A brand-new Elemental Masters novel from the national bestselling author Mercedes Lackey.
Richard Whitestone is an Elemental Earth Master. Blaming himself for the death of his beloved wife in childbirth, he has sworn never to set eyes on his daughter, Suzanne. But when he finally sees her, a dark plan takes shape in his twisted mind-to use his daughter’s body to bring back the spirit of his long-dead wife.
Unnatural Issue is the seventh installment in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series – a series I’ve been reading for over a decade, if you can believe it. And while I do think this series is beginning to show signs of its age, I still enjoyed this latest book. Yes, I thought the story was scattered, and yes, there were some overly familiar elements throughout, but in the end this book, for me, was a quintessential guilty pleasure. I just had fun reading it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Lackey’s magic-laced stories take place in Victorian times, and come down strongly on the fantasy side of urban fantasy. Each book is loosely based on a classic fairy tale – Lackey has taken on everything from Snow White to Puss in Boots – and this time around she plays on Donkeyskin/Tattercoat, which as those of you familiar with the story know, is a tale that revolves around one seriously creepy Dad. If this is your first encounter with this series, don’t worry, this book – as with every book in this series – will work as a stand alone, but I’d still definitely recommend starting with The Serpent’s Shadow, or if you want to start chronologically, The Fire Rose. You don’t have to, but you’ll find these books are more fun when you recognize all the cameos, in-references and magical rules.
Unnatural Issue follows Suzanne, a young woman forced to face down her father’s nefarious schemes and the beginning of World War I. I love the historic flavor of these books, and I will always adore the magic system that underlies this series – not to mention the fun in watching Lackey play with and around class expectations – but for me, this story just never fully coalesced. I felt like I was being yanked from one section to the next, and Suzanne’s character arc never really came together, for me. I liked her well enough, and I liked where she ended, but the process of her getting from start to finish felt at times forced and unjustified.
Still, I was more than happy to see Lord Peter Almsley (a long standing secondary character in this series) get more time in the sun and I enormously liked the underpinnings of this story, especially with regards to the romantic pairing. I don’t want to spoil anything, but in this era of being unrelentingly pummeled by breathless, undying YA-style insta-love, I found it utterly refreshing to read a story that had something more intelligent to say about relationships. It will seem at first as though this story is heading the same way that every paranormal YA has gone before, but stick around for the rest, because it becomes one of my favorite things about this book, quick and somewhat abrupt though it may be. And that’s the thing about this book – I really liked the ideas, I really liked the outline, but the execution just didn’t entirely deliver. If this book was a car, I’d say I liked the make and model, but it was something of a bumpy ride.
Still, this story is just undeniably Lackey through and through, from the story’s emotional focus to the quintessential orphan story underpinnings (though in this case, Suzanne is a virtual orphan) to the villain POV chapters, this story has that Lackey stamp that I can’t help but enjoy – but at times it skirted on the overly familiar. From Suzanne’s unconventional upbringing to her sudden entree into polite society, from her lessons in manners to her lessons in magic, to the evil wizard plotting evil things, there’s a fair amount in this book that echoes earlier books in the series. But while it leaned, it never outright borrowed – Unnatural Issue is still very much it’s own story, but at times it does impart a sense of deja vu.
In the end, this book is a guilty pleasure kind of read – I can’t call it a good book, but I can’t call it a bad book either. It’s rushed, and scattered, and undeveloped in places, and yet I still galloped through it effortlessly. It’s just a fun, light, easy read – and it’s also a book I know I’ll find myself re-reading sooner or later, because the Mercedes Lackey appeal just cannot be denied. This isn’t my favorite Lackey book, but it’s still a Lackey book.
Byrt Grade: B+
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Though a bit over the top of Big Ben, the story is fast-paced from the moment an acrimonious Richard meets the offspring he holds culpable for his beloved’s death