From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey
The most recent addition to Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS series of stand-alone retold fairy tales is a version of Rapunzel set in the Black Forest of Germany. Giselle (Rapunzel) is the natural daughter of a poor man who made a desperate deal that required him to give Giselle to a witch when she was born. The witch was an Earth Master who raises Giselle (who turns out to be an Air Master) as her own daughter. One day, when Giselle is locked in her tower bedroom while her mother is out of town, she lets a handsome man climb up her fast-growing golden hair. This turns out badly.
At this point the story loses its Rapunzelness as Giselle becomes a sharpshooter and decides to join Captain Cody’s traveling Wild West Show as an Annie Oakley type character. Since the show is touring Central Europe, Rosamund (the Red Riding Hood monster hunter from Blood Red, the previous ELEMENTAL MASTERS novel) joins them and befriends Giselle. Together they fight some supernatural creatures and, eventually, the villain of the story.
I haven’t loved any of the ELEMENTAL MASTERS novels and I’ve been downright disappointed in the last few. I have a feeling that From a High Tower will be my last one. The stories have become mind-numbingly simple and slow, with dull characters who lead mostly dull lives until something exciting happens in the last few pages. In From a High Tower, we don’t even know who the villain is until he finally arrives to be quickly and easily dispatched at the end of the book. Until then the plot ambles about purposelessly, with Mercedes Lackey throwing in a few ghosts, various bits of Eastern European folklore, and even the Hansel and Gretel story. None of these detours is essential to the plot — they are filler until the villain shows up.
All of the ELEMENTAL MASTERS books have a bit of social commentary. In this one Lackey raises some of the problems with how Native Americans have been treated by European Americans. I always appreciate that she addresses social problems in these books, but they are dealt with so simplistically and superficially that it’s hard to see the point. They go no deeper than what you might expect to read in a fourth grade American History textbook. They are way below a level that would inform or inspire contemplation from the target audience.
However, I did learn something while reading From a High Tower. Giselle keeps mentioning how the Germans have been influenced by Karl May’s adventure novels featuring Native Americans. Apparently Germans have a different perception of “Cowboys and Indians” than Americans do because Karl May, who never visited the Wild West of which he wrote, had no idea what he was talking about. That was interesting and I looked up Karl May on Wikipedia to learn a bit more.
There are several plot elements in From a High Tower that are puzzling. Why does Giselle’s original family disappear from the story? I kept expecting them to show up, especially since Giselle is aware of them, but they never did. It would have been nice to see what happened to them after the father made that awful bargain. Where did Giselle get her powers and how did her adoptive mother know she would have them? Since she traveled on dangerous missions, why didn’t Giselle’s mother prepare for her own death? She leaves Giselle penniless with no information about how to survive (such as where she keeps the money) and little insight into her own powers. That didn’t have to happen. Of course, if it didn’t, there wouldn’t have been this story… such as it is.
Audible Studios produced the audio version of From a High Tower. It’s 12 hours long. Jennifer Van Dyck has a pleasant voice and does a nice job with the narration, but it wasn’t enough to save this story.