Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey: An Analysis

So, she declares no more book reviews and vanishes off the face of the Earth? Well, no more than usual, but between moving to a new state, trying to keep my sons in contact with good friends, seeing some of mine, unpacking, moving into a new office (okay, bedroom, but it's an office now), I haven't had the energy even to write up a blog entry I planned a long time ago.

But late's better than never and I had no other plans this night besides sleep, some programming on my website (which I'm converting from html to php), and even some more writing. Yeah, I'm getting the feeling I have too much going on, which is why I'm giving myself this break.

And on to what is not a review, but more an analysis not just of the book but also of my behavior as a reader. Someday I hope to have readers too, and knowing how I think is a step toward understanding those future masses ;).

I discovered Mercedes Lackey an age ago when she wrote with my favorite author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Thanks to MZB, I discovered a bunch of authors I still follow today :). As a reader, once I'm hooked, it takes a lot to make me go away. Not even the most horrible proofreading I've ever seen on The Firebrand by MZB could make me stop reading her books despite Cassandra being one of my favorites among the Greek mythological characters. I digress, but you may be getting the feeling I found Mercedes Lackey's The Fairy Godmother less than appealing. That is absolutely not the case. However, it is true that I found the beginning a wee bit dull. Before you get up in arms, this is the analysis part. For those of you prone to throw books, I'd say to give The Fairy Godmother more of a chance than that. It gets better, much better. But I can't explain or analyze without offering some insight into the book, so here's a spoiler alert. Those of you who haven't read the book should stop reading now to keep your mysteries intact :).

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Okay, so now all those who don't want to read about this book have moved along maybe to return after their own experiences can inform the reactions. Me, I'm waiting to read this analysis: http://invalslittleworld.blogspot.com/2006/07/implicit-promise-of-storys-beginning.html until I write my own so as not to compromise it.

Basically, my problem was this: the main character, Elena, does nothing to make things happen in the beginning. I've written numerous stories where characters are driven to a fate by circumstances beyond their control, but they either fight it or make choices that set them on that path. Elena left me wondering if she would ever take that big step for far too long and I wonder if I didn't trust Mercedes Lackey would I have hung around for that long. It's not that the book isn't well written, or even something as simple as Elena being an uninteresting character. My problem is specifically that she lets the story carry her along.

She makes a decision to become a general house help, her first decision, about 50 pages into the book. When that doesn't work out, she's lost until the fairy godmother picks her up and offers her an apprenticeship. Her reaction came across to me as "what have I got to lose?" more than "oh, what a wondrous opportunity." Now there's a reason for that reaction which becomes evident as the book carries on. However, she once again drifts through getting clothes, getting a wand, being accepted by the fairies, learning magic, and a myriad of other job-related events without taking control of her existence. Ultimately though, she's not happy within the confines of this task and redefines it to suit herself. The beginning then makes for good character continuity and foreshadowing, but of the kind only evident after the reader gets to the end.

For me, the book took on life when Alexander appeared. Suddenly, an existence (for she was just existing) that was following an established pattern, a pattern enforced by the manipulations of Tradition, is full of conflict. Elena's non-choices are thrown in her face and she has to decide between her word and her needs, a choice she refuses and comes up with a better solution in the end. For that to work, the first part of the book must be as it is. And yet, the first part of the book was a struggle for me, a dedicated Lackey reader.

I've analyzed the story elements and, as you can see, came to the conclusion that they required the parts that turned me off. This leaves me a little lost. Is the answer that this is a book only a well-known author with an existing following can write? I'm curious to see what you all think. Was this just me? Or did I miss something?

Oh, and another aspect of this book is something in common with my impression of Lynn Viehl's If Angels Burn. This book clearly set the framework for the Five Hundred Kingdoms. There was information in it, world building, that only tangentially affected the story but which cued the reader into how this world works. She's already published another novel in the series, so I suspect that the stage-setting was deliberate. It did not detract from the story so much as offer a mild distraction, but I think that's a writer distraction, not a reader one.

6 comments:

Valerie Comer said...

Interesting to hear your opinion. I'm not surprised that you analyzed it much more thoroughly than I did! The start *was* slow.

Margaret said...

LOL. I can always be counted on for (over) analysis. Though I'll admit your comment about the second one made me shiver. You thought IT was slow to start? I would have dropped you a note, but naughty you disabled comments on it :p. Okay, so it was an old post, but still! Interesting thought on promises.

Dawn said...

Thanks Mar - you inadvertently answered a question I've been struggling with regarding my own writing.

Margaret said...

Umm, your welcome? I hope that was a positive answer, or at least something you can fix :D.

Cheers,
Margaret

Dawn said...

Yes, positive. :-) It's going to save me from writing about three chapters that would never have appeared in my story. (I posted on the FM boards about it - and you even responded to it.) My mind works in strange ways.

Margaret said...

Ah. Okay, so then it turns out those chapters weren't necessary after all. What's weird in this case is that the whole book hangs on those chapters being exactly as they are. If not for her pasivity in the beginning, it would have been obvious for her to do what she did and so not a challenge. But yeah, it does make me think about how I begin stories. I start where the tale begins. The question is whether that's where the book should :).