The Serpent’s Shadow by Mercedes Lackey
Lackey’s The Fire Rose introduced readers to the Elemental Masters, wizards who control the creatures of Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The book is one of Lackey’s best stand-alone tales to date, and takes place in San Francisco just prior to the Great Earthquake.
Now the author has shifted her focus, jumping the Atlantic to England. The Elemental wizards are back in this latest book.
Maya Witherspoon may have inherited her Indian mother’s dark complexion, but she had her British father’s Elemental magic. Her primary passion lies with medicine, however, and she relocates to London and hopes to help the poor. Detected by the city’s Elemental Masters, she finally receives magical lessons from Peter Scott, the local Earth Master.
Maya desperately needs guidance, and with good reason: She has a deadly enemy. Her aunt Shivani, devotee of the Kali, the god of destruction, has followed her from India. Enraged that her niece has “polluted” herself by using Western magic, Shivani plots Maya’s downfall. Little does the priestess know that Maya has protection: seven animals that may be avatars, sent by other Indian gods arrayed against Kali. The stage is set, and a showdown between Eastern and Western magic is inevitable.
Lackey has written a light yet engaging story that feels much like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. One readily imagines Maya as a grown-up Mary Lennox. The author also tosses in hints of “Snow White”: the heroine long denied her birthright (in this case, her magic); the seven animal protectors instead of dwarves; the poisoned apple that steals Maya’s spirit. The references remain subtle, and enhance the story rather than overpower it. Readers will enjoy trying to catch the similarities.
The Serpent’s Shadow doesn’t challenge the reader, but not every book requires such depth. This one entertains and is thoroughly enjoyable.