First off, I have to confess I did not read every word of these two
books. I skimmed a lot. Then again, I've read 40 (plus or minus 5)
of Lackey's books, and I know her style too well.
These two are books two and three in her fairly recent 500 Kingdoms
series. The first one is The Fairy Godmother, and ought to be read
first as it does the best introduction to the new setting. The
backdrop for the stories is a land where Tradition holds sway.
Stories that have been told before tend to happen again and again
because the Tradition (a truly palpable magical force) makes them
happen. Thus, there are numerous Cinderellas, Snow Whites, and
Rapunzels. Princesses fall in love with their rescuers, the seventh
son is kind-hearted, snubbed, but lucky. Mermaids spend a lot of time
combing their hair and the weather around an evil sorcerer's lair is
always gloomy. It's the kind of place where, if someone died, it
really would start to rain.
Rewriting fairy tales is not a new tactic with Lackey. She has used
folk-tales and fairy-tales as the backbone of some of her other books,
like The Black Swan, Firebird, The Fire Rose, Gates of Sleep, and
Phoenix and Ashes. However, with those books she stuck to one story,
whereas in the 500 Kingdoms books she stuffs in as many references to
traditional stories as possible.
One Good Knight covers some of the dragon legends and takes place in
Acadia (think, Greece). Fortune's Fool has more of a Russian folk
tale flavor and features Baba Yaga, Katschei's castle, and a beaten
down (but not really) seventh son.
Both books stylistically have the same problems as Lackey's other
books. If you are already reading her books and enjoy them, go read
The Fairy Godmother, One Good Knight and Fortune's Fool, knock
yourself out, don't bother reading my complaints.
The first problem I have with Lackey's writing style is her way of
introducing us to a situation. She tends to use a character's
internal monologue and the character either describes how perfectly
and wonderfully their world works, "Oh, my father's so smart, look at
how he's beating the Tradition," or complains about how put upon they
are, "My mother doesn't love me, she wants me to be pretty like her
and won't accept me for who I am," or, as she manages in Fortune's
Fool, both at once. It is disgustingly boring. I first noticed this
when, after reading Joust, I came upon the short story she had
expanded into the novel and realized how very much better it was with
the whole first complaining monologue of a chapter excised. The other
problem is that all characters in her books are either good or bad.
The bad characters are maliciously bad. They take delight in
outlining for the reader just how nasty they really are, and they
never trust their allies, and they have no friends. Luckily Fortune's
Fool manages to get along without one of these characters, though One
Good Knight has two. The good guys on the other hand, all get along.
If they aren't getting along it means either there's a
misunderstanding and everything will be cleared up soon, or one of them
is secretly a bad guy. The bad characters and the good fellowship
amongst the good characters are just not believable.
On the other hand, I read these books for pleasure, not because I was
planning to write up a report on them. I did get pleasure out of
reading them, carefully self-edited, to leave out as many of the
annoying monologues as possible.