Friday, May 24, 2013

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

As any good fantasy fan must, I love the work of Mercedes Lackey. We share the same birthday (different years) and the same abiding love of the genre of fantasy, music and the renaissance. +Mercedes Lackey writes immersive fantasy tales that are not only well-crafted; they rise far above your standard hack-and-slash sword-and-sorcery.  In her Valdemar series, Lackey takes the genre and amps it up.

This book is a bit outside my usual genre of epic fantasy. When I bought the Kindle download, I assumed The Fire Rose was a romance with a fantasy twist, maybe a book to while away a rainy northwest afternoon. In a sense I was right, but I was also wrong. First published in Oct. 1995, this is a full-on fantasy with a good dose of romance, set in Edwardian era San Francisco. For some reason, I had never come across this book, and was thrilled to find it as a Kindle download.
The Blurb:

Beauty Meets Beast in San Francisco

Accepting employment as a governess after hard times hit her family, medieval scholar Rosalind Hawkins is surprised when she learns that her mysterious employer has no children, no wife, and she is not to meet with him face to face. Instead, her duties are to read to him, through a speaking tube, from ancient manuscripts in obscure, nearly-forgotten dialects.

A requirement for the job was skill in translating medieval French, and she now understands the reason for that requirement, and assumes her unseen employer’s interest in the descriptions of medieval spells and sorcery is that of an eccentric antiquary. What she does not realize is that his interest is anything but academic. He has a terrible secret and is desperately searching for something that can reverse the effects of the misfired spell which created his predicament.
My Review:

Rosalind (Rose) Hawkins travels by train to San Francisco and is met by Paul du Mond, her employer’s secretary. Paul is a mysterious, rather arrogant man and Rosalind doesn't really know what to make of him, but she doesn't like him. She does not physically meet her employer Jason Cameron; rather she gets to know him only through the speaking tube in her rooms. I loved that twist; it reminded me of getting to know a person via email. The mind is not distracted by what the eye sees, and the conversation becomes the driving force in the relationship.

Lackey portrays her characters well, and in keeping with the era which she has set them in. Rose is intelligent, highly educated and strong. She is a lady in every sense of the word, yet she has a sense of adventure and loves the experience of learning. She has a backbone and she is not afraid to use it.

Of course, Jason Cameron is much more than he has presented himself to be, and he has many ulterior motives for selecting Rosalind out of the list of candidates who could have filled the position. Jason Cameron is a man of vast wealth and great power in every sense of the word. He is fully aware that his own hubris caused his transformation, and to his chagrin, his personality is vastly benefiting from the dose of humility he inadvertently administered to himself. 

Paul du Mond is also more than he appears. He is also a man with nasty vices and a cruel streak a mile wide, and he knows Jason’s plans for Rose. From the outset Paul is not pleased that Rosalind has been brought in to read to Jason. This jealousy drives the plot, and fuels the mayhem that ensues. Paul du Mond is arrogant, self-centered, and a sociopath. He reaches higher than his abilities can handle and has no moral compunction against using any means to achieve the desire of the moment.

Besides being a master creator of some of the most popular sword-and-sorcery in the fantasy genre, +Mercedes Lackey also knows how to write fabulous twists on traditional fairy tales  She knocks it out of the park with this tale.

A lot of people are writing modern takes on fairy tales but they frequently fall short of the mark. They forget that there must be a great plot that goes well beyond the original or it’s just a rehashing of the tried and true. The Fire Rose goes way beyond the traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast, to the point you completely forget the original tale that sparked this idea of novel.

NO ONE melds romantic tension and magic into a tale as well as Mercedes Lackey. Her romance is classy and her magic is always well crafted and sensibly depicted, making this book a great read for any day, rainy or not. The final chapters of this tale are gripping and the ending is completely satisfying, and was unexpected--the best kind of ending.

This book is a stand-alone book, but I will most definitely be reading the others in this series of books, the Elemental Masters

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