You know, it’s funny – Mercedes Lackey was very popular with fantasy nerds when I was in high school, but I never really read her. I just rolled my eyes at the hype and sort of assumed that she must be overrated. Now here she is, one of my favorite authors, with three of her novels being used for Book of the Week!

So, Phoenix and Ashes is the fourth book in the Elemental Masters series. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella story that takes place at the height of World War I in London and in the small town of Broom. As such, it’s much darker than some of the other books in the series as it tackles the treatment of shellshock victims, rationing, the prolonged effects of war, and  the class system.

My cousin has actually been recommending this one to me for a while, but I’ve been wary of picking it up because (as I’ve shown in other posts) I’m less likely to enjoy grim or political fantasy novels. Now I’m sorry I didn’t pick this one up sooner – plot-wise, I’d say it’s one of the best in the series!

It’s darker than it’s companions, yes, but not angsty. Both of the main characters are determined to go on living, despite the troubles and horrors that they face. There is a sense of hope, despite the ever-present atmosphere of gloom and sorrow. And if one of the main characters does wallow a bit in his misery, well, he’s suffering from shellshock – I think I can can cut him some slack.

Also, the wicked stepmother is truly evil – not just selfish and manipulative. This woman is cruel and ruthlessly determined to do whatever she must to claim more power. Over the course of the book, she maims several characters, attempts to drive one person mad by siccing an army of raging ghosts on him, and starts the influenza pandemic. Not a nice lady.

The biggest flaw in this novel is the poor editing. I found several typos throughout, and while I’m willing to tolerate one or two, the five or six that I stumbled over actually jerked me out of the story. Such careless editing is what keeps this from being a five star book, sadly.

Anyways – aside from that, really good book! I highly recommend it. Reserved for the Cat, will always be my favorite in this series, but this one is a very close second.