This is my first experience with author Mercedes Lackey, and I admit that I was disappointed in the overall flow and appeal of book one in The Five Hundred Kingdoms series. Despite the failings of The Fairy Godmother, Lackey created an unique concept that deserves further analysis and acknowledgement.
There are minor spoilers for those of you who have not read the first book in the series, so proceed with caution.
The world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms is one created from fairy tale idiosyncrasies. Every person has a destiny that is shaped by an omnipotent and omniscient being known as "The Tradition." This magical force controls the fate of all people, or in this case characters, in the Five Hundred Kingdoms. No one can escape its clutches, not even the lowliest stable boy or the most wealthy king.
The Tradition is concerned with specific stories and fates being fulfilled, most commonly known as fairy tales. This magical power tries to shape everyone's life to fall into a predestined history, such as Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, and many more. At first it seems apparent that people cannot escape their fates. If some element is not timed precisely, The Tradition takes the person down a different fairy tale path, often ending in tragedy rather than the usual happy ending. For example, if the prince is too young to marry the princess, she could go down a different and unfavorable life path.
This is why the people known as Fairy Godmothers are so important in this fantastical world. They help control the magical powers of both The Tradition and the people who live in the various kingdoms. Everyone has magic, even if they don't realize it, and if the magic goes unused, it can become a tool for evil witches, wizards, sorcerers, and sorceresses to use. Of course there are good versions of these people with various power levels but none interfere more with The Tradition than Fairy Godmothers. They are fearless and "meddle" more than the others. Lackey describes in great details the roles of all the magical peoples in the Five Hundred Kingdoms (pages 129-134):
Wizards and Godmothers counter curses.
Wizards and Godmothers test and guide Questers dispensing punishment to those who fail.
The little old lady in the woods who dispenses clues after being treated kindly is often a Fairy Godmother in disguise.
The ferryman who has answers to puzzles, riddles, and questions is either a Godmother or Wizard.
Other forms include the hag at the bridge or the watcher at the door, etc.
Wizards are fewer than Godmothers and are usually solitary people. They are away from the dwellings of men often living in caves or in the wild as hermits.
Because Godmothers often act as local White Wizards, they learn a lot of Witchery.
Witches and Hedge-Witches work in subtle ways at the lowest level of magic. They try to make it less obvious that magic is being used, but they also create potions for use by members of local villages.
They live in town but apart from others.
They cannot take sides and are not allowed to judge others.
They have to help those that come to them.
Sorcerers and Sorceresses only intervene when something has gone wrong and enormous magic is needed to save the day.
They help heroes on quests.
Watch children that will become heroes.
Assist Godmothers to create trials for Questers.
They are often in the thick of the magical battles.
They live in distant, lofty towers and don't usually venture out unless something is horribly wrong and their powers are needed.
Overall, Lackey describes the roles of Fairy Godmothers as being something unique because of the way they work with The Tradition. They always do good deed. Godmothers are often seen as teachers as they try to stop people from traveling the path of evil. They impart many life lessons:
It was the passion to set things right that defined the Godmother and the Wizard; and this was also why they did not live among the people. To be a Godmother meant that you did become involved, and you used your strong emotions to help you focus. But Godmothers and Wizards did not remain so utterly apart from people as the Sorcerers and Sorcerers did--they needed to have some contact with people, to remain anchored in humanity and keep their own emotions alive. It was a difficult balance to maintain--but it wasn't boring. (134)
An interesting fact about magic in the Five Hundred Kingdoms is that it does not last forever. The Fairy Godmothers store their magic and have to take magic from others who are willing to part with it. Those that steal magic from unwilling victims often become evil wizards and sorcerers. Fairy Godmothers are given the power to see the magic surrounding people by the Eleven King and Queen. It's not made clear if all those who practice magic have the ability to see the magic, but it's obvious they know when and where to get it when they need it. The fact that magic doesn't last forever also refutes the age old superstition that a witch's or wizard's powers exist in their wands. The wands are merely conduits for the magic and are not a necessary tool for a being to use her or his powers.
When I first read about this, I wondered who would willingly give away their magic. It turns out that a lot of people prefer to live normal lives in the Five Hundred Kingdoms, and thus are more than willing to give away the magic that The Tradition tries to warp.
One example of this situation is with a young woman named Rosalie. She is described as follows:
The Tradition wanted this young woman for something. It bent its power towards making her into that something. It was like an enormous, blind, insensate beast, pushing her towards that end, and it did not want to let her go down some other path.
But Rosalie did not want to go there. She was happy with her little cottage, her gentle, simple husband, happy to be ordinary and fit in with the rest of the village as a pea fits among its neighbors in a pod. The more The Tradition pushed her, the more she pushed back, and that was what made it painless for her to give up the power that was collecting around her. (138-39)
Rosalie's original story was to be a tale known as "Fair Rosalinda." She was supposed to fall in love with a married king and be murdered by his queen. Since she thwarted that path as a child, The Tradition was weaving her down a new one, the mother of a Ladderlocks child. The child would be stolen by a witch and locked in a tower. These stories usually had happy endings but not until a lot of death and sorrow had occurred. By avoiding one path, Rosalie allowed The Tradition to steer her down another unfavorable path. The only way to escape The Tradition's destiny was with the help of a Fairy Godmother who could take the unwanted magic and thus render The Tradition powerless again.
These and many other stories fill the confines of the book. In fact, one can argue that there are too many magical tidbits presented, many of which don't deal directly with the plot of . A lot of these details are merely mentioned in passing. For example, Lackey explains about magical duels, but there are no magical duels in this book. I can only guess that a lot of the information not directly used here will prove useful knowledge for later books in the series.
The different duels that can take place between Magicians include:
Duel Direct: One magician throws powerful magical attacks at their foe and vice versus.
Transformation Duel: Each magician keeps changing forms until one or the other is able to devour or incapacitate their opponent.
Duel by Avatar: Each magician transforms into a magical monster and physical and magical combat takes place (reminds me of the Disney move The Sword in the Stone).
Most of the time these types of duels and attacks are left to the Sorcerers because their powers are more suited to it. Instead, Fairy Godmothers try to avoid conflicts and battles as much as possible.
Overall, when I consider as a means of presenting magical ideas, especially this new concept known as The Tradition, I am compelled to rate the concepts higher than the book. Mercedes Lackey had quite an imagination to devise this new world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. I even admit that there is a pull to read the second in the series to discover if she takes these ideas to another level. Part of me is a little nervous to continue, though, because I am worried about being disappointed. Only time will tell if I'm daring enough to continue to read this particular series. More than anything, The Fairy Godmother has inspired me to look into another other Lackey series. I haven't decided which one to try next, so if readers want to suggest titles, send me an email.
There is much more to be said about The Fairy Godmother and all the magic Lackey creates. However, I would rather keep most of the discussion general, so it doesn't ruin the story for new readers. Plus, it's always more fun to discover the magic on your own rather than have someone spoil it for you. So, give the book a read and decide for yourself--Is The Tradition a truly fantastical force?
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Adrianna Simone (Adrianna)
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In the world of Five Hundred Kingdoms is The Tradition or “The way that magic tries to set things on a particular course [...] And there are dozens and dozens of [...] tales that The Tradition is trying to recreate, all the time, and perhaps one in a hundred actually becomes a tale.” In The Fairy Godmother Witches, Hedge-Wizards, Sorcerers, Sorceresses but particularly Godmothers and Wizards herd this power. Like shepherds finding sheep, when a Godmother observes a story unfolding she will recommend (with a few nudges and prods) the story towards a correct or better direction.