Mercedes Lackey, |
Phoenix & Ashes
It is 1914 and Eleanor Robinson has just persuaded her father to allow her to attend Oxford -- where women may study, but are not awarded degrees -- when her life is suddenly turned upside down by the surprise arrival of a stepmother and two stepsisters. To make matters even worse, shortly thereafter, Father goes off to France as a soldier, leaving Eleanor feeling no longer welcome in her own home.
On the same terrible night that the telegram announcing his death arrives, Eleanor's stepmother Alison shows her true colors. Secretly an Elemental Master of Earth, Alison drags Eleanor to the kitchen hearth, where she uses a bizarre ritual to bind Eleanor to the hearthstone. Thus does Eleanor learn of the existence of magic and become Alison's slave, for the magic that binds her to the hearth also makes it so that she cannot speak of the spell and no one who sees her will recognize her as Eleanor Robinson.
Reginald Fenyx loves to fly and whenever he lands his fragile aircraft in the meadow on his estate, he has a willing army of volunteers to help him care for her -- including, at first, Eleanor Robinson, whom he encourages to go to Oxford. When war breaks out, Reggie joins the RFC as a pilot knowing that, as an Air Master, his elementals will keep him safe. Or so he thinks until the day he meets another Air Master flying for the enemy and loses the battle. Returned to his ancestral estate of Longacre to recuperate from his injuries -- both physical and mental -- Reggie is the only person who recognizes Eleanor. For with his own magic lost to him, Alison Robinson's magic doesn't affect him.
Phoenix & Ashes, the third book in Lackey's Elemental Masters series (released by DAW; the first book about an Elemental Master, The Fire Rose, was released by Baen), is a clever retelling of the fairy tale of Cinderella. All of the elements are here, from the wicked stepmother to the "fairy" godmother and the ball.
The settings are made vivid by Lackey's clear prose and the tale is full of likeable -- and not so likeable -- characters, all ingeniously woven into a story that never for an instant lets us forget the cost of war.