Thursday, November 11, 2021

Book Review: The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey

The Serpent's Shadow

Mercedes Lackey
Series: Elemental Masters (Book 1)
Publication: DAW Hardcover; First Edition (March 1, 2001)

Description: The first novel in Mercedes Lackey's magical Elemental Masters series reimagines the fairy tale Snow White in a richly-detailed alternate Edwardian England

Maya Witherspoon lived most of the first twenty-five years of her life in her native India. As the daughter of a prominent British physician and a Brahmin woman of the highest caste, she graduated from the University of Delhi as a Doctor of Medicine by the age of twenty-two.

But the science of medicine was not Maya’s only heritage. For Maya’s aristocratic mother Surya was a sorceress—a former priestess of the mystical magics fueled by the powerful and fearsome pantheon of Indian gods.

Though Maya felt the stirring of magic in her blood, her mother had repeatedly refused to train her. “I cannot,” she had said, her eyes dark with distress, whenever Maya asked. “Yours is the magic of your father’s blood, not mine....” Surya never had the chance to explain this enigmatic statement to her daughter before a mysterious illness claimed her life.

Yet it was Maya’s father’s death shortly thereafter that confirmed her darkest suspicions. For her father was killed by the bite of a krait, a tiny venomous snake, and in the last hours of her mother’s life, Surya had warned Maya to beware “the serpent’s shadow.” Maya knew she must flee the land of her birth or face the same fate as her parents.

In self-imposed exile in Edwardian London, Maya knew that she could not hide forever from the vindictive power that had murdered her parents. She knew in her heart that even a vast ocean couldn’t protect her from “the serpent’s shadow” that had so terrified her mother. Her only hope was to find a way to master her own magic: the magic of her father’s blood. But who would teach her? And could she learn enough to save her life by the time her relentless pursuers caught up with their prey?

My Thoughts: This was an engaging historical fantasy with echoes of the fairy tale Snow White. 

Dr. Maya Witherspoon was born and raised in India. Her father was a British doctor. Her mother a Brahmin who gave up her family and caste to marry him. She was also a practicing magician and assisted by aspects of Hindu gods. However, she didn't teach her daughter how to use magic saying that her daughter's magic came from her father's tradition. 

After her parents' deaths - her mother's from cholera and her father's from the bite of a krait - Maya gathered up her household and fled to London. It was 1909 and Maya had to deal with a variety of prejudices due to her desire to practice medicine and her mixed heritage. She finds a job in a hospital and a free clinic and also establishes a practice working with women from the theatrical world and demi-monde where she teaches birth control and specializes in "female complaints".

But her enemy - her mother's sister who practices dark magic - has followed her and wants to consume Maya's power and get revenge on the British who invaded her country. 

Maya's untutored magic has drawn the attention of the Elemental Masters in London and Paul Scott, former sea captain, current merchant, and Water Master, is sent to see if Maya is a danger. Despite the Master's prejudice against female Elemental Masters, Paul is determined to teach her what she needs to know about her magical abilities. 

With her aunt getting closer to finding her, Maya needs to get control of her Earth Master abilities. She also falls in love with Paul.

The worldbuilding here was excellent. I loved the combination of Western and Hindu magic. I also enjoyed the combination of 1909 women's suffrage and magic. The characters were fascinating and well-rounded. The writing is lyrical and descriptive.

This was a reread for me. I first read it near its publication date in 2001 when I was automatically buying and reading everything by Mercedes Lackey. It is also the first in a series that has grown to sixteen books, many of which are inspired by fairy tales.

Favorite Quote:
In India, real magic blossomed in sunlight and moonlight alike. Wonders happened in the full of day, and she had seen too many of them to ever doubt that what had happened by night would not be as real in the daylight. I am a physician, and English. But I am also Hindu, of Brahmin blood. I know that there are more things than can be observed in the lens of a microscope, weighed, and measured. I know that the world is not as we would have it, but as it is, and that is not always as an Englishman sees it.
I bought this one and read it when it was published in 2001. This is a reread for me. You can buy your copy here.

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