sexual or romantic tension, but they simply confirm that this is not a credible couple.
The pacing of the plot is very uneven, and it would have helped the book greatly if earlier sections had been rewritten to provide more logical transitions for what happens later. The writing manages to be overly wordy and uninformative at the same time. When you have nothing much to say, it doesn't help to say it at great length. Also, I think the series is beginning to suffer from having a major cast change in every book. The characters in Serpent's Shadow were much more vital and would probably have been improved by another outing.
All I can say is that I hope Lackey gets back up to her usual exciting standard by the next book.
on September 17, 2002
I liked the character of Marina, and her "aunts and uncles." I liked the historical backdrop. I liked the basic plot. Here's what I didn't like.
-Arachne and Reggie were 2-D, laughable, silly villains.
-There are some inconsistancies with the previous two books set in this "universe." For example, the issue of "Cold Iron," and why the Elementals wouldn't go to a place with Cold Iron present. Think back to The Fire Rose (by far the best book of the series). In TFR, there are IRON ELEMENTALS, practically!
-Still too much Suffragette soapboxing. I mean, sheesh, Misty, we women are liberated, now, thank you very much, get back to the plot.
-Too much backstory. Too much time is spent watching Marina prance about the countryside. I know that many people don't agree with me, but TFR again had it just right: no more than three or four chapters of backstory, interspersed into the novel, rather than taking up half the book describing the main character's bedroom, her dresses, her horse, her furniture...
All in all, it was an enjoyable read, but the errors and plot holes grated at my nerves too much for me to go back and reread it.
on August 13, 2002
I was eagerly awaiting Mercedes Lackey's The Gates of Sleep after having read the first two of her Elemental Masters books. While it's certainly among the best fantasy fiction out there, I didn't feel it lived up to the quality of its two predecessors. While it gets off to a good start, the last half of the book is compressed, and it feels as if several key scenes are missing (perhaps by her editors' request). While Lackey is a good enough author that she mostly glosses over this aspect, it's frustrating to finish the book and realize that Marina has no particular motivation for declaring her love for her Prince Charming near the end of the book - she hasn't even particularly spent much time with him. Also, there are marked similarities to The Serpent's Shadow - but that's to be expected, given the similarities in their source fairytales (Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively).
However, when this book is good, it's really good. The first half is outstanding, with Marina and her guardians living in a proto-Bohemian Pre-Raphaelite household, shifting to fashionable London after she goes to live with her Aunt Arachne. And one of my favorite parts of this series, the intriguing system of elemental magery, thankfully remains intact. The characters are all well-developed (aside from the hero - I'm ashamed to say I can't remember his name - who is introduced a good ways into the book).
The reason I still gave this book 5 stars is because it's still head-and-shoulders above so many of the books out there. While it's not as polished as The Fire Rose or The Serpent's Shadow, it's certainly still a worthwhile read.
on June 12, 2002
Let's keep this simple: Ms. Lackey is one of my favorite writers - this is NOT one of my favorite books. The FireLord and Serpent's Shadow were well-crafted novels with compelling characters. Their basis in well-known fairy tales was more implied than plotted point by point. The GATES OF SLEEP has neither of these strengths. The story follows the fairy tale slavishly through most of the book, along with all of a folk tale's plot weaknesses. The character of Marina (I'm amazed she wasn't call Rose or Aurora.)is too air-headed and passive through most of the book to be appealing to me. The relationship with her 'prince' is thin, very thin, almost non-existant thin. This is fine for a fairy tale but not a fantasy novel. Admiration turns to love for the hero all too quickly and I can't recall when or why Marina loves him. The fact that he is an elemental master is so serendipitous as to be a very silly plot device. Are Elemental Masters behind every bush and shrub in England? The "evil fairy" was the greatest disappointment because the character showed the most promise. A female 19th century industrialist destroying her work force for the power they can provide her?!? What an opportunity for a new kind of evil! But Lackey fails to capitalize on a great concept and we never really understand why or entirely how "Madame" commits her crimes. Marina's parents and the "good fairies" are amiable non-entities, for all their supposed powers. Instead of confronting "Madame" with her curse and enlisting the other Masters in the effort, their only response is to hide the poor child away. Okay for a fairy tale but this is unlikely in the Elemental Master universe that Lackey has created up to this book. Wait for the paperback or buy this used from other disgruntled readers if you must have it.
on May 22, 2002
This book was better than The Serpent's Shadow, but not as good as The Fire Rose. It was an interesting read, but fairly slow at parts. The writing was sometimes repetative and redundant, but it wasn't really difficult to get through. I can't really say the book was good or bad. The biggest problem I had with it was the romance the author added to it. It seemed very tacked on, as if Mercedes Lackey remembered at the last minute that she wanted to have some romance in it and wasn't too concerned about integrating it well. We don't even see the man Marina falls in love with until at least half way through the book, and there is nothing in the way the two of them interact to indicate that there is anything developing between the two of them, except maybe friendship. Still, almost near the end of the book, Marina suddenly realizes she's in love with him and doesn't want to be without him. The tacked on romance and the occaisional problems with the writing make me wonder how much time the author actually spent revising this book, although the book didn't make me cringe as much as The Serpent's Shadow.
on May 2, 2002
You must realize that a 4 star Lackey book is better than 90% of the rest of what's out there. And this book is only a 4 star book in comparison with the previous one in this loose series, "The Serpent's Shadow."
While that book is a genuine 5 star masterpiece, "The Gates of Sleep" is a little jewel. Don't let this confuse you. It is quietly full of marvelous things, like the description of the faun at the shrine of Pan in the garden, or the description of Marina's bedroom frescoes.
This loose series of books is based on fairy tales...this one is Sleeping Beauty, the last one was Snow White, and the previous one to that was Beauty and the Beast. But Lackey hasn't done a "retelling" rather she has written a terrific story using the plot of the fairy story.
The "environmentalism" in the story feels just a tad too "modern" to be Victorian England, and the character of Marina becomes a little too grown up a little too fast without fully developing her, and the ending is a bit abrupt, even though the fairy story is, too.
But these are minor quibbles, small kvetches.
The characters are drawn well, three-dimensional, and realistic, even the villains.
This book keeps Mercedes Lackey on my must-buy list.
Bananaslug. at Baen's Bar