Friday, June 10, 2011

Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey

Richard Whitestone is an Earth mage who lives in the wilds of Yorkshire with his beloved wife. Called from her side when she is heavily pregnant with their child, he returns from his mission for the master of the White Lodge to find his wife dead in childbirth, having given birth to their daughter. But the circumstances of his wife's birth make him reject the child, and find solace in the second floor of his house, leaving his daughter to be raised by his servants.

Years pass, and having failed to simply lay down and die, he went on to reading through his large store of magical grimoires kept by past Elemental Masters. When in his collection he finds a set of books belonging to a Necromancer, a sort of twisted Earth Magician who has powers over the dead. And in these books, he finds a thread of hope- missing his wife so much, he resolves to try and bring her back to life. But to do so, he needs a vessel to contain her spirit, and while he can send his earth creatures into the nearest city to kidnap a girl and bring it back to his house, the spell will fail unless he invests it with a great deal of magical energy- energy that can only be raised by killing, which at this point, he still doesn't want to do.

But if the vessel is perfect enough, and the sacrifice happens at the right time, it will take far less energy. As he is contemplating this, he looks out the window and sees a woman enough like his wife to make him sit up and take notice. Of course, it is his daughter, Susanne. And since he already hates her for killing his wife with her birth, he thinks he has finally found a solution to his dilemma...

Suzanne, like her father, is an Earth Master. And since he ceased looking out after his property many years ago, it has fallen to her to keep everything clean and to do away with magical troubles. Her teacher has been Puck, the faery lord, ever since she was young and missing friends and went out to the wood to call one. Her will and magical powers summoned Puck, and while he was just her friend at first, it was to his interests to make sure that she used her powers well and correctly, and later because he realizes that she is very powerful and must maintain the countryside in the absence of her father.

But when her father takes notice of her, it causes her carefully constructed world to crumble in many ways. First, her father separates her from the servants she has lived among for all her life by making it clear to them that she is still the daughter of the house. He gives her lessons that make her stay indoors and away from the world that needs her help and care, and he makes it clear that she will be educated as a young lady. But when she realizes that her father has designs on her body, and not the sort of designs that one normally has for a daughter, she flees the house, looking for shelter elsewhere.

That elsewhere happens to be the Kerridge estate. The Kerridges are also elemental masters, mostly of Earth, and their son, Charles, is used to working with the White Lodge. In fact, the knowledge that something is amiss in the country has not passed unnoticed by Lord Alderscroft, leader of the White Lodge, and he sent his agent, Peter Almsley, to find the source of the necromantic disturbance, and to deal with it. Peter is pretending to be an artist roaming around Yorkshire, but once Suzanne has found her way to Kerridge's, she gets hired as a milkmaid and Peter, who pretends to be a newly-hired gatekeeper, teaches her how to summon elementals and defend herself with her magic.

During this time, he falls in love with her, but she has fallen in love with Charles Kerridge, and doesn't even look at Peter. But when her father sends his undead minions to attack the Kerridge estate after a private eye finds Suzanne, Peter and his friends know they must do better to protect her, and Peter sends her across the channel to his uncle in France to keep her safe while he and the others do their best to track down her father. But the foiling of his attack warns him that he must be gone, and he leaves, leaving behind the animated bodies of his servants, who angered him when they didn't know where his daughter had gone.

They discover the remains of the servants some weeks later, decaying and rotting, but still carrying out their former duties, with their master long gone. The Fire Master of the group cleanses the bodies and souls with fire. But in France, Suzanne must come face to face with her own feelings, and the onset of war when Germany invades France. But with her father now somewhere on the continent, and Suzanne mired in the horrors of war among the nurses, can Peter persuade her to come home and be safe, or will it take the near death of the man she loves to convince her to finally come home and put matters to rest?

This, like the other Elemental Masters books, is based on an old fairy tale. Among others, it is known as "Catskinella" or "The King who Wanted to Marry His Daughter". But unlike the former Elemental Masters books, it takes place without much of a romance. Yes, Suzanne is interested in Charles Kerridge, but the book makes it clear that Peter will end up with her. And he does at the end, but it's hardly the foregone conclusion here that it has been in other books. Up until the last chapter, it is quite clear that she is pining for a man who barely even remembers her, and who, by the time he meets her again, already has a fianceé.

Yes, it's kind of ridiculous, but what is also ridiculous is that we never get the feeling that Suzanne is actually in danger. About all she does on her own behalf is to make the plan at the end that brings her back into her father's clutches, and in the end, a bomb kills him off. Yes, literally, a bomb falling from the sky. I suppose you could say it's ironic, but it just seemed a waste to me. I would like Suzanne to have more of a hand in eliminating the threat her father posed than to play act for a bit. The whole bomb thing was too much Deus ex Machina for me, and it seemed a quick out, since the ending of the threat was held right up until the end of the book.

Add to that some dropping of threads in the story, and it made this book seem a lot sloppier and not as well written as previous books in the series. There are certainly funny and amusing parts, but the whole romance element was not as well done, and it just seemed the book needed a lot tighter editing than those in the past. I'd still recommend it as a good book, but it doesn't hold up to the standard of her former works. Recommended, still.

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