I have previously reviewed Mercedes Lackey’s The Fairy Godmother. As I stated in that review, I love that book. Actually, I love the whole series (or what I’ve read of it. The Fairy Godmother is book 1 in The Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. Recently I read book 5 of the series, The Sleeping Beauty. Each book stands pretty well on its own, though there are references to characters in other books. (Note to reader: I have also read book 3 of this series, Fortune’s Fool, but unfortunately haven’t gotten my hands on books 2 or 4. Forgive me dear reader, for leaving holes in your opinion of the series as a whole.)
The story begins with the Fairy Godmother of Eltaria, Lily and her mirror-slave Jimson. Lily is trying to prevent doom from falling over her little kingdom, which is in fact one of the richest kingdoms around. Other countries are constantly trying to conquer it and constantly failing. Lily has been godmother to Eltaria for over 300 years, for she is part Fae, and she won’t allow any interlopers to enter here. However, she is at the end of her proverbial rope. She can feel the weight of th emagic of The Tradition and knows that something will happen soon. So she tries to avoid it by stepping in as the Evil Stepmother (who isn’t actually evil), but naturally disaster comes any way.
The princess/damsel in distress, Rosamund, is grieving over her dead mother and is incensed that her father has already married someone horrid. Then, a Huntsman chases her and she ends up as a slave to seven dwarfs! This is not the Snow White fairytale everyone tells, it’s a nightmare! Luckily an Old Woman (aka Lily, aka her “evil” stepmother) comes to the rescue. After Lily reveals herself to be the Fairy Godmother as well as the Evil Stepmother, she rescues Rosa only by putting her into a deep sleep so the dwarfs will discard her and then bringing her back to life, as it were.
The whole plan is almost foiled by two gentlemen who both want to kiss the princess awake. One has a doom that made me laugh and silently commiserate, the other just wanted a smooch. Siegfried is an honorable Hero who makes his living by the sword, rescuing towns and doing other Heroic things. Leopold is a lively rogue who is fairly honorable himself. They are both invited to stay at the castle for the time being.
Not two days after Rosa’s triumphant return from her unfortunate circumstances, the King also dies leaving Lily and Rosa in charge of the kingdom and their enemies descending like ravenous wolves. So they decide to host a contest for the princess’s hand (really, to keep the princes from other lands hostage) so that no one will attack. It works. Thousands of princes and adventurers come from every side of the world to compete for the hand of the lovely princess. Siegfried and Leopold agree to help each other until the end and together they make it through every test until they are in the final round. Who will win, if either? For another man is making his move and Desmond is a formidable opponent…
I found it a lively, entertaining tale, with a fairly original plot. Eltaria, as a kingdom, was in a fairly unique situation and Lily’s disastrous attempts to forgo conquest were amusing to read. Overall, I thought it was well-done. However, I did think the characters were a bit stale and unoriginal. Lily was the perfect godmother, Rosa the perfect princess, Siegfried the perfect hero, and Leopold the perfect rogue-turned-gentleman. There was no dynamic element in any of them that would have made the story much, much better. I don’t know if Mrs Lackey intends on coming out with more in the series, but I sincerely hope that her characters will have a little more depth if she does.