Book Review: The Serpent’s Shadow by Mercedes Lackey

Posted October 25, 2021 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Serpent’s Shadow 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.

The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey
Genres: Paranormal Fantasy, Historical
Published by DAW on March 1, 2002
Pages: 403
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 Oathbound, The White Gryphon, The Silver Gryphon, Beyond

Second in the Elemental Masters historical paranormal fantasy series for Young Adult readers (I consider The Fire Rose to be the true first) and revolving around the Council of the White Lodge and masters of elemental magic. This is one of the standalone novels in the series set in the London of 1909. The focus is on Dr Maya Witherspoon, a new elemental master from India.

My Take

Lackey has made use of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to discuss male and ethnic bigotry. It’s sad that it’s still happening. What is so threatening about women being treated as equals? Treating other ethnicities as equals? I don’t get it. Oh, and it’s not just the English with their prejudices. The Indians also have their bigots. Both, of course, are also prejudiced against classes they consider lesser than themselves — Peter Scott is proof of that.

Maya has better grades than most of the men in her class, and yet the jerk is considering not granting her the credentials to practice. Until Maya pulls out her trump card, but doesn’t let slip her true purpose, lol.

How awful that having great parents has such an awful effect for Amelia. It sure hasn’t dampened her spirit, though, lol. Lackey notes that Amelia loves “tweaking the tails of the old cats”.

I absolute adore Lackey’s description of Maya’s home — and that conservatory! It’s a great way to incorporate anthropology and history.

I do have to laugh at Maya’s perspective on how Hindu women (who’ve never been to England) speak of England as Home. It makes sense that the British would think this way, but . . . There are some nice bits about Indian culture. Always a good thing for children to read about, to open their horizons to others.

Oh, I do adore Maya’s approach to treating her clients: factual with a practical approach to their lifestyles and intent on discretion.

Thank god for improved medical ethics as well. Some of the “practices” of doctors of the time period would make you gag. A Caesarian is considered dangerous but not an ovectomy to “calm hysteria”??

Lackey uses a third person triple point-of-view from Dr Witherspoon’s, Peter Scott’s, and Shivani’s perspectives. Yeah, you learn everything they think, feel, and experience. I have to confess that I can understand part of Shivani’s goals — I’d be ticked off too! But her methods of going about it, no.

There is some introspection on the part of Peter Scott and Maya.

There’s action, characters, and a pace that’ll keep you reading.

This tale is so homey and cozy, even as it battles evil and prejudice. Ya just gotta love both Peters in this!

The Story

Dr Maya Witherspoon is determined to succeed in this male-oriented profession — and stay safe from the enemy who is hunting her.

The Characters

Dr Maya Witherspoon, a daughter of Nigel, an English doctor, and Surya, a Hindu woman of Brahmin class and priestess, has green magic and determination. She’s fled India. Her parents are both dead, murdered. Her household in England consists of the people who were her family in India: Gupta had been Maya’s mother’s guardian. Gopal is his son, who loves to cook, and is married to Sumi the fourth. Nope, no idea what the fourth means. They have four children: Ravi (eleven), Amal (nine), Jagan (five), and Suli (seven). There are also seven “pets”, avatars of Hindu gods: Sia and Singhe are mongooses, Rhadi is a ring-necked parrot, Mala is a saker falcon, Rajah is a peacock, Charan is a Hanuman langur monkey, and Nisha is an owl.

Amelia Drew, a suffragette, is a medical student at the London School of Medicine for Women and has become a friend of Maya’s.

Peter Scott, a former ship’s captain with water magic, has opened an import business. I do love that he’s cool with counterfeit “antiques” and his reasoning. Some of his old crewmates include Jeremiah, who is now a night watchman and Andrew, a fisherman now, who has three grown sons.

The Council of the White Lodge is . . .
. . . the official organization of magic Masters and is led by the bigoted Lord Alderscroft, a Fire Master. He may not let women into the group, but he doesn’t have any problem using them.

The open-minded Lord Peter Almsley (the Peter Wimsey-like character) is a Water Master, diplomat, and a friend of Scott’s. They call each other “Twin“. His brother, George, is the heir. Peter is one of four siblings, and he’s the only one with magic except for his Grandmama, another Water Master. It cracks me up that Lord Peter considers the ghosts who haunt the Almsley estate, Heartwood House, in Newport Pagnell, as friends. Gannet is a reformed burglar who works for Lord Peter. Mrs Phyllis and Cousin Reuben, a vicar, are both Earth Masters Lord Peter knows.

Other members of the council include Bunny, Lord Owlswick, Dumbarton, Reginald Fenyx, John Pagnell-Croyton, and the overly dramatic Harold Fotheringay.

The Council meets at the Exeter Club, a men’s club, which provides an interesting camouflage. Clive and Cedric are porters. Jerry is am most efficient waiter.

St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London
Dr Octavian Clayton-Smythe is the chief medical officer and one of Kipling’s “little tin gods”. His nephew, Simon Parkening, is a disgustingly bigoted idiot who plays at work.

The Fleet Charity Clinic is . . .
. . . a Christian charity, hugely funded by the London newspapers, where most of the doctors like to preach at the poor. Dr Stevens believes Amelia has a gift for handling babies and children. Naturally, as it is women’s work, oy. Dr Browning claims children don’t feel pain. Dr O’Reilly (but not a surgeon) is one of the good ones — and a Fire Master but not a member of the Council. Guess why not . . . Nurse Haredy and Nurse Sarah Pleine are both head nurses. Jeffry is the orphan who runs errands; George is the porter and man-of-all-work. Patience is Nurse Sarah’s daughter and assistant. Nurse Fortenbrase is stuck with a lousy patient. Dr Greenaway lives in Piccadilly.

Bill Joad, a working man, is a patient. Paul Jenner is a Trinity Oxford man and Parkening’s former secretary; his father was a country vicar. Shamus has a broken leg.

Tom Larkin, a London cabbie, is a godsend for Amelia and Maya. Bob is one of the down-and-outs in the neighborhood, who is protective of Maya. The Vellechio boys are Italian with darker skin than Gopal’s children.

The Royal Free is . . .
. . . another charity hospital.

Helen Smith” is Maya’s first patient. Delia is a mother; Jack is her eldest. Sally has her issues. Norrey is a pickpocket with whom Dr Witherspoon has a deal.

The Enemy
Shivani, with her dark magic, was Surya’s twin sister. And a bigot. She serves Kali Durga, which seems to be one of the possible manifestations of two goddesses. Jayanti is the head of her dacoits. The thugees, organized gangs of professional robbers and murderers, and dacoits, bands of armed robbers, worship Shivani.

Aleister Crowley is a problem. Annie Besant and the Blavatsky, a.k.a. Blat-sky, crowd are not as bad.

Dr Lister was a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Louis Pasteur was a microbiologist for his discoveries about vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization. Selkies are seal shifters. The Selkies of Sul Skerry were helped by Peter Scott. And that’s a fascinating story. Their women include Alice (she’s Ian’s wife), Annie, Mable, Marie, Sara, Sophie, Delia, Maryanne, Stella, and Nan. All rescued from their lives. Queen Alexandra is keen on improving the lot of poor children. Bishop Mannering is one of Lord Peter’s tame padres. Detective Crider is investigating a prominent disappearance. Jane Millicent Lambert is a friend of Nurse Pleine’s.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a grayed-out teal wall as background with a stylized Indian border at its base in gold and lighter teals. The floor is an orange-gold on which sits a framed image of Maya in her surgical costume of white with a black bow tie, her black hair up in a bun. The background of this portrait is a pale pink and green floral. Maya holds Rhadi on her left forefinger and an apple in her right with Nisha behind her head on the right. On the left is Mala sitting above Sia’s head while Singh is in the right bottom clutching the black cobra-like Serpent’s Shadow which is twined around the frame. Rajah is behind Singh with Charan on the left. At the top is the author’s name in yellow. On the far left, in white, is a quick summary of the story. The title is at the bottom in black.

The title is all about the evil avatar Shivani invokes, The Serpent’s Shadow.

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