Just finished reading Mercedes Lackey’s, Unnatural Issue. As fantasy, non-fiction novels go it’s a fairly good read with a few minor exceptions.
I’ve been a fan of Ms. Lackey since reading The Last Herald-Mage series. So, when I saw this title on the library “new release” table, I snapped it up and plunged right in. At first, I worried about getting lost. Like most of her other works, this title is part of a series (#6 to be exact). But, I quickly found this book to be completely self-sufficient with it’s own story line and enough explanation to give a basic understanding to any reader coming to the work cold.
Brief Synopsis: Richard Whitestone is an Elemental Earth Master. Blaming himself for the death of his beloved wife during childbirth, he has sworn never to set eyes on his daughter, Susanne. But when he finally sees her, a dark plan takes shape in his twisted mind- to use his daughter’s body to bring back the spirit of his long-dead wife. Susanne, who has grown to adulthood on and learned to use her own Earth power, becomes aware of this plan and flees. However, she quickly learns that her diabolical father will stop at nothing to get her back and that true freedom lies in her facing her father and her fears.
Let’s start with what I like about this book and what draws me to fantasy of this kind: magic. From Harry Potter to Willow, I’ve always been fascinated with stories of about folks with enhanced abilities – abilities that for the most part leave them marginalized, but give them the strength to face serious adversity. What I particularly like about the magic in Unnatural issue is that it’s derived from “natural elements” (water, fire, earth, air), which makes it easier to explain and grants the reader quicker access to the story .
Another great aspect of the book: its historical setting. Set in WWI Europe, the story catalogues the events preceding the war and continues through to its height. Again, a great move on the author’s part to give the novel solid grounding. Most people who dislike fiction have a difficult time suspending belief to fully enjoy the read. The best fiction novels therefore, give enough of a factual basis to make a reader feel comfortable before asking him/her to totally disregard what they know to be real. This book uses actual events like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a backdrop for a story filled with the fantastical powers and imaginary creatures.
While historical context remains one of its strong points, it’s also where the book’s issues lie. The line between historical accuracy and fancy is a fine one to walk for many authors. With this book, I felt Mercedes got lost sometimes, spending a little too much time re-telling history instead of advancing the story line. This led to quite a few lackluster parts and a sluggish read. With a more evenly distributed emphasis, this could have been quite the page turner. Instead, I found myself putting it down a lot more than I would ordinarily do.
The story also tends to take on a preachy tone in parts due to the controversial nature of the historical context. So many times, I found myself rolling my eyes at paragraphs about the horrors of war, the unjust treatment of the English class system and the utter disregard for the power and intelligence of women. While the last example went a long way to explain Richard Whitestone’s eventual demise, the “way” was way too long. I eventually found it and other soapbox diatribes to be really distracting.
Lastly, historical accuracy also caused the author rely too much on authentic character speak. Most of the characters in this story spoke with a Yorkshire accent, which I equate to mean weird words, erratic apostrophes and letter swapping on a scale that I’ve never seen before. If I were preparing these characters for the stage, I’d appreciate the attempt to recreate dialect in written form. But, I’m just reading for pleasure, that crap is just plain annoying. My internal voice wants nothing more than to effortlessly glide over the dialogue for maximum comprehension, not debate the meaning of a word like “th’a’sost.”
Overall, it’s not a bad read – one you’ll manage to finish without ripping out tufts of your hair. For that I give it 4 out of 5 stars.