The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey is a great two-challenges-for-one-book, fitting neatly into the Once Upon a Time challenge, and also my Finishing the Series challenge. It’s actually the first book in Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series, but somehow I contrived to pick up The Sleeping Beauty first, which is Book 5. They seem to be self-contained, so I don’t think it much matters.
Life in the 500 kingdoms (I think that’s meant literally) is constantly influenced and directed by the Tradition, a nebulous force which wants everything to go as, well, tradition dictates. In practice, this means that certain circumstances result in events being magically nudged (or shoved) along towards some very recognizable paths. If a situation is starting to look like a Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault story, the Tradition wants to make it go towards its proper conclusion. Not that Grimm or Perrault are referenced, but that’s how it all plays out. Only sometimes, it doesn’t quite work–and the Tradition can drive towards both happy and tragic endings.
The Fairy Godmother is about Elena, who should have been Cinderella–she has the stepfamily and the drudgery. Unfortunately, the prince in her kingdom is only eleven, and Elena is stuck with an unfulfilled story, and a great deal of magical energy hovering around her. Along comes Godmother Bella, who takes Elena under her wing to train her up as a Fairy Godmother. Not necessarily fairies, the Godmothers nudge and influence and shape events, trying to push the Tradition towards the good stories and to mitigate the effects of the bad ones.
This book is really in two parts, first about Elena’s apprenticeship and then about her adventures as a Godmother, particularly in dealing with a difficult prince, Alexander, who she turns into a donkey and takes home to do farmwork in order to teach him a lesson.
I enjoyed the first chapters of the book very much, as Elena struggles with her Cinderella storyline. The book bogged down for me a bit after Elena goes with Bella. Lackey spent a lot of time on world-building, under the guise of telling about Elena’s studies to be a Godmother. The funny thing is, it’s all fascinating ideas…only I don’t actually need to know the distinction between a Godmother, a witch and a sorceress unless it’s relevant to the plot. I think this is a first-in-a-series problem, too much narration trying to establish the world, when many of the details aren’t based in any plot or character development. It may not have helped either that I had read a later book in the series, so some of this I already knew.
The book picked up again in the second half, once Alexander came into it. He brought an interesting dynamic into things; he certainly needed to go through some character growth, but I actually never thought he was as bad as Elena did. Some parts are in his point of view, and I could quite often see where he was very reasonably coming from, while she was convinced he was being stupid or just generally nasty. Also, Elena is supposed to be the heroine, but she fell into the same kind of behavior I always question about the traditional Fairy Godmothers. You turned someone into a donkey to make him be more considerate of others? Really? That makes sense to you as a way to teach a lesson? Of course it works out, because these things do, but I had a lot of sympathy for Alexander when he felt he was being badly treated.
The characters were good on the whole. I liked Elena reasonably well, and Alexander was interesting and likable most of the time. Elena also has a group of brownies working with her and they were rather delightful.
I really don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that Elena and Alexander end up in a romance (it’s abundantly obvious, if only because there’s no one else she can get involved with). I was a bit dissatisfied by that romance. It turned out all right, but there wasn’t much basis for it. It was mostly a matter of realizing they were physically attracted to each other, and that circumstances made them convenient romantic partners. Sure, physical attraction can be fun, but I prefer a bit more substance when I read a romance. The romance also takes this out of the YA category.
A good book–not a fantastic book–but a brilliant premise. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series, because I do love the premise, and if we’ve got the world-building out of the way now, I hope for better things in later books!
Author’s Site: http://www.mercedeslackey.com/