Book Review: Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Posted February 7, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey
Genres: Historical, Paranormal Fantasy
Published by DAW on ‎ October 4, 2005
Pages: 516
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill, Victories, Blood Red, The House of the Four Winds, Closer to Home, Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar, Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar, Winter Moon, Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar, Elementary: All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters, No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar, From a High Tower, Hunter, Closer to the Heart, Silence, A Study in Sable, Elite, Closer to the Chest, Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar, A Scandal in Battersea, The Hills Have Spies, The Bartered Brides, Dragon's Teeth, Eye Spy, Breaking Silence, Pathways, The Case of the Spellbound Child, Jolene, Passages, Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, The Serpent's Shadow, The Oathbound, The White Gryphon, The Silver Gryphon, Beyond, Spy, Spy Again, Oathbreakers, The Lark and the Wren, The Gates of Sleep, The Wizard of London, The Robin and the Kestrel, Oathblood, Exile's Honor, The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley, Owlflight, Exile’s Valor

Fourth in the Elemental Masters historical paranormal fantasy series and revolving around Masters and Mages of magic in England. The couple focus is on Eleanor Robinson and Reggie Fenyx set during World War I. This tale is based on Cinderella.

My Take

Reggie knows Dr Maya Scott! And approves. I know. Why should I get excited about that? Because women are very much second-class citizens in this time period. Able to manage a house, have children, and sit around looking pretty. Seems the men returned from war have the same issue, wanting to protect the little woman, which only leaves the women worse off.

But it seems that need will trump prejudice, for Dr Maya Scott has gained a place in the White Lodge. Hypocrites.

Lackey uses a third person global subjective point-of-view from the perspectives of a number of people, including core characters such as Eleanor, Reggie, and Alison with most of the action taking place in the village of Broom.

There is so much the military should have learned about modern warfare: shellshock, the stupidity of sending men over the battlefields because that’s what they’ve always done, the horrors of trench warfare, how much the tools of war have changed, etc. And Lackey has made good use of the horrors of shellshock and claustrophobia from Reggie’s experiences to provide one of the conflicts of the plot as well as his character arc, as he tries to survive the war with his new perspective on women and social class. Eleanor’s conflict with her binding and love for Reggie brings in the romantic angle with her particular character arc being forced to realize a number of issues. The third conflict is Alison’s ambitions and the lengths to which she’ll go to achieve them. Scary stuff. Lackey certainly has some nasty twists in Phoenix and Ashes.

What is wrong with Eleanor’s father, to not notice the nastiness immediately? More nastiness hit Reggie when he crashed, and it poured on the guilt. Hah! I love that bit about Alison being able to force Eleanor to cook, but not well. The rest? Just plain nasty! Eleanor is lucky that at least her father’s will is safe, for that Alison has some nasty tricks she plays to feed her need for despair, even against her own.

Eleanor, awakened to her magic, is lucky to have Sarah and is working diligently to understand her gift. It’s interesting that Eleanor’s teachers use the Tarot deck to teach her, using its positives and negatives; it does help her move along quickly and forces her to confront her own issues. Lilith, Adam, and Eve are held up as examples as well. And the cards in the deck work well as lessons for anyone. It does lead to an interesting interpretation of what alchemy and the Philosopher’s Stone really were.

Aunt April is a crack-up — all those non sequiturs of hers! It makes her a very popular guest, lol.

It’s an okay pace. It got annoying with all Eleanor’s angst about being trapped. Discussing the war and all the villagers who were affected by it went on a bit, but it is a good bit to absorb. Noting the privations of war with its causes and effects makes me so glad I’ve never had to suffer this. The loss of so many British men has certainly cracked a few of the moral laws, particularly at the parties of the wealthy.

Lackey did provide a faster pace when she described Alison’s actions. Oy.

Beware Phoenix and Ashes for there is quite a bit of the horrors of war in this.

It’s a tale of evil plotting that results in tit for tat.

The Story

There’s only one thing saving Eleanor from her stepmother, and it certainly isn’t the finger Alison chopped off. Hedged about with her stepmother’s bindings, Eleanor’s only escapes are when the steps head off on shopping sprees or for magical doings.

Bits of freedom that slowly show Eleanor a few tricks of her own.

The Characters

Warwickshire, England

Broom is . . .
. . . a small village where Eleanor “Ellie” Robinson, who has been accepted to Somerville Collage at Oxford, was the only child of a tradesman who is now Sergeant Charles Robinson. Her mother had been a Fire Master. The Phoenyx will become her chief magical tutor.

The evil, cheap Alison Danbridge, an Earth Master, is her new stepmother; Lauralee and Carolyn Danbridge are the vicious stepsisters. Warrick Locke is Alison’s solicitor and an Earth Mage. Robbie Christopher is Locke’s driver and fire-loving resident thug. Jennifer Summers is Locke’s personal secretary.

The Arrows is Eleanor’s home where the current staff includes Cook, who gave notice; Kent Adkins, the gardener, and Mary Chance, the other maid, quit when their meals were no longer provided; Miranda is the downstairs maid; Patricia Sheller had been the parlormaid; Katy Feely had been the stepsisters’ maid; and, Miss Severn had been Eleanor’s governess. Mrs Bennet is the new cook. Howse is the only lady’s maid in the house.

Reggie Fenyx, the heir of the manor of Longacre Park and an Air Master, is fascinated by flying. Sir Devlin Fenyx, baron, is his father. Lady Devlin, Reggie’s mother, is clueless about the magic. Reggie’s paternal grandmother and Aunt April are also Elemental Masters. His maternal grandfather, Sutton, considers himself a military expert but never really saw any war — and he is such a contemptible man. Lady Virginia DeMarce is Reggie’s godmother, a combative Air Master, a part-time VAD, and sponsors good causes; Melanie “Smith” Lynn is her female chauffeur, lady’s maid, and arcane assistant. Brigadier Eric Mann had been a friend of Devlin’s.

Mrs Catriona Dick is the housekeeper; James Boatwright is the butler; Mrs Murphy is the cook with Thelma Hawkins the cook for the servants; the four cook’s helpers include Cheryl Case, Marla Bracken, Amanda Hart, and Mary Holman; Mary is a downstairs maid; little Matthew Case runs errands; the footmen include George Woodward, James Jennings is a talented hobbyist and cabinetmaker, and Steven Druce; Jason Long is the hall boy; Mrs Green, shockingly, is the head gardener; Paul McMahon is the estate accountant; Lee McGregor (her Owen died in January) is the estate manager; Peter Budd is the chauffeur; Bruce Kenny, a one-legged mate of Budd’s, is the mechanic; Gaffer Norman is the gameskeeper (Eva is his daughter); and, Michael Turner is Reggie’s efficient valet. Andrew Dennis. Kevin Eaches is one of Reggie’s tenant-farmers.

Sarah Chase is the village witch, district healer, licensed midwife, and had been Eleanor’s godmother as well as her mother’s best friend. Annette Monstead is the midwife-in-training. The vicar is Donald with his wife, Theresa Hinshaw. Eric is the village sexton. Dr and Mrs Robert Sutherland. Amy Hammer is the president of the Ladies’ Friendly Society.

The White Swan provides meals. Pamela Brown’s Bakery provides its products. Neil Frandsen had been/is? the chimney sweep and plumber. Mr Caffrey runs the Broom Hall Inn.

The shortsighted Brian and Tracy Scroggins have an apple orchard; Brianna and Zach are their children. David Miller operates the mill. Stephen and Morgan Kirby are still running the apothecary’s shop. Colonel Davies is the stationmaster. Tamara Budd is the village beauty. Stephen Zachary doesn’t yet have his own motor. Pearl Shapland works at the bookstore. Annie Hagan is the milliner. Gaffer Clark is the oldest man in Broom. Sarah Ashley is the local telephone operator. Cynthia Kerns, an old schoolmate of Eleanor’s, was the last wedding in the village.

Joanne Van is running the farm while Michael is at the front. The Broom is a pub that is fairly exclusive to those who had been mustered out . . . and too injured to return. Thomas Brennan is the barman and Jessamine Heggins is the barmaid. Those back from the war include Ross Ashley is a socialist, who was tamed by the war and losses with an interest in Alan Vocksmith bicycle shop; Matt Brennan (Thomas’ brother who had lost a leg); Michale Kabon, who is the butcher; Will Stevens can still run the family farm; Scott Kelsey has a collapsed lung; Jack Samburs is back on his sheep farm; Richard Bowen; Doug Baird with the shrapnel to his legs; Eric Whitcomb has returned with only half his wits and will be doing the gardening and heavy hauling at The Arrows; and, young, well-read Albert Norman. Joseph Atherton is an unhappy farmer, and I can’t blame him for his frustration with Mrs Tina Atherton. Albert Norman is another farmer. Michael Van.

The ones who won’t be coming home: Bruce Gulken (Theresa Gulken and Louis Blue must run the dairy farm alone), Thomas Golding, John McGregor, Daniel Heistand (a violinist who had also composed), Jock Williamson, William Williamson, Daniel Linden, Harry Brown, and Sean Newton. Aurora Cook is now delivering the post, replacing Howard Sydneyson and Thomas Price. Old Thomas Lamont replaces Constable David Toback. The blacksmith’s shop run by Carlton McKenney is closed. The barbershop is now a ladies’ hairdressing salon run by Barber’s widow, Nancy Barber.

Students include Jimmy Grimsley, the head boy and the only other student who had wanted to learn Greek; Lisa Satterfield is head girl; Maria Holmes wins a Literature Prize; and, Marina Landman does the Best Recitation. The teachers include Kathleen Davis, who teaches the youngest, and Judith Lasker. Michael Stone, the boys’ schoolmaster, had tutored Eleanor.

Lord Alderscroft, a.k.a. the Old Lion, is a Fire Master who leads the White Lodge, which is housed in the Exeter Club. Lord Peter Almsley is on special duty with the War Department.

Lieutenant, later Captain, Steven Stewart and Tommy Arnolds, who had been the flight mechanic, are part of Reggie’s 11 Squadron. Erik Kittlesen, who could hit anything he aimed at, had been his observer. Walter Boyes is solid with a love for facts. Capt William Howe is sensitive and is in the band. Capt Chris Whitmore loves photography. Geoffrey Cockburn. Lyman Evans. Rene Comeau had been one of the better-educated Frenchmen. Allan McBain is a hard-headed Scots engineer. Vincent Mills had never made it to the front. Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfrid Owens are/were poets.

First London General Hospital is where Dr Walter Boyes is a resident. Ivy Grove is a VAD. Emily Walsh had been Reggie’s nurse. Dr Maya Scott, an Earth Master who has broken the barriers of the White Lodge, is not allowed to treat wounded soldiers. Peter Scott, a Water Master, is Maya’s tradesman husband (The Serpent’s Shadow, 2), whom Lord Peter considers his “Twin“. Second Lieutenant William West, PBI, is also shellshocked. Dr Andrew Pike in Devon is ideal for psychological issues (The Gates of Sleep, 3).

The PBI are the Poor Bloody Infantry. King George has succeeded King Edward. Blue Fokker pilot had been an angry Air Master. Wilhelm Katzel, a Hun, had tried a rescue. The Land Girls are women who were called on to help work the farms while the men were at war. William Waldorf, Viscount Astor, and Lady Anson are gaily throwing parties. Friends whom Lady Devlin invites to Longacre include Roberta Cygnet and her daughter Leva, Gina Towner, Miss Elizabeth Tansy of Devon, Ginger, and William Hartwell. Mrs Williams‘ chattering is good-natured. Reggie’s friends who are invited include Lt Commander Matthew Mann, the Hon. Mrs Matthew Mann, and Miss Mann; Viscountess Arabella Reed; Second Lts Michael Freed, John Oliver, Charles Goddard, Lyman Evans, and David Jackson; Lts Vincent Paul Mills and Allen McBain; and, Capt Michael Dolbeare.

The Crown and Cushion is in Chipping Norton just outside the village of Enstone and within walking distance of the Hoar Stones.

Elementals are beings who can be seen by mages and masters, who can also summon them. These Elementals are separated into the same categories of magic: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire as mages and masters. A maldero is an Earth Elemental who spreads disease. Hmmm, the Spanish flu??? Alison Stanley had died when the Britannia had been torpedoed. Revenants are the emotionally charged remnants of the unquiet dead, motivated by anger.

The Cover and Title

The cover has orange and yellow embers forming a pattern on the black background with a central rectangular inset bordered in gray with its own yellow background. An orange phoenyx displays itself in that inset with its head and wings overlapping the border while its tail overlaps behind the border. In front of the phoenyx is Eleanor in servants’ garb, handling Elementals while Captain Reggie Fenyx is turned away from her and wearing a cap and khaki trenchcoat while carrying a cane and hugging an Air Elemental. At the very top is the author’s name in a highlighted silver. Beneath the inset border is the title in white. There’s an epigraph below that in white as well.

The title refers to Reggie, rising as the Phoenix and Ashes refers to Ellie and the hearth trap that held her captive.

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