Today has been a sick day for me – and what better way to bolster my spirits than read an oldie but goodie? Unnatural Issue was first published in 2011 – so it’s not that old, but it’s been on my bookshelf for a while now. Part of the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, it’s a tale that weaves magic and old tales together into something new and delicious. I am quite fond of the Elemental Masters series, particularly Phoenix and Ashes which I sadly don’t own but plan to remedy that sometime soon.
Anyway, Unnatural Issue takes the story of Donkeyskin and cleverly adapts it. Donkeyskin, in case you’re not aware, was a fairy tale first published by Charles Perrault. There is a King and his beautiful Queen. The Queen falls ill and dies, but makes him promise that he will not remarry anyone whose beauty is not equal to her own. The King falls mad with grief, and when he is eventually persuaded to take another wife he wants none other than his own daughter, who is the spitting image of the Queen. The daughter escapes (with the use of a donkeyskin) and flees to a neighboring kingdom where she takes up work in the kitchen (still wearing her donkeyskin so looking hideous and disguised). She eventually ends up marrying the Prince of that kingdom and all is well.
Donkeyskin also happens to be the basis for one of my favourite fairy-tale adaptations: Deerskin by Robin McKinley.
The basic plot, then, is not really a surprise.
Suzanne Whitestone is the daughter to Richard and Rebecca Whitestone. Unusually, she has never set eyes upon her father, for Rebecca died during childbirth and Richard, mad with grief, has been a recluse ever since. Suzanne, raised by the servants, had a simple life and learned her craft from Pan himself – for she is an Earth Master. She is also the spitting image of her mother.
Richard, whose mind has wallowed and twisted in his long years of grief, longs only for his wife and hates the thought of the child who “stole” his Rebecca from him. Unfortunately, he turns to Necromancy and concocts a plan to get his dear wife back … no matter what the cost.
- Suzanne is fiery, stubborn, and clever. She’s definitely a strong, plucky female character who accepts help when needed but doesn’t passively lay down when there is work to be done.
- The story takes place in England/Europe just as the first world war is breaking out, allowing for some alternate history and a glimpse of the horrors of the trenches.
- If you’ve read any of the other Elemental Masters books then you’ve met already some of the other characters who pop up. I love having characters carry-over!!
- Magic, action, history – what isn’t there to like?
- Yes, the cover is hideous. Alas.
Highly recommended! 5/5