A Former Cinderella Finds a Job

I don't actually like this cover...both characters look wrong.

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/

Other reviews:
Book Buddies Online
Crooked Reviews
Anyone else?

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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6 Responses to A Former Cinderella Finds a Job

  1. buriedinprint says:

    This sounds like fun, even if the romance was a bit predictable. And that would drive me crazy, having picked up the last book in the series by mistake and then back-tracking!

    • Normally I’m pretty careful about not reading later installments in a series. These are largely stand-alone, though, so it didn’t matter TOO much…just a bit repetitive on some of the general information sections.

  2. jenclair says:

    I like the sound of this and will look for it on my next library trip. It has been a long time since I’ve read anything by Lackey, and I find the way the stories are in the process of being shaped by tradition an interesting twist. Tradition and Progress at odds, perhaps.

  3. Hey, you left me a comment a few weeks ago that you’d like some fairy-tale movie suggestions as part of the OUAT challenge. I finally got around to reviewing some movie re-tellings of Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. One with Kiefer Sutherland as the big bad wolf:


  4. dianem57 says:

    I like your title in this blog post – how reasonable that an unfulfilled Cinderella should find a job as a fairy godmother when her first career path doesn’t work out! 🙂

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