on June 2, 2015
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Also in this series: The Serpent's Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, Phoenix and Ashes, Home from the Sea, Steadfast, Elemental Magic:, Blood Red, A Study in Sable
From a High Tower is newest adventure in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, featuring a retelling of Rapunzel’s not-so-happily-ever-after ending.
When a man is caught stealing from a walled garden owned by a strange woman, he bargains away his youngest daughter in return for food for his family. The woman, rumored to be a witch, takes the golden-haired child and locks her away in a high tower. Sixteen years later, Giselle has lived an isolated life, but her adoptive mother has trained her in Air magic, and Giselle must use her new skills to keep herself and her new friends safe...
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
I had mixed reactions to From a High Tower, the eleventh book in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. It’s always fun to return to the world of the Elemental Masters, which blends fairy-tale retellings with elemental magic in an alternate late-18th and early 19th-century Europe. On the other hand, From a High Tower is very episodic – more a series of rising and falling actions than a single story arc. Because of this structure, the final threat-and-resolution falls a bit flat; considered objectively, the threat is considerable, but it never really feels like it, and the whole episode goes by too quickly and is resolved too easily. The book left me feeling like I’d eaten a puff pastry – very tasty, but not very filling.
On the plus side, the combination of the Bavarian setting and a touring Wild West show is delightfully unexpected and amusing – but still believable, if you read the forward about the German fascination with the “Western” fiction of Karl May, and remember that Buffalo Bill took his own Wild West show on a European tour, where it was wildly popular. Lackey has an ear for (and a love of) dialect and accent; her portrayal of the show’s leader, Cody Lee, plays this up without quite going over the top, while her portrait of a Pawnee medicine chief is respectful. And the details of living and performing in a Wild West show enhance and enliven the story.
The main character, Giselle, is obviously drawn from Rapunzel. Lackey subverts the traditional story and motivations in surprising and welcome ways, but the Rapunzel part of the book is quickly over. The remainder of the book follows Giselle after she leaves her tower. Among the “episodes” I mentioned above are references to German and northern European tales: a troll, the Vili or Wili, Hansel and Gretel and Babes in the Wood. Rosa (from last year’s Blood Red) plays a significant role in this story, but there’s no further development of her character, and we don’t see her werewolf friend at all. There’s barely a hint of romance for Giselle, but the friendship that develops between her and Rosa is warm and solid. The power dynamics between Rosa and Cody are also fun to watch.
The story is entertaining but not truly gripping, and the various villains are extremely one-dimensional; they’re evil because they’re evil. It’s true that this is a fairy tale retelling, but some depth to the villains would have enhanced and added richness to the story. I can, in fact, see a way the author could have heightened the overall tension and extended the final threat backwards to make the entire plot more cohesive as well as more compelling – and it wouldn’t even have required changing very much, just developing the villain more, adding a few scenes, and tweaking some that are there. That Lackey didn’t do so suggests that neither she nor the editor were deeply invested in this story – or, more charitably, that she was on deadline and there wasn’t time.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the book, and it gets a solid 3 stars. It’s just that I know that Lackey can and has done better. At heart, this is the story of a young woman embracing her independence and developing her skills, both magically and otherwise. It’s a familiar theme for Lackey, and one she has told more eloquently in previous books. This one doesn’t exactly disappoint, but it never really lives up to its potential, either. It’s simply a fun and fairly light read, a good choice for a fantasy-lover’s beach bag.
Final note: From a High Tower can probably stand on its own, but may work better if you’ve read Blood Red, Rosa’s story and the first in the series set in northern Europe rather than (mostly) England.
Challenges: Clean Sweep ARC Challenge; Fairy Tale Challenge 2015; Witches & Witchcraft Challenge 2015; PopSugar Challenge 2015 (#4: a book published this year)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Clean Sweep ARC Challenge (May 2015)
- Fairytale Challenge 2015
- PopSugar 2015 Reading challenge
- Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge 2015
Lory @ Emerald City Book Review
I’d like to read more books by Mercedes Lackey but there are so many, I’d love a guide to which ones are most worth spending time on. I have to limit the puff pastry in my reading diet!
Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted…Armchair BEA 2015: Introductions
I get asked to recommend good places to start with Lackey so often, I should just write a post on it! 🙂 It kind of depends on what you most like to read in your fantasy. Medieval/Renaissance world with magic? Try the Valdemar books; I’d suggest starting with Arrows of the Queen, but since it’s her first book, it’s not as mature as some of her mid-career books set in the same world. Fantasy with LGBT character? The Last Herald Mage trilogy (also set in Valdemar, but centuries before most of the other books.) Mage & swordswoman as travelling mercenaries? Oathbound and Oathbreakers are good; the second one is stronger than the episodic first but you have to read them in order. Wandering bards and gypsies in a Medieval/Renaissance world with magic, nonhumans, and elves? Try The Lark and the Wren (one of my personal favorites; review.) Fairy tale retellings in late Victorian/Edwardian England? Start with The Serpent’s Shadow (review), a decidedly original take on Snow White. Urban/paranormal fantasy? Try the Diana Tregarde trilogy. Fairy tale retellings in a very fairy-tale world? The Fairy Godmother (review). Dragon riders in an Egypt-analogue? Try Joust (not my favorite series but some people love them.) There are more, but those are the main series she wrote by herself. She also collaborates with a number of other writers on a variety of series. Have fun!
Lory @ Emerald City Book Review
I think a post on this topic would be great! I read and enjoyed The Serpent’s Shadow and The Fairy Godmother, but then some later books in both series disappointed me. The Lark and the Wren sounds wonderful; I’ll check that out. Thanks!
Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted…Once Upon a Time: The Penelopiad
That’s kind of how I’ve felt about a lot of her series – love the early and usually the middle books, find the later ones OK but a little flat. I still read them for old time’s sake, because they’re often still fun, just… diminished in comparison to the earlier ones. The Valdemar series held on a whole lot longer before the air started leaking out.
Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
You have me convinced that Lackey is an author I simply must try and this is appealing to me despite it’s flaws – though I will read the series in order. There’s something about the imagery of a Wild West show in a Bavarian setting that seems impossible to pass up!
Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library recently posted…Fat Girl Walking – Review
If you read this series, definitely start at the beginning! (Not with The Fire Rose, because that one is only sorta-kinda part of the series – though I did like it for the most part. Start with The Serpent’s Shadow, which is really good.)
Leeanna @ Leeanna.me
Some of the things you point out in this review remind me of the last Lackey book I read, The House of the Four Winds. I hope she’s not putting too many books out and losing her touch.
Leeanna @ Leeanna.me recently posted…Book Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
I think she may be putting out a few too many – and also, she may not be getting as good editing as she used to.
Bea @Bea's Book Nook
Awww, that’s disappointing. I read the first few books in this series then wandered off. I do like that Lackey uses a Bavarian setting for this story as that’s not common. Maybe my library will have it.
I agree that you should do a post on Lackey’s books and where to start reading them.
Bea @Bea’s Book Nook recently posted…Bea Reviews Pine and the Winter Sparrow by Alexis York Lumbard, Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
I’d say this is more a library book than a purchase book, unless you’re a diehard Lackey fan like me. And I’ll think about pulling that post together!