Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey is Unnaturally Stiff–Review

Originally posted 07/20/11 in my meta/review blog

This book is part of Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, and is a variation of the Allerleiruah/King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter fairytale. When Richard Whitestone’s wife dies in childbirth he decides to completely abandon is work and shuts himself up in his manor house. Richard’s daughter Susanne was raised by the housekeeper and the cook. She spends most of her time working and performing the duties of an Elemental mage, duties which her father had abandoned. (The father is apparently too sunk in depression to notice his daughter is a very powerful Earth mage.)

Unfortunately, Richard is dabbling in necromancy in an effort to bring his wife back to life. When he sees Susanne for the first time, he sees that she is a dead ringer for his wife. He decides Susanne would be perfect for his adventures in raising the dead. Susanne finds out what is going on, and she escapes, eventually finding a safe haven at another estate where she meets Water mage Peter Almsley. Almsley has been sent to investigate reports of necromancy and ends up trying to protect Susanne from her father.

After a particularly horrible attack, she ends up in France just in time for World War I. Though she volunteers as a nursing assistant, she is eventually sent home (which causes some annoyance among the other Elemental mages since she happens to be very powerful), she goes to London and gets into a nursing school where she is able to give helpful advice to nurses who are going to be going to the front. Eventually her father finds out where she is, but with some help from the other Elemental mages she’s finally able to get rid of him.

The Elemental Masters series is very hit-or-miss for me. I liked The Fire Rose and The Serpent’s Shadow, but I found Reserved for the Cat to be nearly unreadable and had a neutral reaction to Phoenix and Ashes. (It was readable but I didn’t like it for mostly stylistic reasons. I may or may not try to read The Wizard of London and The Gates of Sleep.) I have to say that I also had a neutral reaction to Unnatural Issue. “Allerleiruah” is a deeply disturbing fairytale type (I think it is right next to “The Handless Maiden” as far as disturbing goes), but this book skitters right around the edges of the fairytale, and tiptoes around the setting, which is the first world war.

Lackey’s work often lacks emotional realism and immediacy. It can be very entertaining and dramatic, but a great deal of the impact is missing. (What I am talking about is that some of the more graphic depictions of abuse that appears in her work is often called “fake” and “unrealistic” because Lackey doesn’t do a very good job of making it emotionally authentic.) This turns up during a few key moments with regards to the way that certain characters reacted hearing about a horrific event. They reacted, but the feeling behind it was a very flat and somehow “textbook” description of trauma. While I did like the book, I also felt that parts were a little rushed. I do not think it will be one that I re-read very frequently.

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