From a High Tower, by Mercedes Lackey

May 27, 2015 Book Reviews 10 ★★★

From a High Tower, by Mercedes LackeyFrom a High Tower Series: Elemental Masters #11
on June 2, 2015
Format: eARC
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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)


About Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is perhaps best known for her bestselling Valdemar, Elemental Masters, and Tales of the 500 Kingdoms series. Her books now total well over 100, not counting anthologies. She writes (or has written) several other popular series as well as stand-alone novels, both on her own and with collaborators including Larry Dixon (her husband and illustrator), Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Rosemary Edghill, Marion Zimmer Bradley, James Mallory, Roberta Gellis, and others.

Lackey graduated from Purdue University in 1972 and worked as a computer programmer before quitting to write full-time. A strong storyteller and a prolific writer, she turns out four to six books per year. She has also written lyrics and recorded songs (many of them based on her stories) for Firebird Arts and Music. Music is a prevailing theme throughout her work, and a major element in the Bardic Voices and Bedlam’s Bard series.

Mercedes Lackey lives with her husband in Oklahoma. She keeps parrots and has been active in raptor rehabilitation. She has also been active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and the MRPG community.

(sources: Goodreads, author website, and Wikipedia.)

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

10 Responses to “From a High Tower, by Mercedes Lackey”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      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!

        • Lark_Bookwyrm

          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.

  1. 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 – ReviewMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      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.)

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      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.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      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!