The Wizard of London is Mercedes Lackey‘s reconstruction of The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen. It comes as the fifth book in her Elemental Masters series, and follows in her tradition of giving the heroines of the story considerably more power and input than they had in the original versions. As with almost all of the other entries in this series, this one is also set in England in the early 1900’s.
If you’ve read any of Lackey’s other books in this series (or indeed, nearly any of her other books at all), then this story’s style will be intensely familiar to you. Even if you don’t know the original fairy tale, there are few surprises to be had here; the biggest puzzle I faced came in deciding which of the groups of main characters would be the primary representatives of the original fairy tale. That said, Lackey is a solid author and routinely manages to make the predictable entertaining, which in my opinion is quite an accomplishment.
Do I think you would enjoy it? Most likely, yes. Do I have a few other thoughts to share? Read on.
I still don’t think any of the Elemental Masters books has outdone Phoenix & Ashes, the first book of the series that I read. This might just be because of my fond memories of my introduction to the series, but my recollection of that book has set a very high bar for all of the others. The Wizard of London, sadly, doesn’t really come close to supplanting it.
I’m going to start talking about the story with little regard for *SPOILERS*, so read on at your own risk. That said, I don’t think I’m likely to truly ruin anything for most of you.
Why doesn’t The Wizard of London come close? Partly it has to do with the fact that it’s hard to replicate that first experience, the first introduction to this wonderfully interesting setting that Lackey has constructed. But a big part of it, for me, is that The Wizard of London feels incredibly rushed as it approaches the climax.
I love a good climactic finish, complete with excitement, revelations, appropriate endings and everything, but what are you supposed to do when all of that happens over the course of a few pages, without any time for any of the excitement to sink in? I know, I know: it’s all well and good for me to critique Lackey from the safety of my keyboard, so what would I do differently? I can’t answer that without having wrestled with the story myself, and it may very well be that what came out was the best available answer.
But the pacing of the story changed abruptly near the end, rather than offering the smooth segue that Lackey usually delivers. There was a gradual build in tension for most of the book, and I was okay with that. I enjoy a gradual increase in tension. That slow buildup makes the payoff all the more satisfying when I’ve watched all the little pieces fall into place over time. But the shift at the very end of The Wizard of London was incredibly sudden, moving from a nearly glacial pace to the speed of an avalanche; the only problem was, without the smooth segue the avalanche didn’t feel like it had very much momentum behind it. I hadn’t felt the slow build in background translate into the more sudden release that the story demanded, and so the final confrontation with the villain felt flat to me, with little impact beyond “Oh, I guess that’s done now.”
I don’t mean to say that it was all bad. I enjoyed the story, I was pleased to see Lackey’s take on The Snow Queen, and I loved learning more about Alderscroft, a character who is frequently referenced in many of the other books of the series. I even laughed at the typo near the end which labelled Alderscroft as “Ashcroft,” as it’s reassuring to see that successful authors and their editors are human too. But most of all I was glad that the epilogue didn’t magically make everything better, even in the midst of giving its own form of a happily ever after. It’s pleasing to see a fairy tale that doesn’t try to fix all the problems that it finds, and instead admits that maybe sometimes people have to move on.
So despite wishing that I’d felt more of the payoff clearly intended to be in the climax, I’m happy to say that this book is worth checking out.
Also, one last note, I was glad that the villain’s motivations were so understandable. It’s another point in Lackey’s favor that I was quite sympathetic to them, despite the fact that the villain had been doing terrible things to other people for quite a while.