The Serpent’s Shadow is the second of Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS novels. These are stand-alone fairytale retellings and this particular one is based on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” The story takes place in London in 1909 and it’s so different from that familiar tale, though, that you may not have recognized its influence if I hadn’t told you, even though the classic elements are here (seven companions, an apple, a magic mirror, poison that puts the heroine to sleep, a kiss).
Like the first ELEMENTAL MASTERS book, The Fire Rose, The Serpent’s Shadow features a strong and likable heroine. Maya is doctor who’s half English and half Indian. Her parents were recently murdered under suspicious circumstances and she has moved to London to get away from whoever may be threatening her family. She must find a way to practice medicine (which is mixed with a little bit of magic) among the London doctors who tend to be prejudiced against both Indians and women (and especially Indian women). The way she deals with this is to practice on the outskirts of polite society — a place where a sympathetic female doctor is desperately needed. Her household contains a few servants who love Maya and seven strange animals that were her mother’s companions. Maya doesn’t know exactly what they are, but she knows they’re more than mere pets. In fact, Maya doesn’t even understand her own untrained power.
When the Masters (as in Elemental Masters) sense that there’s a new power in town, they send Peter Scott, a Water Mage to investigate. Peter is surprised to discover that the new power is a beautiful and intelligent Indian woman who doesn’t realize how to use her gift. The more Peter finds out about Maya, the more he likes her. I liked Maya, too. She’s smart, competent, and strong. She’s a humanitarian. She sacrifices herself to help others. I liked her for this, but sometimes it felt like Lackey was getting preachy (as she sometimes tends to do) when she kept describing the conditions of the working poor in London.
Peter isn’t the only one interested in Maya and her power. It seems that whoever killed her parents has followed her to London and may be using black magic. Somehow Aleister Crowley (who was also mentioned in The Fire Rose) may be involved. I wish we had actually seen Crowley because he would have been a lot more interesting than Lackey’s caricature of a villain in The Serpent’s Shadow. In fact, it was this over-the-top, melodramatic, incomprehensible villain that kept this story from being better.
Like The Fire Rose, The Serpent’s Shadow has a strong romantic element which seems appropriate for a fairytale retelling where there’s supposed to be a “happily ever after” for some cute couple. It’s the romances, rather than the magic system or the plot, that seem to be the focus of these novels so far.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of The serpent’s Shadow. Michelle Ford gave a wonderful performance. She has a lovely voice and was able to handle a variety of accents and male and female voices.