Mercedes Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series: From a High Tower

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From a High Tower (2015)

[Based on “Rapunzel”. The author also states in the Foreword that she is referencing the works of Karl May, a popular 19th century German writer of American Western stories.]

Like “Blood Red”, the story is set in Germany.

The parallel to “Rapunzel” occurs in the prologue and Chapter 1, but with quite a few differences. The Rapunzel character is called Giselle, and the witch character is instead a benign Earth Master called Annaliese, whom Giselle calls “Mother”. The counterpart of the prince is a young man called Johann Schmidt, who is not so benign.

The prologue tells how Giselle’s father raids a neighbouring garden for fresh vegetables. The owner (Annaliese) insists he give her the new-born Giselle or she will report him to the police.

Chapter 1 is set when Giselle is 14 years old. Giselle and Mother are living in the renovated tower of an abandoned abbey. Giselle has developing powers as an Air Master, and Mother is training her. Giselle is aware of her true parentage, and is quite happy with the current arrangements. The abbey is isolated, so Giselle rarely meets other people. She is not confined to the tower, except that when Mother goes to buy supplies, Mother locks Giselle into the tower for her protection. The tower has four storeys, and has all necessary facilities, so this is no great hardship for Giselle. She has a bedroom with a window at the top level.

One time when Mother is away, a young man (a hunter) called Johann Schmidt approaches the tower, and she talks to him from her window at the top of the tower. He seems quite friendly, and she pulls him up on a rope (not her hair) to her room. However, once inside, he attacks her, and attempts to rape her, but Mother arrives and pushes him out the window. He should have died or been injured from the fall, but they do not find his body.

After this, two men from the Brotherhood of Foresters train Giselle in self-defence and fighting techniques. She becomes an expert in shooting with a rifle.

As an Air Master, Giselle is often surrounded by Air Elementals, such as sylphs. When she is shooting, the sylphs often help her hit the target, by guiding the bullets. Also, apparently related to her Air magic, her hair grows at a faster rate than normal, requiring her to cut it more frequently. She normally wears it in braids.

A few years later, Mother dies, and Giselle earns her living by entering shooting competitions in various villages, disguising herself as a young man, because women are not allowed in the competitions. However, an Army captain, taking her to be a young man, arrests her, to induct her into the army for national service. She reveals that she is a woman, but the man attacks her. She asks the sylphs to take his breath, meaning for him to fall unconscious, but the man dies. She escapes and takes refuge with an Earth Master called Tante Gretchen. Hearing her story, Gretchen accepts that Giselle is not guilty of the man’s death.

But to avoid arrest, Giselle can no longer disguise herself as a man, and so cannot enter any more shooting competitions. She heads off on horseback for the Brotherhood of Foresters, hoping for money or employment.

On the way she comes across Captain Cody’s Wild West Show: a travelling show with American cowboys, Indians, horses, longhorn cattle and buffaloes. Being an avid reader of Karl May’s stories, she attends a performance. When they discover that she is an expert shooter, they invite her to join the show. So she does. Captain Cody is a Fire Magician, and the leader of the Indians, Leading Fox, is a Medicine Chief, the equivalent of an Air Master.

As the show approaches the Black Forest, Rosamund (from “Blood Red”) arrives, as a representative of the Brotherhood. When she hears Giselle’s story of the Army captain’s death, she also clears her of wrongdoing. But she has another purpose for coming. The Black Forest is full of nasty magical creatures, and the presence of three Elemental Magicians is sure to attract them. So she joins the show to protect them. She also continues Giselle’s training.

And they do have some dangerous encounters on the way. In an incident reminiscent of the “Hansel and Gretel” story, Rosamund and Giselle, with the help of a friendly troll, rescue a group of children from a Blood Witch, a nonhuman creature which imprisons and eats children.

When winter arrives, Giselle invites the show people to stay at her abbey, and Rosamund arranges with dwarves to have the abbey buildings rebuilt. But they encounter Johann Schmidt again, and he is even nastier, and more dangerous, than Giselle had previously realised.

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