While this is the 3rd book in the Elemental Masters series, it is certainly accessible to first time readers of the series. While there are no real spoilers that I could tell, or anything beyond basic 'fantasy world magic' to know, there may be some that I missed, so be warned. Otherwise, read on.
Mercedes Lackey visits the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, bringing it to 1900s England in the third Elemental Masters novel The Gates of Sleep.
Even though Marina was sent away from her true parents to be raised by a rather eccentric set of aunts and uncles, she's had a charmed life. Growing up in an idyllic country setting with all the blessings of her godparents, she's clever, kind, and has an affinity for Air magic with an alliance with the Water elementals as well. She has no idea that she was sent away from her parents to protect her from the death curse that her aunt Arachne cast on her on her naming day. Nor does she realize the danger that she's in when her parents die suddenly and she's sent to live with the very person that she's been protected from.
This book continues the trend in the Elemental Masters series of strong, fairly liberated women who are firmly assured of their own talents and worth. There are no fainting violets waiting to be rescued here, which might be one of the reasons they don't tend to be comfortable in proper, late Victorian society. They are, in fact, probably rather similar to the typical, slightly awkward teenage girl who tends to read fantasy novels.
There are a few inconsistencies in the series, of course. The degree to which Elemental Masters can interact and live together with magicians of other elements tends to vary based on the needs of each novel, for example. I have a suspicion, however, that this series isn't meant to be taken too seriously, and such inconsistencies should simply be dismissed.
This is not the book to read when you're looking for deep meanings, intricate plotting or philosophical discussions. Go read Margaret Atwood's speculative fiction or China Mielvile's amazing science fiction if that's what you're after. For a light, palate cleanser between more serious works, though, check out The Gates of Sleep.
Highs: Marina meeting the ghosts of her parents
Lows: Very simple, easily forgotten villains, almost no romance subplot
Verdict: Fun, easy summer reading
Further Reading: Phoenix and Ashes, Soulless