The Fairy Godmother is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. Published under Harlequin Romance’s Luna imprint, the series seems targeted primarily at female romance-fantasy readers.
Loosely based on the Cinderella folk tale, The Fairy Godmother follows Elena Klovis, a girl all set up to be Cinderella—but the kingdom’s prince is just a child! When she takes matters into her own hands to escape her Wicked Stepmother, accepting a position that she thinks is as a maid-of-all-work, she instead finds herself offered an apprenticeship to a Fairy Godmother, Madame Bella, who is getting on in years. It’s there Elena learns about the magical force called The Tradition which tries to force people in the Five Hundred Kingdoms down traditional paths from stories and fairy tales.
This book can essentially be divided into two distinct yet cohesive halves—Apprentice and Godmother. The first half has something of the feel of a training montage or a collection of short stories as Bella teaches Elena about magic and how to manipulate The Tradition to achieve happy endings. This half, while not contributing much to the plot of the book, provides an introduction to the world, politics, and magic system of the Five Hundred Kingdoms without ever feeling too much like an info dump. All this background learning sets up not only the rest of the book, but the following books in the series as well. As she learns, Elena has a number of little adventures, keeping the pace from lagging too badly.
In the second half, Elena is deemed ready and becomes the Fairy Godmother herself, Bella vanishing into retirement. The overall plot of the book doesn’t really start until after Elena ventures forth to perform the very Traditional task of testing Questers, when she undertakes the redemption of arrogant Prince Alexander, who failed the first test of his Quest. He certainly doesn’t want her help, and she certainly doesn’t want him around, especially not with The Tradition trying to force the two of them together. The pace picks up even more when Elena is called upon to battle an evil mage from an unfamiliar Traditional line.
Unique magic system
While much of The Fairy Godmother may seem familiar, with its references to stories such as Rapunzel, The Princess and the Pea, and Sleeping Beauty, The Tradition is a unique, fascinating source of magic. It’s a mindless power that will try to force you down the familiar path if your life starts to resemble a tale. The Tradition can be tricked or diverted, but it can’t be ignored. The power it brings to bear can be used for either good or evil, and it doesn’t care if the tale has a happy ending or not; good magic users like Godmother Elena try to ensure happy endings and to prevent evil magic users from preying on innocents. This system of magic leads to very interesting moments, as Elena learns how to twist The Tradition to her own purposes.
Great Fae and Wild Fae also make an appearance with magic of their own—magic that the humans and the house brownies don’t entirely understand.
Romance novel characters
The main characters of The Fairy Godmother are likeable and not completely flat—just mostly. Elena’s only flaw is that she’s still learning her role as a Fairy Godmother; she’s noble and good and clever, and even her inexperience doesn’t stand in her way. Alexander starts out as a pompous, arrogant ass, but he feels his behavior is entirely justified, and from his flawed perspective, his behavior is understandable. With Elena’s unwelcome help, he becomes a perfectly charming prince, with just a slight surprise twist. The secondary characters, the brownies who help around the house, are each unique individuals; they are definitely not cookie cutter characters. Yet they aren’t developed much, either.
This book isn’t epic fantasy, though, and doesn’t need epic characters; it’s romance-fantasy, and these characters do fit the story quite well. They aren’t morally ambiguous or deep, they aren’t tortured souls, but they are likeable. As romance novels go, this one has much more interesting characters, who do undergo more development, than in a typical romance.
Five hundred kingdoms
Yes, there really are five hundred kingdoms in this world, a fantasized version of medieval Europe. Only a few of the kingdoms are fleshed out in this volume, though Elena herself has charge of a dozen or so. The different kingdoms have different politics and different attitudes toward magic, and provide ample possibilities for settings of future books in the series.
Why should you read this book?
As one of the few books to ever make me laugh out loud, I can recommend The Fairy Godmother wholeheartedly to anyone who doesn’t mind romance. This is a light, fluffy cotton candy novel, great for a quick read. However, it’s also intelligent with its references to classic fairy tales and creatures such as brownies, mirror-slaves, glass mountains, and more. Those who love the old tales will have fun spotting these various references and tropes. And those who may be bothered by sexual content can be assured that the few erotic scenes can be skipped over without missing anything crucial to the plot.