I’ve read this book so many times I can practically recite it, but it just gets better and better with every reread. I wasn’t actually going to post about it here, but it’s given me so much pleasure of the years that I felt I kind of owed it a review. Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series is possibly my ultimate favourite of all fantasy books. Each one is based on a different fairytale and set in an alternate England in the early 1900s. Instead of your typical fairytale however, Lackey uses elemental magic to create her wonderful worlds and stories. Reserved for the Cat is, in my opinion, the best of them all.
Plot summary – Based loosely on the tale of Puss in Boots, Reserved for the Cat takes place in 1910 in an alternate London. A young dancer, penniless and desperate, is sure she is going mad when a cat begins talking to her mind-to-mind. But her feline guide, actually an Elemental Earth Spirit, helps her to impersonate a famous Russian ballerina and achieve the success she’s been dreaming of. Unfortunately she also attracts the attention of another Elemental Spirit— a far more threatening one— and the young dancer must once again turn to her mysteriously powerful four-legged furry friend.
God, I love this book. I can’t explain how much without taking a photo of myself in the process of actually licking my battered copy. I admit to not really recognising the fairytale it originated from at first, but that’s hardly a fundamental issue. The fairytale link is more of an interesting aside than anything concrete. The other books in the series do follow the original stories more closely, but so what? 🙂
So. Ninette is a semi-successful ballet dancer in Paris until she accidentally offends the Prima and ends up penniless with desperate plans to prostitute herself. However, a guardian in the form of a cat sent by her father finds her and persuades her to follow his madcap plan to Blackpool, England. Once there, Thomas sets up a ploy to convince the owners of a famous music hall that Ninette is actually Nina, a famous Russian ballet dancer shipwrecked on the coast. Soon though, it turns out that Ninette has angered one of the most dangerous elemental creatures of all time and she must earn the help of the Elemental Masters who own the music hall she now dances for.
I think it’s the tone of Ms. Lackey’s books that makes them so wonderful. They’re beautifully written, in a semi-formal tone that leaves you in no doubt you’re reading the work of a talented author. They are fantasy books, but it’s not in-your-face fantasy. Instead, there are two nicely interwoven plots in Reserved for the Cat – there’s the talking cat and the elemental magic, but then a large part of the book is also Ninette’s struggle to win the trust of the music hall owners and succeed as a ballerina. They bounce off each other perfectly, leaving a pleasant mix of the mundane and the magical.
The characterisation never fails in any of Mercedes Lackey’s books, but this one features especially likeable people. Ninette is desperate but still retains her morality, and struggles against the lessons her now-deceased mother instilled in her. There is a romantic interest but it’s actually very well done – there’s no InstaLove and it’s quietly developed between the lines almost. Although Ninette is the clear protagonist, the narrative is occasionally told from the point-of-view of each of the characters, so they all become more than a little real and the plot is explored from every angle. Honestly, I feel like I know each and every one of them.
There actually isn’t one single thing I dislike about this book, not one. It’s a beautifully told, moving rendition of Puss in Boots with a likeable ballerina threatened by a world she never knew existed.