I’m on a bit of a Mercedes Lackey kick, and re-read The Serpent’s Shadow which is Book One of the Elemental Masters series. I LOVE this series – a perfect mix of fantasy, historical fiction, and old fairy tales awaits in almost every book. Love, love, love. (Although this is one of those times where you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, since most of the cover art for these books is pretty off-putting).
The Serpent’s Shadow is no exception. Based on the story of Snow White, this book follows Maya Weatherspoon. Maya, has recently moved to England from her native India. She is a physician in her own right, and sets up a practice out of her home in London, while also working out of a respectable hospital and a charity clinic. Daughter of an English doctor and a high-caste Indian priestess, Maya’s mixed blood is central to the plot.
Maya has fled her homeland after the suspicious deaths of her parents. Unfortunately, the sinister mastermind behind these deaths has followed her to London. Seeking and searching for her, this enemy wishes to enslave Maya and use Maya’s considerable power for nefarious means.
Maya has not traveled alone, and her household is home to some faithful servants and her mother’s seven “pets” – remarkable creatures who seem to understand more than they should.
The White Lodge in London notices the arrival of someone with great power, and sends Peter Scott, water master, to investigate. Peter realizes this beautiful woman is both powerful, untaught, and hiding from something. Against the old-school sensibilities of the white lodge, Peter teaches Maya the Western elemental magic that Maya has inherited from her father’s side.
All the while, her enemy is drawing closer …
I should repeat this quote from the description on Goodreads:
Some will find the author’s Kiplingesque descriptions of India and Hindustani culture offensive. Lackey describes Maya’s enemy as a powerful devotee of the goddess Kali-Durga, though she carefully shows that the avatars of the other deities will not attack her, and has Kali-Durga repudiate her servant in the climactic confrontation. And, though the story is layered, its surface is as glossy and brightly colored as an action comic. But readers who enjoy late Victorian London, Sayers, Sherlock Holmes stories, and a page-turning tale will want to take this one home. –Nona Vero
Some well-phrased criticism wrapping up with a compliment, it’s probably true that the cultural references are a bit insensitive. However, I love the book for the story itself which indeed is layered.
- I love how Maya is a strong female character and role model. She may have fled India, but she is smart, independent, generous, and kind. Despite all the odds stacked against her, she is a female Doctor of mixed parentage, at a time where female doctors were rare all around. She is not too proud to accept help when it’s offered, and she is clever enough to enlist it when needed.
- Maya is also a suffragette – although not as outspoken as some, she is quietly fighting for the rights of women. Indeed, her private practice caters to London’s theater girls and mistresses, and among them Maya assures discretion. She also uses this to spread the word on important topics for female emancipation, such as contraception.
- Peter Scott, a tradesman, also seems to be butting heads with “established” class and gender divisions. He’s part of the White Lodge, but finds it’s old-fashioned sensibilities frustrating. Founded within the peerage, the group accepted Peter, a working-class man, on his strengths, but refuses to allow others (such as women, Irish elemental masters, other men of low social classes) in to their club. To their detriment!
- I love how the story of Snow White is adapted for this setting.
- I find it a fascinating time – London of 1909. Full of new ideas, new technology, and potential.
I just love this book! 5/5