I copied my post from Book Babe again. Book Babe especially welcomes reviews of books with active woman protagonists like this one, but From A High Tower is also a fantasy novel which is more appropriately reviewed here. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. The author of this book is now at the top of my most read author standings on Goodreads.
From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey is the latest in her
Elemental Masters series. I think it's the best of her series. I have read almost all of them. Its premise is that
these books would be fairy tale re-tellings taking place in the 19th century
starring mages with elemental gifts. This is the second volume in this
series that takes place in Germany. Giselle, the protagonist of the
book, is an Air mage who begins as a version of Rapunzel.
in this book there is a brief Hansel and Gretel re-telling. I admit
that if I had known that there was a Hansel and Gretel element in this
novel, I would have avoided it. I consider Hansel and Gretel a very
nasty story that has fueled hysteria about witchcraft. Others feel that
Hansel and Gretel exposes the neglect and abuse of children. I think
that other fairy tales deal with this theme, and that Hansel and Gretel
has done more harm than good. There is a long history of false
accusations that have been primarily made against women because this
fairy tale is engraved in the Euro-American collective unconscious. The
only re-telling of Hansel and Gretel that I've liked is Louise Murphy's
WWII novel, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel. I have no more
use for Lackey's version than I have for any other traditional
re-telling of this poisonous tale. The best I can say for it, is that
it takes up relatively little narrative space in From a High Tower.
So let me tell you about some more interesting aspects of this Elemental Masters book that relate to feminism and popular culture.
re-telling of Rapunzel is a narrative frame that is fully woven in the
opening of the novel. This is really a book about an Air mage who uses
her gifts to earn a living as a sharpshooter. She eventually joins a
Wild West show that is touring Germany. There are two perspectives to
take on this character. One is that Giselle is an unethical fraud who
is only pretending to be the equal of the real historical sharpshooter
Annie Oakley. ( Annie Oakley is mentioned in From a High Tower.
She was also touring Germany in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.) The
second is that Giselle is a feminist hero. She is a resourceful
survivor who has found a really cool way to utilize her magical
abilities. Do the ends justify the means? I will allow readers to make
their own decisions about Giselle.
What interested me
most about this novel is that Lackey portrays German perceptions of the
American Wild West as being drastically different from American
perceptions. Germans have been influenced by the works of the 19th
century bestselling German author, Karl May.
I have chosen to link to an English page on the Karl May Society
website because it discusses why this author is regarded as important.
I had heard of Karl May, but had never read his books or understood
their appeal before reading From a High Tower. Like many other Americans , I had dismissed Karl May as inauthentic.
culture is steeped in legend. Each nation is very attached to the way
their popular culture portrays the individuals who are regarded as key
figures. American popular culture about the 19th century American West,
which is still known as the Wild West, is no more authentic than the
German version created by a single author. Lackey presents the
American Wild West show performers with a dilemma. Their rendition of
the Wild West didn't connect with the German audience. They wanted to
see a dramatization of a scenario out of the works of Karl May, and
their expectations were being disappointed.
this culture clash matter to 21st century readers? The most important
issue was the portrayal of Native Americans. Should they be heroes or
villains in a Wild West show? Karl May's novels depict Native Americans
as heroes. In the U.S. of the 19th century such a scenario would never
be seen. As a 21st century reader, I might consider Karl May's view
romanticized, but the universal villainization of Native Americans that
occurred in U.S. Wild West shows during that period is totally
unacceptable to me. So I was on the side of the German audience and
the Native American performers who deserved better than to be depicted
as hateful caricatures.
This is noteworthy because
Germans are now so often associated with Nazism which regarded all
non-whites as inferior and degenerate. In From a High Tower, Lackey depicts Germans in opposition to American racism in the century before the rise of the Nazi movement.
Mercedes Lackey's tale is primarily about abandoning stereotypes. I
just wish that she could also have also broken the mold of Hansel and
Gretel. We need to grow beyond demonizing anyone.