Lackey is lacking

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Phoenix & Ashes by Mercedes Lackey. 2004. The Elemental Masters, volume 4. 

Lackey_ElementalI decided to read this as participation to Caroline’s Literature and War Readalong. It intrigued me, I wanted to try something out of my usual box and I hoped to discover a series my daughter might like.

Phoenix and Ashes is set in England during WWI. It is loosely based upon the Cinderella fairy tale with Eleanor in the role of Cinderella, a nasty stepmother named Alison and two stepsisters trying to catch Reggie, the local most eligible bachelor, the modern version of Prince Charming. Add magic to the mix since Phoenix & Ashes is the fourth volume of the Elemental Masters series. “Elemental masters” means that as in Harry Potter, wizards live among humans and there are four kinds of wizards, each mastering one element (Earth, Fire, Air and Water) Alison is an Earth wizard, Eleanor is just discovering she’s a Fire master and Reggie is an Air one which explains why he is a pilot in the burgeoning air force. Alison keeps Eleanor attached to scrubbing the kitchen and the house via a spell. She wants one of her daughters to marry Reggie and she plots a way to get them acquainted. Poor Reggie is in bad shape as he was wounded during an air battle; his airplane fell down and he was kept in a bunker while critters from an Earth Elemental master tortured him. He no longer thinks himself as an Air Elemental master. That’s the setting.

I’m afraid the summary I just made of the book reflects the fact that I abandoned it after reading 30% of it. The idea in itself is interesting and could be good plot material. After all, it led me into starting the book. The execution was not up to my expectations. OK, it’s true I’m not a fan of fantasy, you may think I’m prejudiced against the genre. I did read Harry Potter with pleasure though, most of the pleasure coming from all the details JK Rowling put into the story and that make the wizards’ world consistent and plausible. She invented funny details like speaking painting. In Phoenix & Ashes, I felt a miserable attempt at mimicking JK Rowling. The style is rather poor but the few YA books I’ve read were disappointing as far as style was concerned. – One exception, JMG Le Clézio, that must be why he won the Nobel prize of literature. To be honest, I didn’t expect a masterpiece.

However, I expected a page turner, a light read for a train journey I had planned and I thought the plot was dragging and dragging and dragging. Mercedes Lackey managed the unfortunate combination of developing the plot too slowly while at the same time not giving enough quirky details about the wizard world she created. I wasn’t in a hurry to know about the plot and I couldn’t enter her imaginary world because its depiction was too blurry. In the end, the book is tasteless and while I was in the right mood and place to enjoy an entertaining novel, I had to abandon it. Frustrating. What is beyond me is how she managed to write and sell 10 volumes of this Elemental Masters series.

I’ve written this review before reading Caroline’s and you can discover her take here. No magic there, basic science: the same causes produce the same effects.

  1. October 31, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Oh dear. To be honest I wouldn’t have thought generic fantasy was really your thing. Mercedes Lackey is a writer who writes for fans of fantasy fiction, not people who might sometimes read a fantasy novel but actual fans of the genre. I’d have been amazed if this had worked for you, and since she does have a lot of fans it doesn’t even sound like one of her better books.


    • October 31, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      It’s not supposed to be my thing and it explains why I’d never heard about her. (or seen her in a bookstore but at the same time, I don’t visit the SF/Fantasy section)
      I was ready to be open minded and try something new but nothing can excuse poor style and lack of characterization, whatever the genre.


  2. October 31, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    You know I love fanatsy but this was so bad. Boring and unimaginative.
    It’s not a YA novel, btw. and she wrote long before JK Rowling. I think that might be a problem – she writes too much. I’m really sorry that out of all the fantasy books out there I had to choose this. Yeah well, that wouldn’t have happened if it was a pure fantasy readalong.


    • October 31, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      I’d never heard of her before reading your post.
      Why is it not a YA novel? Isn’t it aimed at teenagers ?


      • November 1, 2014 at 9:58 am

        No, not at all. She’s considered a writer of fantasy for adults.


        • November 1, 2014 at 10:36 am

          No kidding, this is supposed to be adult stuff?


          • November 1, 2014 at 10:39 am

            Yes. it is. I can assure yu that most YA novels are better than this. 🙂


            • November 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

              I hope so 🙂


  3. November 1, 2014 at 7:04 am

    I think maybe you’re right about her being too prolific. It stands to reason that if an author is churning out so many books, the quality of the writing is going to suffer.


    • November 1, 2014 at 7:18 am

      Perhaps her earlier books are better, I wouldn’t know and now I’m not tempted to find out. This series has not made it into French whereas some of her other books have been translated. I’d like to think the publishers have been picky and decided it wasn’t worth it.

      The problem is not to be too prolific (think of Simenon) if you have it naturally in you to write so much. The problem is being on a deadline. I wonder how the concepts of “writing literature” and “being on a deadline” can go together.


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