The Fire Rose: A Beauty and the Beast retelling

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey fantasy book reviewsThe Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS is a series of ten (so far) novels that take place on an alternate Earth where some people are born with the ability to learn to control fire, water, air, or earth. Each book is also a fairytale retelling, though you may not notice that if you’re not looking for it in the story.

The first ELEMENTAL MASTERS novel, The Fire Rose, is based on “Beauty and the Beast” and is set in 1905-1906 San Francisco. Years before, Jason, a Firemaster (the “beast” of the story), was experimenting with a dangerous magic spell. He managed to curse himself and has been living as a man-wolf ever since (this is obvious from the book’s horrid cover, so I’m not spoiling anything here). He has been searching for a way to reverse the spell, but his beastly shape makes it difficult to search his grimoires for information. (The book cover shows him with hands, but he actually has paws). So he wants to hire someone who can read ancient texts to him. That’s how he discovers the suicidal Rosalind, an educated woman who has lost everything to her deceased father’s creditors and has been forced to drop out of graduate school. Rosalind, obviously, is the “beauty” of the story, but it’s really her mind rather than her face that’s beautiful.

Rosalind thinks she’s going to be a governess, which she considers to be just a more genteel form of slavery, but when she arrives at Jason’s estate, there are no children and she is not introduced to Jason. Instead, she’s installed in a lavishly comfortable room where she reads to Jason, who’s in another room, through a speaking trumpet. During her free time, she makes friends with Jason’s lonely horse and tries to fend off the advances of his secretary, Paul du Mond. Eventually Rosalind realizes that there’s something strange going on with Jason, that Paul is a bad guy, and that there might be something to this magic stuff after all.

It’s hard not to admire Rosalind. (Well, at least it’s hard for me not to admire Rosalind.) She’s a quiet scholarly woman who wants to be educated and independent. She’s frustrated with the roles that women in her society are allowed to play and she wants to be different. Yet, she never loses her femininity.

It’s really hard to believe in Paul, the totally over-the-top villain. His crimes are so heinous that it makes me wonder if Lackey is just trying to add some titillation. Paul’s hobby is to “break in” reluctant girls who are sold to bordellos. Lackey shows us this in several nasty scenes that don’t seem to fit the fairytale tone of the rest of the story.

I was disappointed in the end of The Fire Rose. The blurb mentions the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. I assumed that this would be a major part of the plot and I kept waiting for it, but it turns out that it was a pretty minor event in the story. That was a bit anti-climactic.

Other than the weird supervillain and the very short amount of time spent with the earthquake, The Fire Rose is a decent read. It’s definitely fluffy and non-challenging, but it passes the time pleasantly (other than the scenes with Paul in the whorehouse). I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version which was nicely narrated by Kate Black-Regan. The audiobook is almost 13 hours long.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. The ending was a definite letdown. There was a nice build-up, but it was either resolved to easily…or just not integrated into the plot well enough? I don’t know. Flat. I love her writing style and the characters, but this book was not one of her best works. The elements were there, but some of the magic was missing.

  2. April /

    There were definite places that needed improvement in the story but overall I enjoyed it, mostly because when I really like the main character I can pretty much read with blinders on…

  3. I liked the heroine a lot, too, which goes along way for me.

    Maria and April, have you read the other ELEMENTAL MASTERS books? Which do you like best?

    I’ve read book 2 (working on a review) and Kate is going to read and review book 3.

  4. I don’t think I knew there were more–if it belongs to the Rose series, then I’m pretty sure I haven’t!

    • There’s a bunch of them. They’re all fairytale retellings.

      • Ah, that would explain part of why I never read them. I generally avoid the whole fairy tale retellings. I just don’t like them very much. Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite if I had to make the call, but I didn’t know it was a fairy retelling when I picked up the Rose. Sure, I recognized it as such while I read, but the characters were done well and I enjoyed it.

        I actually read this because the cover totally rocks. I was immediately drawn to the book when I saw the cover. I’m not sure it’s possible live up to that particular cover either. It’s just got a bit of everything–a dragon, what looks like a shifter (wolf) a damsel, magic obviously and ! it all happened in the library…

        • yes, that cover is…. noticeable! “Wow, that’s SOME fantasy novel!”

          They’re fairytale retellings, but you wouldn’t know if you weren’t looking for it. I read the second one which also had a strong heroine. You might give it a try.

          • Oh, very well. I shall add it to the stack.

            *Gets extension ladder. Sets it in the cherry picker. Adds broom handle with basket on end. Climbs in cherry picker, extends it all the way up. Climbs extension ladder and reaches with broom to add book to the top of pile…*

  5. April /

    Maria, you were supposed to add the book to YOUR to read pile, not MINE. Sheesh.

    I think I’ve read one or two others over the years but I never got around to actually considering it a series and reading all the way through. Well, at least Maria has added it to my pile now so I may go back and do that…;-)

  6. Great. Now I feel guilt.

  7. Sarah /

    I liked this book right up until the ending. It felt so much like she’d reached her word limit so she had to stop. I have read quite a few of the other elemental books. Some are better than others, and all the rest take place in England. I think Fire Rose might even be a different publisher. There are dark elements in many if not all of the ones I have read. I like them, and the issue with the abrupt ending of the first one isn’t an ongoing problem.

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