Mercedes Lackey,
The Gates of Sleep
(DAW, 2002)

When young Marina Roeswood's aunt appears at her christening party and places a deadly curse upon the infant, a curse only deflected -- not negated -- by the magical gift of her godmother, her grief-stricken parents decide to send her away to be raised by others. Safely hidden from her aunt, Marina, born with an innate affinity for the Element Water, is raised by her artist godparents. Her upbringing is more than idyllic, it is magical, for her godparents are also Elemental Masters. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, Marina also begins to learn how to master her Element.

Marina's only contact with her parents is through frequent, long, loving letters. To further safeguard her from her aunt, she has never been told of the curse and therefore does not understand why she can never meet her parents nor travel to her ancestral manor at Oakhurst. Her parents and guardians believe that if she can evade the curse until her 18th birthday, it will rebound upon the caster and Marina will forevermore be safe.

But in her 17th year when her parents are suddenly killed in an accident, Marina finds herself in the custody of her Aunt Arachne, a cold, arrogant woman whose claim to Marina's wardship has the force of law behind it. Marina senses something not right about her aunt, but she cannot say what it is. And so her 18th birthday approaches while Marina tries to fit into her aunt's household....

Mercedes Lackey returns to her Elemental Masters series with The Gates of Sleep. Although this novel is the third set in this world, it is a complete stand-alone novel. The three (the other two are The Fire Rose and The Serpent's Shadow) are not connected in any way other than basic concept.

As always, Lackey's gift for characterization shines out. With a detail here and a suggestion there, she paints portraits of all her characters, even the minor ones. Marina is a strong-minded girl, raised as a free thinker, determined to pass the tests her aunt seems to be setting for her. Even the maid, Mary Anne, is a person with motivations, rather than a cardboard cutout labeled "maid."

Equally deft is the way in which she takes an old, old tale, Sleeping Beauty, and makes it into a whole new story by setting it in Edwardian England among the Elemental Masters. My only complaint is that the presence of other Masters and sensitives in a position to help Marina seems to rely rather overmuch on coincidence, but that's easily overlooked, because otherwise, Marina might succumb to her aunt's curse!

The Gates of Sleep is entertaining and enjoyable and old fans and new alike will welcome it.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 26 October 2002

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