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The Gates of Sleep
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 389 pages

Jody A. Lee
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: Joust
SF Site Review: The Gates of Sleep
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 Cindy Lynn Speer

On the day Marina Rosewood was christened, elemental mages from all around gathered to her cradle, each whispering something to the sleepy babe, each granting her a small gift. Just as the last mage is about to take her turn, Arachne, Marina's aunt, appears. Spiteful and angry, she curses the child with death. Fortunately, Elizabeth is able to take the child up, and though she can not remove the curse, she is able to change it. Arachne must come again to Marina, and must, through prolonged contact, revive the curse. If she fails to do so before Marina turns eighteen, then the curse will rebound upon its maker. So the parents give their child up to friends, who take her away and raise her as their own, and all seems well. At least until one Boxing Day during her seventeenth year, when lawyers come with sad news. Her parents have died, and now, it is time to go to live with her new legal guardian Aunt Arachne. No one tells her why she should beware, though she does manage to call a Sylph, who warns her of unspecific danger. So she is wary, cast in a cold world where she knows she does not dare to use her elemental powers, stuck with a nasty woman who seems to love finding fault in every action, yet who wants to see her married to the disgusting creature she calls her son. and who Marina calls Odious Reggie.

I would not call The Gates of Sleep a retelling of the sleeping beauty myth, per se. I would describe the recalling of the myth in this story more of a subtle theme that wends its way around the tale, giving it a subtle flavor. We have the infamous first scene, when the curse is laid on the child, and other parts of it are used to good effect. The familiarity of these areas, the knowledge that they are from such a beloved fairy tale, serves to underscore the fairy tale aura that encompasses this book. It doesn't hurt that the cast is spiced with sprites, brownies, sylphs and elemental magic.

The elemental magic is wonderfully described. I'll grant that elemental magic is not a new concept. The elements have long ruled the majority of magical systems you run into, but Mercedes Lackey take on it is so well done and classy and well thought-out that it makes it interesting. For the Elemental Masters, the magic is a way of life, not a way to make life easy and lush. They use their spells to help their neighbors, acting as guardians. Where Marina's uncle -- his element is fire -- lives, no one has had a fire for ages. Marina, a water element, cleans a stream and makes it healthy to drink from once more. They also have small spells that they use to preserve food, or to keep assorted pests out of the house. (Which, let me tell you, from living in the country I know I wouldn't mind having a few of those spells myself.) They also are very talented, making things such as furniture and clothes, things of incredible beauty, which they generously share instead of hoarding. In this aspect, magic becomes characterization, a core element of what these people are or what a lack of it can make people become. Some would argue that magic is always a part of characterization. I agree, but often it's a secondary thing, a talent that works more for the plot than form telling us much about the soul of the mage. This magic also works for the plot, but it lets us understand Lackey's characters much more clearly.

I always like to read stories that take elements from old tales. Mercedes Lackey is not new at using the old tales to inspire her stories. The Black Swan has long been one of my very favorite Lackey books. When it is done with a light hand, the effects are magical, and seem to resonate in the spirit as well as in the mind.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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