Mercedes Lackey recently has moved away from the classic trilogy format and has begun doing stand-alone novels based in a common world. Each story can be taken on its own merit, or read as part of a larger whole. Her loose grouping of books about the Elemental Masters continues this month, with The Gates of Sleep.
Marina Roeswood, born of Earth-gifted parents, has manifested a “water talent” almost from birth; she promises to be a powerful mage when she comes into her full potential. Unfortunately, her young life is cursed by her aunt Arachne at her christening. The curse, abated somewhat by the intervention of another water mage, no longer promises outright destruction. While Marina’s original fate was death before her 18th birthday, the curse now will take an unknown form that won’t kill her.
Distraught, her parents send her away with her godparents, Sebastian and Margherita Tarrant, and their friend, Thomas Buford. By hiding little Marina, they hope to shield her until she turns 18, at which point the curse might rebound upon its caster.
But as the time for this event draws near, tragedy strikes. Marina’s parents die in an accident, and Arachne claims Marina as her ward. Under the guise of teaching her lady-like manners, Arachne keeps Marina close, searching for a way to reactivate the curse before Marina learns her powers’ full extent.
Although heavily based on the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale, this story falls somewhere in between the first two Elemental Masters novels. The book’s opening reads much like the original story, but branches off and creates a plot invoking Industrial-age England, without sacrificing the fairy-tale elements. Lackey uses elemental magic to bridge the gap between folklore and setting.
But not all magic is abstract and ephemeral. Surprisingly, the author also includes some rather dark elements. Arachne and her son, Reggie, practice a truly distasteful blood magic. The implications, though never stated outright, undoubtedly will disturb readers a little. But the integration of this magic with social conditions in this time period are masterful, and provide a powerful, believable force of evil.
The Gates of Sleep provides a fast-paced story and strong, unforgettable characters.
Lackey’s Elemental Masters novels are always treats, to be eagerly anticipated. This newest outing is no exception.