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The Serpent's Shadow (Elemental Masters Series #2)

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From the magical mysteries of India to the gaslit streets of Victorian London, Mercedes Lackey's unique departure from her Valdemar series follows a young woman doctor as she searches for the secret behind the sorcery in her blood.
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The Serpent's Shadow (Elemental Masters Series #2)

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Overview

From the magical mysteries of India to the gaslit streets of Victorian London, Mercedes Lackey's unique departure from her Valdemar series follows a young woman doctor as she searches for the secret behind the sorcery in her blood.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Maya's father was a perfectly respectable British doctor in Victoria's Army, which was stationed in India. While the British were despised by most of the people of India, her father was liked and even admired by those he cared for. But then he fell in love with Surya, a beautiful, compelling, and magical native. They ignored the taboos of both their cultures, married, and produced a child. Her name was Maya, and she was instantly an outcast in both cultures.

Although Maya's parents tried to raise her awareness of the realities of being a Eurasian child, even they were unprepared for the hatred of Shivani, Surya's twin sister. Shivani hated all things British -- and half-British. She first caused the death of Maya's mother, and then her father. Maya knew she was next.

Escaping to London seemed the only real choice for her -- after all, she was half-British. To complicate matters, her aunt was a powerful Indian sorceress with far-reaching powers. Although Maya was positive that she had her mother's gifts as well, she felt out-gunned, having never received any serious training in the "arts" from her mother. Before her death, however, Surya often told Maya that her gifts ran through her father's line, and that she would have to study among his people.

Having inherited both the skills of her father as a doctor and the magical abilities of her mother, albeit without the proper training, she felt she had no choice but to move to England. There, she felt she would be safe from her aunt and able to practice the medicine that she loved.

Once in England, Maya's drive to learn more about magic and medicine propels her forward into some unlikely situations and revelations. She discovers that her mother was right about one thing: Maya is, in fact, the prophesied Earth Master. The story line that leads up to Maya's eventual confrontation with her evil aunt Shivani is both exciting and surprising, especially the scenes taking place in London. Lackey really outdoes herself when describing life in a London that none of us will ever know; the sights, sounds, and smells are rich and intense.

The surprises have more to do with character development than heart-pounding action. And, as usual with a Mercedes Lackey story, there is romance. But please don't judge this as a romance; there are also aspects of mystery, suspense, and historical fiction. And in the end, you get a great fantasy.

One of the most interesting characters in the story was Peter Scott, water mage and member of the society of magicians known as the Council of Elemental Masters, who is put on the scent of "...new magic in town. Earth Magic, but not our Earth Magic." He is put on the trail of locating the untrained mage who will become his soul mate, an equal in magical power and stature among Britain's greatest magic wielders.

The Serpent's Shadow has terrific pacing -- it's one of those books that you just can't seem to put down. This fantasy is well worth your time, especially if you're already a Mercedes Lackey fan. (Stephen Patterson)

KLIATT
It's 1909 and intelligent, talented Maya Witherspoon wants to practice as a doctor in London with two major strikes against her—she's female and of mixed blood. In her favor is that she's already a licensed physician in her native India, knows the proper dress and manners of her British father, and has a determination to help those in need. She also knows some minor sorcery from both her British and Brahmin heritage. Her patience in wearing black wool and corsets, combined with a promise to help the poor (rather than competing with the young male doctors), gain her the certification to work at the hospital, as well as opening a clinic in her own home. She must use her wits to protect against losing her position and faces harassment at the hospital where she works. At night, she can relax in her solarium of tropical plants with her parents' manservant, Gupta, and his family along with various animal friends, each with their own hint of magic. Then, her magical abilities come into play not just for healing, but also for protection. For Maya has an enemy, a dangerous one, who killed her parents and forced her to flee India. Maya's enemy plans to bring the vengeance of Kali down on the British invaders of India, a sweeping massacre beginning with the blood sacrifice of Maya herself! This is an intriguing variation on the "Snow White" story, but much more important, it's a great refresher course in human rights as told in an entertaining tale of magic and romance with a real respect for the material presented. It's an excellent way to introduce contemporary teenagers to how only 100 years ago, women were intentionally kept short on resources for freedom to travel, to leave abusiverelationships, to seek fulfilling employment, and to determine the treatment of their own bodies. Intelligent, well rounded and highly recommended for initiating classroom discus- sions of prejudice and progress. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, DAW, 398p.,
— Liz LaValley
VOYA
Maya's mother was a Brahmin aristocrat of the highest caste and a powerful sorceress. Her father was a prominent British physician who married for love and never regretted it. Magic begins to stir in Maya before her mother, who died in a cholera epidemic, had a chance to prepare her daughter for her heritage. Nevertheless she did warn her, "Beware the Serpent's Shadow." Soon after, her father dies from the bite of a tiny, venomous serpent, and Maya flees to Victorian London, taking her mother's pets—Indian gods in disguise—and loyal household servants with her. Trained in medicine by her father and at the University of Delhi, Maya was a respected doctor in India. In England, she faces a narrow-minded, prejudiced society and medical administration but wins the right to practice medicine even so. Using her healing arts, however, brings her to the attention of powerful adepts, who send a Water Master to investigate. He recognizes her talent as an untrained Earth Master, begins to instruct her, and falls in love. Meanwhile, the Serpent's Shadow—actually her mother's sister and a powerful practitioner of the arts—has followed Maya to England. She plans to kill her niece as she did Maya's parents. East meets West and right prevails in a work of romantic suspense that is fast-paced, diverting fun. The novel is a treat for fairy tale fans as well as those who love an intriguing fantasy or a satisfying romance. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, DAW, 343p, $23.95. Ages 12 to Adult. Reviewer: BonnieKunzel
Library Journal
As a physician operating among London's poor in the early years of the 20th century, Dr. Maya Witherspoon has two strikes against her her gender and her status as the half-breed daughter of an Englishman and a Hindu woman. The magic she possesses, however, assists her not only in her work but also in fighting off an assassin bent on destroying her through the use of dark powers. The author of the popular "Valdemar" series turns her hand to historical fantasy in this intriguing and compelling re-creation of England in the waning days of its imperial glory. (This is also the first volume in a new three-book series inspired by classic fairy tales.) A good choice for Lackey's large readership as well as fans of period fiction. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
When the sun never set on Britannia, many disgruntled natives living in India turn to the dark side by worshipping the evil Goddess Kali-Purga. Most of the followers joined the deadly thugee cult, a group that used force to obtain their demands. Shivani is a high priestess who loathes the English. She uses her powers to kill her sister who had the audacity to marry a British doctor and to make matters worse, she had a daughter with the foreigner.When Shivani murders her father, Maya flees India for the relative safety of London where she tends to the medical needs of the poor. Shivani follows her to London, planning to cause mass chaos, trepidation, and death in order to force the infidel English from her country. Shivani also plans to kill Maya, but that proves difficult as she is closely guarded and has own powers. The Serpent's Shadow is a beautiful fantasy tale that leaves the audience believing in a happily ever after. Mercedes Lackey's latest novel will please romance fans as well. This adult fairy tale is brilliantly crafted just as the previous tale in this series, The Summer Rise is. A secondary character deserves his story be told in a future edition. Recapture the innocence and pleasures of youth with this fabulous novel.
Kirkus Reviews
Snow White variant set in Edwardian London, from the author of Brightly Burning (2000), etc. Dr Maya Witherspoon, her Indian mother dead, her English father mysteriously killed by snakebite, sets up a practice in London, having fled the vengeful fury of her aunt Shivani, a magic-powered devotee of Kali. Shivani apparently regarded the mixed marriage as a deadly insult to her Brahmin family. Maya inherited a coterie of animals from her mother—they may be avatars of various Hindu gods and goddesses. And she possesses huge Earth Mage magic potential, but lacks training. Her strong but amateurish magical defenses come to the attention of London's White Lodge, who send along former sea captain and Water Mage Peter Scott to investigate. The Lodge master, however, won't consider admitting women or lower-class individuals, so Peter undertakes to teach Maya basic techniques. She already uses magic in healing. Shivani, meanwhile, takes up residence in London, sending forth her magic and her Thuggee servants to seek out her quarry. A promising start, with plenty of solid period detail and a splash of feminism, but disappointingly developed, with a thin, poorly motivated plot and a showdown that just hangs out to dry.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480592308
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 3/18/2014
  • Series: Elemental Masters Series , #2
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the best-selling Heralds Of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots. She can be found at mercedeslackey.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Leaden, self-important silence isolated the chief surgeon's office from the clamor of the hospital and the clangor of the street outside. A rain-dark day, a dim, chill room filled with cold, heavy, imposing mahogany office furniture and lined with ebony bookshelves containing dreary brown leather-bound volumes so perfectly arranged that it was not possible that any of them had ever been taken down and used—the room in which Maya found herself was designed to cow, confine, and intimidate. But Maya Witherspoon, though depressed by an atmosphere so alien to her native India, had spent most of her life perfecting the art of keeping a serene and unreadable expression on her face. All that practice stood her in good stead now.

Across from her, enthroned behind his mahogany desk of continental proportions, sat Doctor Octavian Clayton-Smythe, Chief Medical Officer of St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in the rattling heart of London. One of Kipling's "little tin gods," she thought irreverently, clasping her ice-cold, black-gloved hands tightly on top of the handbag in her lap. He would fit in quite perfectly in the Colonial Service.

Stiffly propped up in his armor of utter respectability . . . so sure of his importance, so intent on forcing others to acknowledge it.

Cocooned in the somber black woolen suit of the medical profession, as if he sat in mourning for all the patients he had managed to kill, he frowned down at the results of her various academic examinations—results that should leave no doubt in the mind of any sensible person that she was fitter to be granted the sacred title of "Doctor of Medicine and Surgery" than a good many of the young men who would have that very accolade bestowed on them in the course of this year of Our Lord, 1909. In point of fact, she already had that title—in her homeland of India. This, however, was not India; it was London, England, the heart of the British Empire and of civilization as the English knew it. And as such, there were two distinct handicaps to her ambition that Maya labored beneath at this moment. The first was her sex. Although female doctors were not unknown here, there were no more than three hundred in the British Isles, and most probably the actual number was less than that.

The second was that although Maya's father had been a perfectly respectable British doctor serving in the Army, stationed at Delhi, and although Maya herself had obtained her degree as a physician in the University of Delhi, her mother had not been a fellow exile. She had been a native, a Brahmin of high caste. And although in India it had been Surya who had wedded far beneath her state, the reverse was true here, and Maya, as a (to put it crudely) half-breed, bore the sign of her mother's non-English blood in her dusky complexion. All else could be disguised with education, clothing, careful diction, but not that. Maya's knee-length black hair had been knotted into a pompadour and covered with a proper hat and veil, her body wrapped in good British wool of proper tailoring, her accent trained away with years of careful, self-imposed lessons in speech. Yet none of that mattered very much to someone who was so fiercely determined to consider Maya as one of the barbaric and alien "They."

It was raining again outside the hospital; it seemed to Maya that it was always raining here. Cold wind blew the raindrops against the glass of the office windows, and Maya was glad of the warmth of her woolen suit coat—for she, too, was encased in the feminine version of the uniform of the office she aspired to, plus the added burden of corset, petticoats, and all the other wrappings deemed necessary to "decent" dressing. Doctor Clayton-Smythe had a gas fire laid on in his office, but he had not bothered to have it lit. Perhaps he didn't feel the cold; after all, it was spring by the British calendar, and the good doctor had plenty of good English fat to insulate him, seallike, from the cold.

He looks more like a walrus, though. I believe he probably bellows at his wife, and means as much by it as a walrus bellowing at his little cow.

Doctor Clayton-Smythe cleared his throat, immediately capturing her attention.

"Your results are . . . remarkable," he said cautiously.

She nodded, part modest acknowledgment, part caution on her own part. In a way, she felt strangely calm; she had been nervous before this battle, but now that the enemy was engaged, her mind was cool, weighing every least inflection. Not yet time to say anything, I think.

Now the doctor looked up, at long last, meeting her eyes for the first time. He was a heavy man; the English staple diet of cream, cheese, beef and bread, vegetables boiled to tastelessness, heavy pastry, and more beef, had given him a florid complexion and jowls that were only imperfectly hidden behind old-fashioned gray mutton-chop whiskers and a heavy mustache, a salt-and-pepper color that matched his hair. If he doesn't yet suffer from gout, he will, she thought dispassionately, and his heart will not long be able to maintain his increasing bulk. Gray hair, neatly trimmed, and rather washed-out blue eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses completed the portrait of a highly successful physician and surgeon; the head of his hospital, and a man who could deny her, not only the right to practice here in his hospital but certification to practice medicine in the British Isles if he chose to exert his influence. However, Maya had chosen her adversary with care; if this man certified her, no one in the United Kingdom would ever deny her expertise.

"How old are you, if I may ask?" he continued.

"Five and twenty," she replied crisply. "And that may seem a trifle young to you to have become a physician and surgeon. But I had been studying medicine under the tutelage of my father since I was old enough to read, and achieved Doctor of Medicine at the University of Delhi at the age of twenty-two."

He nodded slowly. "And you were practicing alongside your father as well?"

"I was certified in India as a practicing physician," she reminded him, taking pains to keep her impatience and growing frustration out of her voice. "I was my father's partner in his practice. Wives and daughters of military personnel felt more comfortable consulting a female physician in matters of a personal and delicate nature. I aided him as a physician in my own right for a period of nearly four years."

"That was in India; you might find ladies feel differently about you here," he replied, the expected hint that her mixed blood would prove a handicap, and a more tactful hint than she had expected.

She smiled a small, cold smile, as cold as her feet in those wretched, tight little leather "walking" shoes she'd laced onto her feet. "The women of the poor take what they are offered; and for that matter, so do the men," she told him. "They can hardly afford to take their patronage elsewhere, since there is no alternative. I will—if certified—be undertaking work for certain Christian charities. The Fleet Charity Clinic, to be precise." There were also certain suffragist charities she would be working for as well, but it wasn't wise to mention those.

Charity work would scarcely allow her to earn much of a living, which was why most male physicians wouldn't even consider it. She would not tell him what else she had in mind to augment her income.

He brightened a little at that. Probably because I won't be a threat to the practices of any of the young male physicians, who have wives with the proper attitudes to support, she thought, amused in spite of her resentment. She suppressed the desire to sniff, as her nose tickled a little.

"Far be it from me to become an impediment to someone who wishes to devote herself to the welfare of the poor," he replied with ponderous piety, and removed a document from beneath the results of her examinations, signing it quickly. He passed it to her over the desk; she received it in those black-gloved hands—black, for she was still in mourning for her father, and though Society might forgive the occasional breach of strict mourning in a young white woman, it would never do so for her. The year of formal mourning was not yet up, and in the interest of economy, she had already decided to prolong it as long as she could. Mourning colors gave her a certain safety. Even a brute would not offer too much insult to a woman in mourning, even if she was a half-breed.

That paper was her medical certification, giving her the authority to practice medicine, and the right to practice surgery here in this hospital, admit patients, and treat them here.

"Congratulations, Doctor Witherspoon," he continued. "And may I repeat that the results of your examinations are remarkable, including those in surgery. I dare say your skills are equally outstanding."

"Thank you very much, Doctor," she replied with feigned meekness and gratitude; he swelled with self-importance, mistaking it for the genuine emotion. "I hope I will succeed in surpassing your expectations."

She rose. He did the same. She extended her right hand; he pressed it once in token of farewell, released it quickly, then immediately seated himself as she turned to leave. She was not important enough for him to remain standing until after she was gone, nor worthy of his time to be given a heartier handshake or more of his attention.

She closed the door of the office behind her, carefully and quietly, then smiled—this time with real warmth—at the doctor's receptionist and secretary, a young man with thin, blond hair, who had sincerely wished her good luck on her way in. She met his questioning blue eyes, and held up her signed certification in a gesture of triumph. The young man nodded vigorously, clasped both hands above his head in an athlete's gesture of victory, and gave a silent cheer. Maya's companion, a plump, animated woman three years her junior, who was seated in one of two chairs for visitors placed in this stuffy little reception room, was a trifle less circumspect.

"Oh, Maya! Well done!" Amelia Drew said aloud, leaping up from her chair to embrace her friend. Maya kissed her proffered cheek, waved cheerfully at the secretary, and guided Amelia out the door and into the hospital corridor before Amelia said anything that Doctor Clayton-Smythe might overhear and interpret as unflattering.

Nurses in nunlike uniforms hurried past, carrying trays and basins. Young men, medical students all, arrayed in their medical black, strode through the corridor like the would-be kings they all were.

Maya closed the reception-chamber door behind Amelia, and Amelia cast off any pretense of restraint, skipping like a schoolgirl. "You did it! You got the old crustacean to bend and give you your certification!"

"Not a crustacean, my dear. That was a fat, grumpy walrus on his very own sacred spot of beach." Maya's grimace betrayed her distaste. "It was a narrower thing than I care to think about." She stepped around an elderly charwoman scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees, bundled in so many layers of clothing her true shape could not be determined.

Amelia dodged a medical student on the run—probably late for a surgery. "But your marks were so good. And the letters from the other doctors at Royal Free Hospital—"

"I wasn't entirely certain of success, even with the highest of examination results," she replied, as they traversed the polished oak of the corridor, the starched frills of their petticoats rustling around their booted ankles. Amelia's costume, severe, and plain, was identical to Maya's but of dove-gray rather than stark black. Amelia was in the midst of her own medical education. Fortunately, both her parents were as supportive of her ambition as Maya's had been. Unfortunately, this gave young Amelia a distorted view of the prejudices of the majority of the male population of her land.

"I don't think I convinced him until I told him that I intended to practice among the poor." Maya smiled again, then laughed, thinking what shock the poor mummified man would have felt had she told him the entire truth.

"There's no harm in intentions, is there?" Amelia giggled. "And if there are those besides the poor who decide to ask for your services, well, that has nothing to do with your intentions."

"True enough," Maya laughed. "But can you imagine what he would have said if he had known what I really planned to do?" Now that she was up and moving, warmth and life had returned to her feet, at least. And now that the ordeal was over and her victory laurels were firmly in her hands, she was feeling celebratory and just a little reckless.

Amelia was the only person outside Maya's household who knew what Maya intended, and even she blushed a brilliant scarlet as they moved side by side across the echoing foyer, heels clicking smartly on the tiles. "I daren't even guess," Amelia murmured, fanning her scarlet cheeks to cool them.

Just before they reached the doors giving out onto the street, Maya's fingers moved surreptitiously, and she murmured a few words that Amelia did not hear. She sensed a thin breath of energy wafting upward from the well of strength within her, and as they stepped out into the weather, the rain ceased for a moment.

"Well! There's more luck!" Amelia exclaimed as the clouds parted a little, letting a glimpse of blue peek through. She raised her hand imperiously, signaling their need for transportation. There was always a great coming and going of cabs here, both horse-drawn and motorized, and they procured a hansom without any difficulty whatsoever. Maya climbed in and gave her address to the driver through the little hatch above. It shut with a snap, and Amelia joined her.

It was, as she had specified with her tiny exercise of magic, a clean cab: no mud or worse on the floor, no cigar ash anywhere. And just as they settled themselves within the shelter of their conveyance and pulled their skirts well in, away from possible mud splashes, the rain began again. The cab moved off into a thin curtain of gray, the poor horse's ears signaling his dislike of the wet.

This was just as Maya had intended. It didn't do to change anything with magic, not if one wanted to remain undetected; one could only arrange. In this case, the break in the clouds that would have occurred a little later, and a few blocks away, happened above them and at the time they left the building, and closed again as soon as they were in shelter. And the cab was in good repair, the driver neither drunk nor mean spirited.

The precious certificate, now folded and safely inside Maya's handbag, rested beneath her hands on her lap. Amelia made small talk to which Maya responded with half of her attention. London, from within the partial enclosure of the hansom, was an assault on the senses of a very different sort than the heart of Delhi. In place of the scent—no, call it what it was, the stench—of hot, baked earth, dust, sweat, and dung, the smell of London enveloped them in damp, mold and mildew, wet wool, wet horse, smoke, stagnant water, the acrid tang of motor exhaust, a hint of sewage and horse droppings, and the river smell of the Thames. Harsher, deeper voices than the rapid twitter of her peoples' myriad tongues fell upon the ear.

There was no bawl of livestock, only the clatter of wheels and hooves on cobblestones, neighing, the jingle of harness, and the alien noise of a motorcar or 'bus. And, of course, the atmosphere, so cheerless, so cold. . . .But she had no other choice now; this was her home, and this strange island her refuge. If she was ever to find protection, it would be here. Her enemy was even more alien to this environment than she was.

She shook off her dark mood with an effort, turning all of her attention to her companion. Amelia was the most sensible, practical, and dauntless young woman that Maya had ever met. From the moment that they encountered each other at the London School of Medicine for Women, Maya had felt they had been friends or even sisters before, in some other lifetime. Naturally, she had not said anything of the sort to Amelia, who would only have been confused. The Church of England did not admit to the reincarnation of souls.

"Well, it will be your turn to beard the dragon in his den in another year or so," she told Amelia, who laughed.

"I am going to practice at the Royal Free Hospital," she replied. "They, at least, are open to women physicians. I'm not so ambitious as you."

"It wasn't ambition, it was necessity," Maya told her soberly. "What if Royal Free had balked? I would have nowhere to turn—"

"But why should they balk?" Amelia interrupted.

Maya gestured wordlessly to her own face, and Amelia flushed. "If I tried and failed to obtain certification at St. Mary's, then Royal Free would likely have certified me just out of spite," she continued cheerfully. "My father always taught me to try the hardest path first, you know, although if I had seen that man before I made that plan, I would have thought twice about the wisdom of it."

"I hadn't thought of that." Amelia pursed her lips. "Still, that won't do for me.

St. Mary's might accept a woman physician, but they'll never accept a woman as a student. Not now, anyway. Perhaps in a few years."

"There is nothing wrong with Royal Free," Maya said firmly, "And a good many things that are right." She might have elaborated on the subject, but the cab had just turned down the shabby-genteel street that housed her home and surgery and was pulling up at the front door. Gupta, a shapeless bundle of waxed mackintosh and identifiable only by the white chalwars stuffed into his Wellingtons that peeked from under the hem of the mac, was setting the last screw into the inscribed brass plate beside her door—a plate that proclaimed this to be the surgery of Dr. M. Witherspoon.

"I suppose we won't see much of you anymore," Amelia said wistfully, as Maya dismounted from the hansom.

"Nonsense! You'll see me on Thursday at the latest, or have you forgotten our luncheon date?" Maya replied instantly. "Not to mention that you are welcome here at any hour of the day or night. Now, you go back to your studies, while I see what Gupta has found for me."

She circled around to the driver, perched up above the passenger compartment in the weather, and handed him a guinea—more than enough for her fare and Amelia's with a generous tip. "London School of Medicine for Women, please," she told him briskly.

"My companion has a class at two."

"I'll 'ave 'er there well afore, ma'am," the cabby said, impressed by the guinea, if by nothing else. He chirruped to his horse, who trotted off without needing a slap of the reins or a touch of the whip. Amelia's gray-gloved hand waved farewell from the side of the cab, and Maya turned to Gupta.

"Was this bravado or anticipation, my friend?" she asked in Hindustani, touching the plaque.

"Neither, mem sahib," Gupta replied. "We knew, we all knew, you could not fail."

His round, brown face held an expression of such earnest certainty that she wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

"Well, let us go in out of this miserable weather. Come to me in the conservatory, and tell me what has happened to make you so sure of me." She waited while he put a last polish to the plate with a rag he stuffed back in his pocket, then moved past him into the little house she had bought to shelter her odd little "family."

It had taken most of her inheritance to buy it and fit it up, and had it been in better repair, or a better neighborhood, she could not have managed it. But because it was so shabby and had required the tearing out of walls, she had been able to install a great many comforts that better dwellings could not boast. The house was lit by electric light, which was much safer than gas. Hot water from a coal-fired boiler in the cellar circulated through the house via pipes and radiators, a luxury often used to keep conservatories and hothouses warm in winter on the Great Estates. More hot water was available for cleaning and bathing at all times, laid on in the bathrooms, without the need to heat water on the stove and carry it up in cans. At last she was warm enough so that she was able to throw off her coat as soon as she entered the front hall.

She had arranged for the hallway to be painted, rather than papered, in white. Furnished with pegs for coats, a bench for waiting patients, and a small table holding a brass dish from India for calling cards, she had hung prints of some of her father's favorite paintings on the walls. The impression was warmer than that of a hospital, but not "homelike"—wise, since this was the entrance to her surgery as well as to her home.

It was scarcely possible that she would have any patients calling yet, and she longed to shed her woolen suit with the coat and revert to more comfortable garb.

Not yet. Not yet. But I shall be rid of these confounded shoes! Why is it that attractive shoes are a torture to wear?

Hanging her coat on its peg in the hall, she passed the door to her examining room and surgery (formerly the parlor and smoking room) and climbed the stairs to the next floor. Here were the bedrooms, all alike, and the bathroom fitted up with the most modern of appointments. Her room was at the back of the house, away from street noise. The second bedroom, connected to hers, served as her parlor and sitting room.

Gupta had the third bedroom, and his son Gopal and his son's wife Sumi the fourth.

Gopal and Sumi's four children shared the nursery on the floor above, where the servants' quarters had once been. Gupta had been her father's friend as well as his servant—but more importantly, he had been Surya's devoted guardian. There had been no question of whether or not the family would emigrate when Maya fled to England; she would have had to lock them all in prison to prevent them from coming with her.

Gupta had seen a great deal in his fifty-odd years, and she rather thought he was unshockable, which was just as well, considering what she was planning. She needed the help of a male to carry it out, and Gupta was the ideal man for the job.

The door to her bedroom stood invitingly open, and she hurried through it. With a sigh of relief, she sank down into a chair and unlaced her shoes. Exchanging them for soft leather slippers, she hesitated a moment, then shrugged.

Ridiculous. There is no reason to go out, and unlikely that anyone but a friend will call. I am getting out of this rig!

The rooms of this house were so tiny, compared with those in the bungalow in India.

She had enough room to pass between the pieces of furniture, chair, bed, trunk, wardrobe, and table, but no more. Never, ever would she have needed the featherbed at home! Here, it, and the down-filled duvet and woolen blankets were absolute necessities, for not even the hot-water pipes could prevent the house from cooling at night.

In a trice, she slipped off the coat and skirt of her suit and hung them up on the outside of the mahogany wardrobe to be brushed later. The shirtwaist followed, then the corset cover, which she laid on the lace coverlet of the bed, and at last she could unhook the front busk of the corset and rid herself of the unwelcome constriction. At last she could move! She never laced her corsets anywhere near as tight as fashion dictated; she flattered herself to think that she didn't need to. Nevertheless, the garment restricted movement, if only because it was designed around what a lady would consider appropriate movement. Maya had chafed against those restrictions as a girl, and her feelings hadn't changed in the least now that she was an adult.

Fashion be hanged.

The corset joined the rest of her undergarments on the bed. Donning a far more comfortable flannel wrapper dress of a chocolate brown over her uncorseted petticoat, she went back out into the hall, then descended the stair at her end of the upstairs hall, passing the kitchen on her way to the conservatory. Gopal was in the throes of creativity in there, and she paused a moment to sniff the heavenly, familiar aromas appreciatively. Gopal had reacted to the presence of the modern iron stove set into the arch of the fireplace with tears of joy—though many of his countrymen preferred to cook over a tiny charcoal fire, Gopal was an artist and appreciated good tools. With so many thousands of British soldiers and civilians going out to Colonial Service and returning with a hunger for the foods they had grown accustomed to, it was a simple matter for Gopal to procure virtually any spice or foodstuff he required for them all to eat the way they had at home.

Home. Odd how the other Eurasians she had met would speak of Britain as Home—a "home" they had never seen—with as much longing as the expatriates. Home for Maya was and always would be India, the place where she had been born and where she had spent most of her life. How could you long for a place you had never even seen?

She stepped through the French doors into the warmth of her conservatory—which had required the lion's share of her inheritance to build—and was almost Home.

A little judicious use of magic had caused the flowering vines planted around the walls of the conservatory to grow at an accelerated pace, hiding the brickwork and the view of the houses on all sides. Passion flowers flung their great starburst blooms against the green of the vines. In bloom at all times and seasons, they filled the air with perfume, as did the jasmine, both day- and night-blooming. A fountain and generous pool added warm humidity and the music of falling water, the hot-water pipes around the perimeter a tropical heat. Here were the flowers she loved, and here, too, were her pets—Not pets. Friends.

They rushed to greet her as soon as she set food on the gravel of her path—first the pair of mongooses, Sia and Singhe, romping toward her with their peculiar humpbacked gait. Rhadi, the ring-necked parrot, dove for her right shoulder, long tail trailing out behind him like a streamer, while the saker falcon Mala dropped down onto her left. Neither so much as scratched her skin, so soft footed were they, and though Mala was death incarnate to the sparrows, starlings, and pigeons, he would sooner starve than touch a feather of Rhadi's head. The peacock Rajah strode toward her with more dignity, his tail spread for her admiration. And last of all, Charan, her little monkey, sprang into her arms as soon as she held them out for him. Only the owl, named Nisha, whose round eyes seemed to stare straight into one's heart, did not stir from her slumber in the hollow of a dead oak tree that showed what a fine garden had once stood here. Maya had left it there for the benefit of her birds, who all found it a fine place to perch, and the vines twined around it just as happily as they climbed the brick of the walls, giving it a kind of new life.

"And have you been good?" she asked them all, as the mongooses romped around her ankles and the monkey put his arms around her neck, chattering softly into her ear.

The falcon gave her a swift touch of his beak by way of a caress, and took off again to land in the tree.

The peacock shivered his tail feathers, and Rhadi said in his clear little voice, "Good! Good!" and laughed, following Mala up into the tree.

She laughed with him, and carried Charan to her favorite seat in the garden, a closely-woven rattan chair with a huge back that mimicked a peacock's tail. From here she could see only the green of her plants, the fountain and pool; she could forget for a while the cold world outside.

In a moment, Gopal brought mint tea, and placed the tray with two glasses on the rattan table beside her. Gupta arrived without a sound, as was his wont, materializing beside her and taking a second, smaller chair on the other side of the table, also facing the pool and fountain. He poured for both of them, and they each took a moment to savor the hot sweetness in companionable silence.

"We will prosper, mem sahib," Gupta said with satisfaction, putting his glass back down empty. "We will prosper. There is great progress today." He smiled. "I went, as you instructed, to the theater last night. I left your card with the man who attends to the stage door, and also with the stage manager, and the ballet master.

I made mention that you were of liberal mind, and not one of those inclined to attempt reform on those who were merely making a living for themselves. It was he who asked for several more cards, on seeing it and hearing my words, and made me to believe that he would be giving them to some of the young ladies."

"Aha!" Maya responded. The cards she had given to Gupta, unlike her "official" business cards, had not been printed up, but had been calligraphed elegantly and by her own hand, because what they implied was risky, even scandalous.

Doctor Maya Witherspoon, Lady Physician. Female complaints. Absolute discretion, and her address. On the next lot, she would add, Licensed to practice at St. Mary's, Paddington, and Royal Free Hospital.

What the cards implied was that she would treat the women who came to her for treatment of their "female complaints"—including inconvenient or unwedded pregnancy—without a lecture or a word slipped outside the office. And that she would give instructions and supplies to prevent inconvenient pregnancy, regardless of marital status.

"Ah, but I was wise and cunning, mem sahib," Gupta continued, his face wreathed in smiles. "I followed well-dressed gentlemen as they left the theater last night, and marked the houses they went to. This morning I looked the houses over, and chose the finest. There, too, did I leave your card, and pleased were the dwellers in those places to see it, though one did sigh that it was too bad you were a lady and they could not pay for your services with an exchange of trade."

"Gupta!" she exclaimed, and giggled, although her cheeks did heat up. "That was very well done! How clever of you!" She had not been able to work out a way to get her cards into the hands of the mistresses of the wealthy men of London. Now Gupta had managed that, and once one or two of the "Great Horizontals" came to her, they would see that the rest of their set knew her name.

"Yes," Gupta replied, not at all modest. "I know, mem sahib. I think you will have callers tomorrow, if not today." He cast his eye around the garden, which was growing darker as evening approached. "Will you have your tea here, mem sahib? I could light the lamps."

"Please," she said, as Charan nestled down into a corner of the chair. "And if friends call, bring them here instead of the parlor."

"And callers of another sort?" Gupta raised his eyebrows to signal what he meant.

"Use your own judgment," she told him. "You are a wise man, Gupta; I think you will know best whether to summon me to the office or bring the caller here."

Gopal soon brought her tea, a hybrid mix of the High Teas of India and of Britain.

She shared the feast with her menagerie, other than Mala and Nisha, who ate only what they hunted, or the starlings and pigeons Gopal's eldest boy brought down with his catapult. Charan adored the clotted cream, as did Sia and Singhe; the latter swarmed up her skirt into her lap to lick their paws and faces clean as Rajah picked at the last tea-cake.

There is one good thing about this cold country, she thought, scratching the two little rowdies under their chins. It is too cold for snakes.

Or at least, it was at the moment.

She could only pray it would remain that way.

Reprinted Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey. By Permission of Daw Books, A Member Of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (C) 2001 Mercedes Lackey. All Rights Reserved. This Excerpt, Or Any Parts Thereof, May Not Be Reproduced in Any Form Without Permission.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 52 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Refreshing Setting and Imaginative Magic

    Fantasy seems almost entirely split between contemporary Urban Fantasy like Hamilton or the author's own Diana Tregarde novels or High Fantasy in a pseudo-medieval setting such as Tolkien or the author's own Valdemir books. So it was refreshing to read a fantasy set in Edwardian times, and a lot of the pleasure of this novel was how well it evoked that historical milieu. You don't often see heroines that hail from India either, and Maya is a very appealing heroine, one who as a female doctor in those times has had to struggle to gain respect in her profession. I would have enjoyed following her even in a purely historical novel, but I did like Lackey's magical world here very much. Original, interesting, well-thought out and I liked how the author adapted the Snow White legend in such a way as to not make the plot predictable. An enjoyable, fun read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    beautiful fantasy tale

    When the sun never set on Britannia, many disgruntled natives living in India turn to the dark side by worshipping the evil Goddess Kali-Purga. Most of the followers joined the deadly thugee cult, a group that used force to obtain their demands. Shivani is a high priestess who loathes the English. She uses her powers to kill her sister who had the audacity to marry a British doctor and to make matters worse, she had a daughter with the foreigner. <P>When Shivani murders her father, Maya flees India for the relative safety of London where she tends to the medical needs of the poor. Shivani follows her to London, planning to cause mass chaos, trepidation, and death in order to force the infidel English from her country. Shivani also plans to kill Maya, but that proves difficult as she is closely guarded and has own powers. <P>THE SERPENT¿S SHADOW is a beautiful fantasy tale that leaves the audience believing in a happily ever after. Mercedes Lackey¿s latest novel will please romance fans as well. This adult fairy tale is brilliantly crafted just as the previous tale in this series, THE SUMMER RISE is. A secondary character deserves his story be told in a future edition. Recapture the innocence and pleasures of youth with this fabulous novel. <P>Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2014

    Very Entertaining to read again and again

    For people who enjoy the combination of magic and mythology, this is an excellent book to read! Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series is fun, and exciting, and each book takes on an entirely different character. This book seamlessly melds elemental magic, or the magic of the west, with Indian mythology. She discusses the various gods and goddesses of India very briefly, with the exception of Kali Durga. I am curious of her interpretation of Kali Durga, because it is so very different from the portrayal of the eight-armed goddess from the Tiger's Curse series by Colleen Houck. I'm perplexed enough that I am interested in researching it more. One thing I do take away from it is how different people can interpret religions differently, and hold grudges toward a person who has done nothing wrong.

    The story portrays the struggles of a mixed race woman trying to make a difference in early 20th century England, with the magic thrown in everywhere for good measure, while she is being hunted by a her aunt who has never met her, but has vowed to kill her. I enjoy this book and have read it many times and plan to read it again and again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2014

    Another winner!

    Mercedes Lackey did it again! This is the best one in the series so far. Can't wait to read the next one!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    If your her how old is are you- julian

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    I am not going to tell you that but......

    I can tell you this,i was born in texas,my middle name is marie,and one of my best friends is taylor swift

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    right up my alley!

    I love this time period and magic stuff. This sort of Harry Potter for the romance set.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2012

    Hey

    Its darkurret speaking please every nonroleplayers evacuate we are going to come and take space and make this a chat site and a clan place so plzzzzzzz move out we mean no harm !!!!!"!!"!!"~ Darkurret

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2012

    Gorgeous!

    This book had simply beautiful imagery. It makes you ache to be able to truly see what's going on.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 10, 2012

    Entertaining, one of the best of the this series.

    The character is challenged by the values of the people and constrictions of society she has moved to, but tackles her problems in an very positive way. Great fantasy, and some parallels to past and present society beneath the surface.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    LOVED IT

    I have always loved fairy tales and having one I grew up with told in such a unique way was fantastic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2006

    Remarkable!

    Those who are criticising 'Serpent's Shadow' have evidently forgotten that they are reading fiction....and this is great, really great fiction. If you want a remarkably good read...just pick up a Mercedes Lackey!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2003

    a headline for your review here

    your review here: I *underline*LOVE*underline* (that isn't HTML) Mercedes Lackey... usually. I have read her Valdemar Series and her other books, and when I heard she had written a new one I was all for reading it. BUT... incorperating fantasy into historical fiction is something so far only Philip Pullman can do. This book was awful. Not up to her standards at all. She made the main character a weird slut, who is utterly dispicable. The 'bad guys' are angels by comparason. She also completly kills the sari. My question is, did she do any research at all?

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2002

    Best fantasy book I have read in a while

    I thought this book was fantastic, and definitely different from most "standard" or "generic" fantasy novels. It is refreshing to see something new. Some of the people who wrote reviews objected to wrong details of Indian culture in the book, but I didn't feel the same way--I am not any sort of an expert on Indian culture. I thought it was a wonderfully descriptive book, and very easy to picture the inner workings of the minds of the characters. A good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2002

    An amazing and thrilling novel!

    As Maya feels her magic grow she feels a romance start to bud between her and the mage who is trying to keep her and her soul together.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2002

    If I wanted a sermon, I would have went to church.

    This book disappointed me on many levels. As someone who has studied Indian culture, it was obvious she had failed to do adequate research. Also, it seemed as if the author did not always remember what she had written earlier on. The villains were very two dimensional and the heroes were the only ones who seemed to have a clue. I usually like her feminist approach to writing, but this was far too preachy by most standards. In short, she has done much better. This is hastily written fodder at best.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Ms. Lackey needs to do more research before writing.

    Though a decent effort, she misses little details that ruins the story for me and probably other people of Indian origin. People from India speak Hindi and not Hindu, which is a religion. I wold think a learned author like Lackey would do some research into the topic before writing about it. Little missed details about India and Indian religion and culture ruined the whole story for me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2002

    Magic Mystery Romance Even Action - WOW!

    Simply the most outstanding book I've had the pleasure to read in such a long time - I've pre-ordered the nest book in the series - The Gates of Sleep. Why doesn't Hollywood come running to use this book as a basis for a movie??? Lackey is a skilled writer - but not heavyhanded - brillant!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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