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| I can't decide whether
i think Ms. Lackey muffs a Chekhov's Gun, or if the payoff is planned
for a future volume. (The playwright, Anton Chekhov, once said that if
you mention or show an antique gun in Act I, if it hasn't been fired by
Act III it's wasted detail.) I'm hoping for the latter, because the
setup she throws in about a third of the way through the book refers to
one of the great historical events of the first quarter of the
Twentieth Century, but there's no reference to it by the end of the
Other than that, this is, i would say, the second-best of her
"Elementals/Fairy Tale" stories -- Fire
Rose, the first i read, is
still the best of them.
The main template for this story is obviously "Cinderella", but i can't
decide if the shell-shocked young flyer/love interest represents some
other, interwoven tale.
(I must admit that when i saw the cover on the shelf, i wondered for a
moment if Ms. Lackey had done a novel about Donna Barr's Desert Peach, and then realised that the
uniform was wrong.)
I do like Ms. Lackey's twists on so many of the familiar tropes of the
Cinderella story. I was wondering how she was going to pull off the
glass slipper bit (of course, in the original French, the slipper is
fur; the words for fancy fur [vair] and glass [verre] are
very similar and apparently an early translator slipped up); suffice to
say that the substitute she produces does quite well, and flashes back
to the earlier, slightly gruesome, version as well. ("Look back, look
It's nice to see a Cinderella who doesn't meekly just lie down under
the insults and injustices of the Wicked Stepmother and Wicked
Stepsisters, and it's nice to see a WSM who has an actual purpose to
her Wickedness. Even bound to the house by a spell that also makes
outsiders forget about her, Ella gradually defeats the purpose of the
spell, and learns magic herself with the aid of her (not fairy)
godmother, the local hedge witch.
For, unknown even to herself at the beginning, Ella is an Elemantal
Meanwhile, enter the Prince -- or, in this case, the heir to the duchy
-- Reginald Fenyx, aviator (even before the war) ace and shellshock
victim. Reggie is an Air Master, and his ability with the Air
Elementals gave him the edge in aerial combat, made him an ace quickly,
and kept him alive... until he met a stronger Air Master on the other
In one of the most affecting passages by Lackey that i have ever read,
Reggie explains what happened that day:
" '... I felt
something, from [the German pilot]. Not his thoughts, more like what he
was feeling. He was -- he was in mourning.' ... Mourning? It was deeper
than mourning. It had been self-revulsion, hatred for what the man had
been doing, and a terrible, terrible sense of loss. The Hun hadn't only
been mourning what he had to do -- he was in mourning for the loss of
everything he cared for. 'He was ... flying with sorrow, the deepest,
blackest sorrow I had ever felt in my life. And it was because by doing
his duty, which was the honorable thing to do, he was being forced to
kill us, who should have been his comrades. Because his beautiful
heavens were filled with blood, and his beautiful blue wings belonged
to the Angel of Death. He knew he would never, for however long he
lived, fly in skies free of blood. His world was shattered, and he'd
never really feel happiness again.' "
Shot down, Reggie's physical wounds make him unfit for duty, and mental
and emotional wounds leave him a shell shock case. Shipped home to
England he encounters sympathy from some but is disdained as a
malingerer by many, who (as in later wars), having never experienced
stress trauma themselves, write it off to simple fear.
And so the two principles of our tale are in place, and all we need is
the touch of Ms. Lackey's magic wand to set the tale in motion.
As Jean Cocteau says, in the prolog to his magical film of Beauty and the Beast,
the most wonderful words in any language are "Once upon a time..."
Well... Once upon a time, there was a young woman with a wicked
stepmother, and there was a young Prince who was troubled...