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