Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms

In recent years fairy tales have become very popular again.  From new TV shows like ABC’s Once Upon a Time to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, fairy tales are everywhere.  According to Edward Kitsis, one of the writers for Once Upon a Time, the reason for this new found popularity has to do with our economic times:  “’Disney’s Snow White originally came out in 1937 during the height of the Depression,’ he said. ‘It’s no coincidence that during this recession, three Snow White movies are coming out and we’re doing a fairy tale show. The thing people crave the most about fairy tales is the idea that your life can change. One day you’re sweeping up after your stepsisters and the next day you’re going to the ball’” (from the article “Tweaking Fairy Tales to Suit Our Troubled Times“).  This makes a lot of sense: in our economic climate where jobs are scarce, the idea that your life could magically change is incredibly appealing.  And even if our own lives can’t change with the wave of a wand, it can be just as satisfying to read about it happening to other people.

One of my favourite of these new takes on fairy tales is Mercedes Lackey’s Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms book series.  So far there are six books in the series, which retell a wide range of well known stories.  Not only do they tell of people’s lives being changed for the better, often with the “aid” of magic, but also through their own ingenuity, which makes them more satisfying stories that everyone can enjoy.

In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, there is an underlying magic called “the Tradition.”  Whenever someone’s life remotely resembles a well known tale, the Tradition pushes them into that tale.  But often things aren’t right; perhaps the prince is too old or too young to save the princess, or the Traditional path leads to heartache and death.  Luckily, the fairy godmothers are around to save the day!

In the first book, The Fairy Godmother, Elena’s life resembles the traditional Cinderella story.  Unfortunately there is no prince around to save her from her stepmother and stepsisters.  But with all the Traditional magic surrounding her, a fairy godmother appears and offers to make Elena her apprentice.  Elena accepts and finds herself whisked away to learn all about controlling the Tradition.

The second book, One Good Knight, is a story of dragons.  A marauding dragon has started attacking Princess Andromeda’s kingdom, and the people devise a lottery to nominate virgins (the best way to appease a dragon) to be sacrificed.  Princess Andromeda finds herself “winning” the lottery, so she steps forward to do her duty.  But then a Champion shows up to save her and things get rather complicated (and fun!)

Fortune’s Fool is the story of both Ekaterina, the seventh daughter of the Sea King, and Sasha, the seventh son of a neighboring kingdom.  While serving as her father’s emissary and spy, Ekaterina is kidnapped by an evil Jinn.  Sasha decides to track her down and ends up in the service of Baba Yaga.  It will take the help of two dragon Champions, and a whole lot of luck, to get everyone out of this mess!

The Snow Queen was probably my favourite of the entire series.  This is the story of a new fairy godmother of the far north, Aleksia, aka the Ice Fairy or Snow Queen.  Aleksia discovers that someone is using vile magic and killing whole villages while claiming to be the Snow Queen; Aleksia has to find a way to stop them and clear her name.

The Sleeping Beauty is a really fun mishmash of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (aka The Volsunga Saga).  The Princess Rosamund finds herself fleeing for her life from an evil huntsmen.  Hiding out in the woods, she is then kidnapped by dwarves and made to cook and clean for them.  With the help of a stranger, she devises a way to get free: fall into a deep enough sleep that she looks dead and the dwarves unchain her.  Unfortunately, Rosa didn’t count on having two princes fighting to wake her.

The newest book in the series is Beauty and the Werewolf.  It just came out a few months ago and I haven’t read it yet (although I can’t wait to!)  This time it’s a mash up of Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast when Isabella, wearing a red cloak and on her way to the local wisewoman (conveniently named “Granny”) is attacked by a nobleman cursed to be a wolf.

So if you’re looking for a good story of magic, a character who changes their life for the better through luck and magic, or a fun world to get lost in, definitely give one of Mercedes Lackey’s Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms a try!  And better yet – they’re all available for free at your library!

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