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From a High Tower
by Mercedes Lackey
DAW books; 329pp; $7.99
Published: June 2016

A lovely wander in the Bavarian countryside set in Lackey’s Elemental Masters series.

The novel centers on an Air Master named Giselle who lives in the high tower of a long abandoned abbey in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) of Germany. The time is the late Victorian period.  And these are her adventures!

Giselle is taken in by her adopted Mother—an Earth Master. Her father traded Giselle to the Earth Master so he would have enough to feed his other eight children. There’s a bit of “Beauty and the Beast” here as Giselle’s father discovers a magical walled garden producing vegetables in the midst of winter…which he takes for his starving family.  And his payment? Just like in ‘Beast” his daughter is sent off to a high tower. She never sees her family again. (And she doesn’t miss them much).

There’s another fairy tale quirk to Giselle: she has hair that needs to be cut constantly or it grows prodigiously—like Rapunzel. (As an added, more obscure flavor at work here, there is the slight influence of the famous ballet “Giselle” set in a German village wherein Act II involves the Wilis—spirts of dead girls who died before marriage. In Lackey’s story they are called vilis and they’re pretty nasty.)

After Mother’s death, Giselle - a true innocent - makes her way into the world but she has a great skill: she is an excellent marksman and begins to earn prize money for winning contests at festivals.  Of course, to preserve her modesty (and rejection) she pretends to be a young man named Gunther.  Her naiveté gets her into all kinds of scrapes until one day she meets up with Captain Bill Cody and his amazing Wild West extravaganza. The Germans LOVE the Indian warriors and the stagecoaches, the rope tricks and dances, and the amazing displays of marksmanship. (This love - a true obsession at the time - was based on a German author named Karl May’s tales of the Wild West. Even though he had never left Germany, much less gone to the American West, his books were extremely popular at the time.)

Giselle finds her place. And gets renamed “Rio Ellie.”  A member of the forest Bruderschraft (long-time guardians/rangers of the forest) named Rosamund joins the cavalcade to make sure that the troupe does no harm to the wild places of the forest. Giselle and she became great friends. Rosamund is an Earth Master.

This is a light hearted tale—Lackey spins an adventure story with lots of magic and a terrific cast of characters culminating in a confrontation with an evil from Giselle’s past. ~~ Sue Martin

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