Phoenix and Ashes, the third installment in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series -- which includes The Serpent's Shadow and The Gates of Sleep -- is a dark and fantastical retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale set in WWI England.
For young Eleanor Robinson, life is idyllic -- her widowed father is a wealthy business owner, everyone in the small English community happily coexists with everyone else, and Eleanor even has aspirations of attending Oxford in the fall. But then, in a matter of months, her whole world is turned upside down. Arriving home from an out-of-town business trip, Eleanor's father shows up with a new wife on his arm, as well as her two daughters. The warm, loving household is suddenly turned upside down by the evil machinations of a truly wicked woman and her two materialistic offspring. With the beginning of WWI, Eleanor's father voluntarily enlists and is killed in action -- leaving poor Eleanor in the hands of her stepmother. To make matters worse, her stepmother is a powerful Elemental Master who, through ritualistic black magic, binds her to the house. No matter how hard she tries, Eleanor is forever enslaved inside her own home. But as the stepmother and her daughters plot to seduce a local military hero (who happens to be handsome and rich), Eleanor begins to come to grips with her own budding Elemental powers.
Fans of fantasy novels with strong fairy tale elements -- like Patricia A. McKillip's Alphabet of Thorn and In the Forests of Serre -- will enjoy Lackey's newest, especially the happily-ever-after ending. Paul Goat Allen