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The Serpent's Shadow

(Elemental Masters #1)

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  10,047 ratings  ·  386 reviews
Mercedes Lackey returns to form in The Serpent's Shadow, the fourth in her sequence of reimagined fairy tales. This story takes place in the London of 1909, and is based on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Lackey creates echoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, pays affectionate homage to Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey (who plays an important role under a thin disguise), an ...more
Paperback, 394 pages
Published March 5th 2002 by Daw Books (first published 2001)
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Rachel I really enjoyed Blood Red. I actually read that one first before looking for the rest of the series. It's a different version of Little Red Riding Ho…moreI really enjoyed Blood Red. I actually read that one first before looking for the rest of the series. It's a different version of Little Red Riding Hood where Red is an Earth mage with atypical capabilities who tracks and kills evil creatures! (less)

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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  10,047 ratings  ·  386 reviews

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Goddammit. If I end up reading this entire freaking series just because of the Wimsey homage character, I swear I will....not be surprised.

Okay, so, there's an egregious amount of dialect, and the handling of Hinduism is maaaaaaaaybe a step and a half above Temple of Doom, and the author is clearly v. proud of how she's handling issues of race in Edwardian England with a heroine whose mother was Indian, and while you're totally aware she's tanking it most of the time, you don't realize how much
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
While this is touted as the first book in the Elemental Masters series, the real first book in this series is the 'Fire Rose', so if you are going to read this book, you definitely want to check out the other one. You can read that book before or after this one, it doesn't matter as the two are not too closely tied together.

This is overall an entertaining book. It brings magic into this world in a subtle way, almost like Harry Potter except magic works differently in the Elemental Masters univer
Charles  van Buren
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The London fog becomes deadly

I enjoyed this novel but enjoyed two of the short stories in this series more. GRAY and GRAY'S GHOST have a feel of Kipling and Dickens about them which this novel lacks. Instead, it is a typical Mercedes Lackey fantasy, but set in London instead of some alien world or universe. Being a typical Mercedes Lackey fantasy is not a bad thing as she is a master of the genre. There is not a lot of action in this one. There are accounts of the trials of those campaigners for
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: reviewed

This is my favorite book from Mercedes Lackey's new series, Elemental Masters. Lackey has done a lovely job of creating interesting and reasonably realistic characters, and the world she has created is detailed and well-written. I love the multicultural flavor that this book has, as well as the wide diversity among the characters. Unlike many books which are based in this particular time period, the main characters of this story are all lower or middle class people - we only see the upper

Feb 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm not going to lie, this book was pretty mediocre. I liked the premise, the setting, and the build up but it fell apart at the end with a rushed climax, which seems to be Mercedes Lackey's style.

The characters are charming enough and I do love Victorian settings. The pacing is a slow when compared to the ending, which is rushed. I like the idea of having a half Indian main character who can hold her own, which is what we get with Maya, but it also brings about the issues of Lackey's use of the
Libby Ames
May 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
For entertainment and clever rendering of a fairy tale, The Serpent's Shadow deserves four stars. The writing is not profound or life changing, but an excellent means for escape.

I began this book with reluctance, feeling a little tired of fairy tale retellings. I know it's shocking, but even I can have too much of a good thing. However, in spite of my overdose, I was still impressed with Lackey's presentation of Snow White. Her representation was all I most appreciate in a good retelling. The st
I really like this book; it's so much better than the ones which follow it in this series. Maya is a great character, the pets are wonderful - Hanuman, the langur monkey; Rhadi, the wise parrot; and the other birds (saker falcon, peacock, eagle-owl), and of course the mongooses.

I just wish ML had been able to keep up the quality of the books she published after this one (or maybe after the first 4 or so?). Phoenix and Ashes was very good, as was Wizard. After that.....
Oct 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: romance
I read this before The Fire Rose, thinking it was the first book in the series. Now that book has me pissed off at Mercedes Lackey and not in a mood to be charitable, even though I found this book to be much better than The Fire Rose.

This book is a much better disguised fairy tale, as opposed to the blatant Beauty and the Beast tale of the first book. It seems to have had much greater care and dedication given to it.

She has clear tributes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and Dorothy S
Apr 25, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kirsten Simkiss
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
I'm gonna be honest here. I didn't like the main character. Maya Witherspoon is a half-Indian, half-British suffragette doctor in the early 1900s. (If I remember correctly, the year is 1909.) As unlikely as it is that she would be able to come out on top of all that while living in London and be able to practice medicine in a prejudiced society is great! Unlikely, obviously, but it's fiction! It's great reading a novel with a person of color as the main character - it's not something you often g ...more
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook
If you follow sci-fi/fantasy fandom at all, you've probably come across Kameron Hurley's excellent essay We Have Always Fought . It's worth reading in its entirety, but one of the points it touches upon is the importance of narrative in human culture-making; specifically, how a majority narrative about a group will skew your views of that group, even when you're aware of that bias and actively work against it.

I bring this up because the strongest impression this story made upon me was how it
May 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Some of my favorite fantasy books are from Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. The Fire Rose, The Gates of Sleep, The Serpent’s Shadow, Phoenix and Ashes, The Wizard of London, and Reserved for the Cat are the titles so far. I like all of them. I LOVE some of them. They combine alternate history, classic fairy tales, magic, and the setting of early 1900s England (except The Fire Rose, which is set in America). They stand alone quite well, but are set in the same world, and some of the sa ...more
May 26, 2009 rated it did not like it
Mercedes Lackey was at her best with The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy because of the realness that Vanyel's ambivalence about his life gave the series. There wasn't just an existence of good guys and bad guys, and the guys that did things that were bad but repented in the end; but, since then, this shallowness has become fairly typical of Lackey's work.

The main character, Maya Witherspoon, is a horrible person. She's shallow, thinks rude and ugly things about Amelia (the girl who is her "friend") an
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
So beautifully written, but the casual racism and confusions about Hindu mythology were a bit jarring and prevented me from being fully immersed in the narrative. Despite her routinely stressing that she is not Hindu, is Christian, has no desire to be Hindu, and her magic is distinctly British, somehow HIndu deities come to her aid and basically take care of her? WTF? Would it have been so hard to just leave them as familiars?

Also, that passage about how "exotic" she looked in a sari was unneces
Silver Petticoat

Review by Clarissa Hadge

Overall Rating = 4.5; Romance Rating = 4

The writing is great here, with plenty of historical points that are woven through the plot, such as Maya and her friend Amelia marching in a suffragette protest. Lackey does take some liberties with the story, but as it is set in a fantasy world, albeit based off of a real time period, the slight inconsistencies are not distractin
Sarah Mac
DNF @ Chapter 5. I just do not care & have no interest whatsoever in picking it up again.

Magic aside (because it *is* a fantasy novel), I can't stand the MC's 'tude. There's a fine line between characters in the past who are aware of their society's shortcomings (i.e. a good thing for fiction) vs those who consistently point out how enlightened they are/how backward their peers are solely for the benefit of showcasing their modern sensibilities (i.e. annoying mouthpieces).

And as for the magic.
Maggie Boyd
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Maya Witherspoon has fled to England from India, knowing only that she has a powerful enemy and having no idea of who that is. A doctor with minor magical skills, she heals patients by day, butting heads with the patriarchal system that battles her at every turn. By night, she places small protections about her home to keep herself and her beloved staff safe.

Peter Scott is sent by the other magicians of London to check out this newcomer and finds himself becoming a teacher to the powerful young
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
This one was a lot of fun. I have some issues with the structure, some events seem unconnected to others and the flow of the plot is at times unclear, but it's enjoyable throughout and it really comes together in the end. ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable retelling of Snow White with magic and early 20th century London
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book so much because of the heroine. She is wonderful!
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a super fun and original retelling of Snow White. I could go on and on (and have) about fairy tale retellings and how so many rely on either the Disney storyline or trying to 'darken' the stories by turning them into a predictable YA fantasy or erotica.

Which, is, ya know, fine, to each their own. BUT. I've read the original, I've watched various film interpretations, and my favorite aspect of retellings is consuming a familiar story that has been completely re-imagined. And this novel
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have read Mercedes Lackey book's for several year's now, but I never tried the Elemental master's series. I was lucky to be giving the first one in the series as a gift. I will definitely be continuing the series. This one in about Maya Witherspoon and the trouble from her past that won't let her go. Family secrets and an old family enemy are at the heart of this novel. Also her life as a doctor in the early 1900's. This is a great mix of history and fantasy. I recommend this book to all who l ...more
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the first book in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series, which take place in Edwardian England. I enjoyed it quite a lot. Maya is half-Indian, half-white, and a trained doctor who grew up in India. Upon leaving India for England in what seems a very Frances Hodgson Burnett sort of way (both of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess) Maya struggles for acceptance as both half-Indian and as a woman in attempting to practice medicine. Maya also has Earth Magic, but she is self-taugh ...more
Jul 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, library
I enjoyed The Serpent's Shadow, but not nearly as much as Phoenix and Ashes. The Serpent's Shadow is a bit more twee (for lack of a better term). It has seven animal companions that behave not at all like pets. And, since the story takes place before Phoenix and Ashes, I already knew some of the plot points. I also wasn't entirely comfortable with the depiction of India in the book. And finally, while there are a few elements that are reminiscent of a fairy tale, it really isn't a re-telling, wh ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I have not read any Mercedes Lackey in quite some time (I really loved her Valdemar books), and I was thrilled to discover that she was as good as ever in "The Serpent's Shadow." (Being OCD, I will have to go back and read the first book in the series.)
The heroine of the book is Maya, a half-English, half-Indian doctor at a time when both were extremely rare. There are interesting interactions depicted by the author where Maya encounters discrimination on either or both counts, but it's done wit
Nov 12, 2009 rated it liked it
I picked up the Serpent's Shadow after reading my first Mercedes Lackey book, The Black Swan, which I really liked. And so it happened that I'd harboured high expectations of this book, hoping it would be one step closer to making Mercedes Lackey one of my favourite authors. I wasn't disppointed, yet not thrilled either.

It turned out to be not so good as Black Swan, though very similar to it in its structure and the general human themes it dealt with.
I suppose such is most of Lackey's work in
Inhabiting Books
This review is for the audiobook, which was very capably narrated by Michelle Ford. This is the first book (I think?) in Lackey's Elemental Masters series, all of which are loosely inspired by fairy tales and set in Edwardian England where people endowed with what is known (in the books) as Elemental Magic live alongside ordinary citizens. This particular book is a unique take on the Snow White fairy tale. The female main character, Maya, is (ironically?) of mixed heritage: British-Indian. An al ...more
I went into this with excitement, a group I am in recommended it and up to this point they haven't steered me wrong... well that ended today. I tried so hard to enjoy it, but every time I picked up the book I wanted to put it down. I could not get into it. The beginning was a struggle... but I kept telling myself that if I just get a few chapters into it, I am sure it would get easier... but it didn't. By Chapter 4 I felt like it should have gotten somewhere, but all she had done was set up her ...more
Jason Piele
Feb 20, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one...
Ok. I never thought that Mercedes Lackey was a brilliant writer. Her initial Valdemar books were fun little stories. I decided to give this book a try. It started off feeling a little more adult and somewhat more sophisticated than her previous books and I had a bit of hope; but it quickly descended into dreck. Flat characters that were just not at all believable, a slow story that never really focused on a plot, and the "clever" (not really) use of the snow white theme made this book make me fi ...more
Joanne Roberts
Jul 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Brahman Snow White. My first Mercedes Lackey review gets four stars for pure fluff. This fairy tale remake is just that. Don't look too hard at the plotting or the writing style. Just enjoy the romantic ride of this reimagined Indian Princess turned mage as she faces off against ancient and contemporary prejudices, and of course falls in love.

Can I mention a pet peeve? Does Lackey always use italics so heavily? Please stop telling me which words to emphasize as I read the dialogue.

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Bookwarts Club of...: Slytherin Reading Challenge 20 22 Feb 04, 2017 08:38AM  
Bookhungry: Getting to talk together 6 8 May 02, 2013 11:46AM  
Bookhungry: First Impressions (Judging a book by it's cover) 16 7 Apr 30, 2013 05:10PM  
Bookhungry: Meeting the villain - don't read before chapter 8!! 3 6 Apr 30, 2013 05:08PM  
Bookhungry: Aaaand, done! (Spoilers for the whole book) 10 12 Apr 24, 2013 07:45PM  
Bookhungry: Chapters 1-3 (Pages 1-62), Our story opens... 6 11 Apr 06, 2013 01:24AM  
Bookhungry: April Pick Announced! 10 8 Apr 01, 2013 09:45PM  

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Mercedes entered this world on June 24, 1950, in Chicago, had a normal childhood and graduated from Purdue University in 1972. During the late 70's she worked as an artist's model and then went into the computer programming field, ending up with American Airlines in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition to her fantasy writing, she has written lyrics for and recorded nearly fifty songs for Firebird Arts & M ...more

Other books in the series

Elemental Masters (1 - 10 of 16 books)
  • The Gates of Sleep (Elemental Masters, #2)
  • Phoenix and Ashes (Elemental Masters, #3)
  • The Wizard of London (Elemental Masters, #4)
  • Reserved for the Cat (Elemental Masters, #5)
  • Unnatural Issue (Elemental Masters, #6)
  • Home from the Sea (Elemental Masters, #7)
  • Steadfast (Elemental Masters #8)
  • Blood Red (Elemental Masters, #9)
  • From a High Tower (Elemental Masters, #10)
  • A Study in Sable (Elemental Masters #11)

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