Mercedes Lackey,
The Fire Rose
(Baen, 1995)

The time is 1905. Electric lights are just becoming known; most houses still use gaslights. Women wear long skirts and corsets, and do not have the right to vote. It is still unusual to find a female scholar.

Chicago-born Rosalind Hawkins, however, is not the usual fainting flower of the times. She is possessed of an advanced university degree and is working on her doctorate when her father suddenly dies, leaving her at the mercy of his creditors and their lawyers. She is to the point of contemplating suicide when she is offered a position as a governess to a wealthy family in San Francisco.

But when she arrives at the home of Jason Cameron, her new employer, she finds that he has no wife, nor children, and the only servant she ever sees is his secretary, Paul du Mond, to whom she takes an instant dislike. Instead, she learns that Cameron has hired her to read to him because he can no longer conduct his research due to an accident. She is very much surprised to realize that his research is of a magical nature. As she helps Cameron with his research, she begins to discover her own magical powers. She comes to both respect and like her employer, even after she discovers the nature of his accident.

All is not sweetness and light, however, for Cameron has an enemy who is not above using Rose to get to her employer. And he wants her, whether she is willing to help him or not.

Lackey has crafted an interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast legend, especially in choosing her time period, when the world trembles on the edge of the modern age. Although the West is still wild, it is beginning to be tamed. In only a decade, World War I will forever change the way people look at the world around them.

Lackey is very good at writing strong female characters who go out to influence their world and do not necessarily wait for it to run them over. After her initial despair, Rose proves to be one such and sometimes she surprises herself with her own strength.

The author's villains, however, are not nearly so interesting as her heroines. There are two types, the megalomaniac whose only aim in life is to take over the world; I half expect a cartoon lab mouse to ask them what they are planning to do tonight. The others are the men (occasionally women) whose only aim is to extract as much pleasure from life for themselves as possible, especially if it is at the expense of others. This second type of villain can usually be found serving the first type. And of course, all the villains always get theirs in the end.

If you like strong heroines, mysterious heroes and nasty villains, you'll enjoy The Fire Rose. It makes very entertaining light reading, the sort of thing to fall into after a hard day at the office.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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