Thursday, April 21, 2011
The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey
After reading about a quarter way through this book, I realized it was actually book #4 in a series called The Elemental Masters. Now, this is pretty good, since I never got much of a feeling that I had missed "what has gone before," and was able to enjoy it as a stand-alone novel. I'll probably pick up the earlier books in the series at the library one of these days, just to catch up on things.
I do, however, remember now why I quit reading Lackey's books a few years ago. She had reached that point in an author's career where, in my opinion, she had nothing really new to say. I first noticed this phenomenon in the works of Heinlein about five years before his death, and later in the works of Eddings, which up to that point had been delightful.
The story is about a young girl, Sarah, whose parents are missionaries in Africa. For her safety, they send her home to England to a boarding school run by Isabelle Harton and her husband, Frederick. Many boarding schools are horrible places, run by misers and bullies, but this one is full of loving care, and has the added benefit of helping psychically gifted youngsters learn to use and control their talents. Isabelle and Frederick, and several of their staff, are Warriors of the Light, and when they manifest their avatars, do battle with the forces of darkness wherever they are found.
Isabelle also rescues a street waif named Nan, who possesses psychic ability, and a considerable portion of the book details her integration (a la Eliza Doolittle) into the school. Sarah and Nan, of course, become the best of friends, and eventually fall into some misadventures discovering and defeating, with the help of the Warriors, several evil minions.
Ok, here's a couple of things I consider to be the downside to this book. First, Lackey seems to have fallen into that same rut which Heinlein fell into in his latter days, that all of the good guys in the books are simply "too good to be true." When most of the surrounding culture is horribly prejudiced against the foreign, they are not only tolerant, but embrace other cultures. Three of the "servants" in the school are a Sikh, a Gurkha, and a Moslem (they also are extremely wise and filled with the spirit of brotherhood).
While the majority of the marriages in their culture are arranged, political and loveless, Isabelle and Frederick's union is blissful, loving and *gasp* enjoys the "carnal" relations. In the household and school, disputes are always rationally discussed, children are lovingly disciplined in creative ways (rather than resorting to crude corporal measures), students and servants cheerfully do their chores...et cetera, et cetera, et-freakin' cetera. The word that came to mind when I was considering the characters in this book (and upon reflection, in Lackey's recent works) was "insipid."
In the plot, the tension slowly (agonizingly so) builds. There is a certain nobleman, David Alderscroft, who was a former beau of Isabelle's, winkled away from her in the past by Cordelia, the ice princess incarnate. Cordelia, not so surprisingly, has an ancient evil ally, some sort of ice dragon locked in a glacier, and appears to have a goal of -dare I say it - world domination. Over the course of the book, her plot slowly works its way to fruition. David has been influenced over the years to go along with her scheme, by appealing to his sense that aristocrats surely must know best how to govern the masses. However, at the climactic moment, when good and evil must surely battle, our intrepid heroes manage to TALK THE ENEMY INTO GIVING UP! Is that exciting, or what? Of course, the enemy was merely duped in the first place so, of course, love is all you really need. Why can't we all just get along?