Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review-- Unnatural Issue: An Elmental Masters Novel by Mercedes Lackey

Earlier on this blog--one of my first posts, as a matter of fact--was a review of The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey. This was a decent novel with a decent set of characters that was enjoyable to read. After that positive experience, and after hearing how popular this author is in the fantasy world, I decided to give Unnatural Issue a try.

The "Elemental Masters" series, as far as I'm aware, is about humans with the ability to control fire, water, air or earth. Those who are particularly powerful and bend their element to their will are referred to as Masters, though other non-Masters can have small abilities such as lighting fires or keeping milk from curdling...that sort of thing. Each book is a retelling of a popular fairy tale, but with these added twists of Elemental masters.

This particular novel I'm reviewing is based off the story "Donkey Skin." In case you aren't familiar with "Donkey Skin," consider yourself somewhat lucky. There's a reason why Disney hasn't had a cartoon musical made out of it yet. So let's just say that an alternative title for this fairy tale is "The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter" and leave it at that. Yeeeeeeah....

Yet with such a controversial tale, how could this NOT be an entertaining read? I was sold. I placed a hold on a copy at the library and waited for the novel to come out.
 Just a couple months later, I swung by the library to pick up my copy. After a couple days of reading, I closed it and put it down with a sigh. Ultimately it was quite a let down.

The story is about a man named Whitestone who is called away while his wife is pregnant. As he's returning to his country manor, he realizes with his earth magic that his wife is in labor. He rushes home only to find her dead, but the babe is still very much alive. In typical, over-dramatic fashion, he blames his daughter for his wife's death, wants nothing to do with the baby, and locks himself away in the upper reaches of the manor for almost two decades. The baby grows up into a young woman named Suzanne. She's raised as a servant in her own manor and doesn't feel as if she fits in anywhere. The servants still act as if she's above them, yet she feels as if she's a part of them. The fairy, Puck, teaches her how to use her inherent powers since her father is most certainly not teaching her.

One day, though, Whitestone looks out his window and half-imagines he sees his wife walking towards the manor. He has been experimenting with dark earth magic, particularly necromancy, in attempts to resurrect his wife. The vision he sees is actually his daughter, but it takes him awhile to realize this, having not seen her for seventeen years. But seeing how identical she is to her deceased mother, that sets the ball rolling and the story begins.

Sounds like a great, exciting story, right? WRONG. For starters, it feels almost like this novel had a deadline that everyone was rushing to meet. There were instances of repetition or contradiction that just make it sloppy. For example, on the repetition, there is a passage from the father's perspective that explains ghosts. A paragraph or so later, the exact same explanation is given yet again but only slightly different. Contradiction-- does the main character have a strong country accent or not? I found a whole slew of contradictions that can just all go to hell for all I care...and perhaps they did because I cannot recall anymore. (Note to self: Take notes next time!)

Also, the author failed to realize what was more interesting to read about--the necromancy and father-daughter relationship gone wrong. We only get to see necormancy in action a couple times and a much larger portion of the novel is the protagonist in hiding, with a rather dull group of Elemental masters, or during World War I. Not once do we feel that Suzanne is in anyway threatened by her father. She either has some other Master take care of it for her or she just runs away. Whoopie.

On the brightside, the author did an excellent job of making me feel 100% apathetic toward Suzanne's character. A not too rare feat, indeed! Whitestone's misogynistic nature was also properly reinforced...sorry, let me rephrase that.... properly reinFORCED. His women-hating was so clear and vivid I could practically picture him twisting a thin mustache! Excellent writing, my friends.

Whoops, tried to not let my sarcasm take hold this entire review but there it popped up. Le sigh. Anyway, in all seriousness, the ideas in this novel are excellent. The way the author added in necromancy to the story of "Donkey Skin" worked nicely and logically. I also loved the images of dead soldiers rising from the trenches through necromancy, but ultimately this was rather boring to read. I found myself skimming to the parts were necromancy was used and jumping over the little romance sections and other "nothing happens" sequences. It's just a "meh" from me.

A big, boring MEH.

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