This entry in Lackey’s Elemental Masters series is a reworking of Sleeping Beauty. Lower class artist friends of the family take the place of Sleeping Beauty’s fairy god mothers, and the wicked fairy’s place is taken by a wicked aunt who is more than she appears. Our Heroine Marina Roeswood is raised in complete ignorance of the curse that was cast upon her when she was an infant, but not of her abilities as an Elemental Master of Water. Her only contact with her parents is via letters, and as far as Marina is concerned, her “real family” is the artists who raised her.
When Marina’s parents die in a tragic accident, her Aunt has her removed from the custody of her foster parents and taken to live on the family’s estate. Marina, who had grown up in a more free-spirited household, must deal with a great deal of extremely unpleasant and borderline abusive behavior from her aunt. (The aunt is treating her this way under the guise of teaching her how to behave in “polite society,” but it is pretty clear that the aunt is just being unpleasant.)
Fortunately, Marina is able to acquire two allies, one being an Elemental Master of Earth who had purchased a large house near the estate to create a sanitarium. The other ally is the village minister, whom it turns out has a familiarity with magic. She is going to need these two allies because it turns out that the evil aunt is practicing “left hand magic” and she and her son have some very unpleasant plans for poor Marina.
The best I can say about this book is that it is readable and engaging–if you are a diehard Mercedes Lackey fan. It is less so if you were a former diehard Lackey fan and the bloom has faded from that particular rose. I have a lot of little, nitpicking problems with the book that I probably would not have noticed if I were still fifteen and completely in love with whatever Lackey wrote, up to and including grocery lists.
The first of the small, nitpicking problems is that I became extremely frustrated with the tactics employed by Marina’s parents to protect her from the curse. It seems to me if they knew that the sister had somehow cast a curse, they would make effort to find out how (since the sister was not born with any magical gifts). It also seems that they should have taken more extreme steps with the sister, instead of just hiding Marina and trying to find a cure for the curse.
Other nitpicking problems involve the Snidely Whiplash villainous posturing of the evil aunt and her son, the extremely quick wrap up of the story, and the stiff, cardboard characterization of some of the secondary and tertiary characters. Despite the book’s flaws, I found it to be very readable and fast paced. There are some great moments and the heroine is an engaging and interesting character.