Book Review: Phoenix and Ashes
This is the third book in Ms. Lackey'’s “Elemental Masters" series, based on an intriguing premise according to which there are “mages" and "“masters"” in the world, each of whom is affiliated with one of the traditional four elements, air, water, earth and air. Another thing she is doing in this series is retelling fairy tales in a more emotionally "realistic" mode, but still with one foot in the land of fantasy.
This book is a reworking of Cinderella set in WWI-era Britain, with elemental masters "doing their bit" at home and at the front. The realism is particularly compelling when she details the feelings of Reginald Fenryx, Lord Devlin, who is the "prince"” of the story, about his experiences in the war, as well as the physical privation that the entire nation must endure. Some of the haunting images involve Reggie'’s reaction to photographs, where the dead stand with their arms about the living, smiling and laughing. Lackey truly seems to have captured the shattering experience of shell shock” and of seeing one'’s own generation cut down in its prime for what seems like no reason.
Obviously, I found the portrayal of the war and its effects to be the most powerful aspect of the book, but the characters of Eleanor Robinson, the "Cinderella” character, and her truly evil stepmother Alison are also well drawn, as is Sarah, the village "witch" who is also Eleanor'’s godmother and initiates her training in the art of elemental magic. Another ingenious and extremely well thought-out part of the book is the process of Eleanor'’s “advanced" training, as she encounters (and must defeat or win over) each figure in the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck in her dreams before she can come into her full power.
In the end, as in all good fairy tales, Eleanor and Reggie must stand together and fight Alison and her minions, who “get their comeuppancein a horrible but emotionally satisfying way. Although since Eleanor is a modern young woman the book ends not with their wedding but with her happily ensconced at Oxford, an equal and emotionally fulfilling marriage is clearly in the cards.
Also recommended: The Gates of Sleep (Sleeping Beauty), set in the pre-Raphaelite era