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The Gates of Sleep
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 389 pages

The Gates of Sleep
Mercedes Lackey
Born in 1950 in Chicago, Mercedes Lackey (née Ritchie) graduated from Purdue in 1972. After some years as an artist's model, lab assistant and security guard, she embarked on a career in computer programming. Active in writing and recording folk songs, Lackey has published close to 50 novels and collections since her first book, Arrows of the Queen, was published in 1985. She won the Lambda award for Magic's Price and the Science Fiction Book Club Book of the Year for The Elvenbane, co-authored with Andre Norton. Besides an interest in scuba diving, Mrs. Lackey is also a licensed bird rehabilitator, specializing in wild birds.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Take a Thief
SF Site Review: Exile's Honor
SF Site Review: Brightly Burning
SF Site Review: Flights of Fantasy
SF Site Review: The River's Gift
SF Site Review: Owl Knight
SF Site Review: The Black Swan
SF Site Review: Owl Flight
SF Site Review: Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
Mercedes Lackey Bio
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
The World of Velgarth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ian Nichols

At birth, a baby girl is given gifts by her magical relations, gifts which should lead to happiness. But the second-last gift is delivered by an estranged relation, who wasn't invited to the party. Her gift is a curse; death on or before the child's eighteenth birthday. The last gift is one which tries to lift the curse, but only succeeds in softening it. You may have heard this story before.

The familiarity of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale should make The Gates of Sleep predictable and forgettable, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Mercedes Lackey re-invents the story, with a brightness and ingenuity which fascinates the reader. The setting is changed from generic fairy tale castle country to Victorian England. The heroine, instead of being a princess is one of the gentry, Marina Rosewood, daughter of wealthy parents. Her godparents, who give her the gifts, are masters of elemental magic, as her parents are and she herself has the potential to become. The bad witch is her aunt, Arachne, and a more evil figure you could not imagine.

Denied magical talent herself, Arachne finds ways to use black magic to suck the magic from others. With her despicable son, Reggie, she becomes the mistress of pottery factories, with all the grasping greed of a 19th-century capitalist alloyed with the desire for revenge of the talentless daughter over her peers. A genuine over-achiever of evil. Reggie is just as evil, but so convinced of his own genius and beauty that he is far less dangerous.

What results from this re-telling is not only a fresh new treatment of the classic story, but a delightful insight into the ways of Victorian England. The details are exquisite, from pottery to dining to dress. The byways of fashion and setting are examined with such clarity that a clear vision of the scene is not only possible, but unavoidable. None of this is heavy-handed; it is done with the off-handed expertise and skill of a writer of consummate skill. It is the characters, however who make the book truly unforgettable.

From Marina, through Arachne and Reggie, to Elizabeth Hastings, the titled water-magician; Sebastian, Margherita and Elizabeth, her guardians; Andrew the Earth Master and the Reverend Davies. All are rounded, satisfying characters, who make involvement with their struggles to preserve and rescue Marina compulsive.

In writing The Gates of Sleep, Mercedes Lackey has reached below the myth to the soul of the story. She has created something beautiful and powerful from the familiar tropes.

Copyright © 2003 Ian Nichols

Ian Nichols is studying for his Masters degree at the University of Western Australia, and is fortunate enough to be studying in the area he most enjoys; Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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