Next up: “Phoenix and Ashes” by Mercedes Lackey
This is actually part of a series (Elemental Masters), but each book works as a standalone. It’s also a reworking of a fairytale– Cinderella.
Eleanor Robinson’s father has died, leaving his daughter in the care of his second-wife and her two daughters. However, the three women prove to be not as benevolent as one might wish. In fact, Eleanor’s step-mother Alison reveals herself to be an Elemental Master of Earth who uses the dark blood-magic side of the art. Alison uses this dark magic to bind Eleanor to the hearth of the house and to make the sight and memory of Eleanor to slip from the minds of those who encounter her. So Eleanor is trapped in an abusive house where she is treated as little more than a slave.
However, Eleanor begins to show the ability to use Fire magic and to test the limits of the geas upon her. Escaping the house every once in a while, when Alison and her daughters are out, Eleanor takes some solace in quiet walks in the countryside. On one of such outings, she encounters Reginald Fenyx, an aristocratic Air Master who has recently returned from fighting in the Great War (WWI). Reginald was a biplane pilot, an ace, who had been shot down and injured and then spent days trapped under rubble as dark Earth creatures tormented him. Traumatized and damaged, he has now returned to his family’s home.
However, Alison has some sinister plans involving both Eleanor and Reginald, who must work together around the geas binding Eleanor and Reginald’s trauma-induced aversion to magic to stop her.
I liked both Eleanor and Reginald, who are practical and good-hearted people trying to heal from their individual injuries and live as best they can. I kind of wish there had been more interaction between them, but circumstances of the book meant that a fair amount of the story takes place with one or the other of them alone. That’s alright, though, because each of their separate stories is good.
I find alternate history stories interesting, and I think this counts somewhat in that Lackey’s reimagined what war means when you have the addition of Elemental Magic in the world. What happens to Earth magic when the earth is bombed to hell and back? What happens to the Earth Masters who are there, or nearby? What happens to Air Mages when their affinity for the sky and flying is used to kill, as Reginald’s is? It’s not the primary focus of the story, but it adds a layer of complexity to the world the story’s set in, and I found it really interesting.
There are characters who are, in some respects, pretty cliched and one-dimensional. I think this is partially because it is a retelling of Cinderella, and the wicked stepmother of course is the wicked stepmother. She has to act a certain way and it kind of makes her feel flat. There probably could have been more effort to make her a character in her own right, and not a role-filler. That being said, I still enjoyed this book fairly well.
Eleanor is abused, mostly emotionally but later on physically, by her stepmother.