on Dec. 4, 2012
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Also in this series: The Serpent's Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, Phoenix and Ashes, Home from the Sea, Steadfast, Blood Red, From a High Tower, A Study in Sable
In 2001, Mercedes Lackey published The Serpent's Shadow, the story of a pioneering woman doctor in an alternative Edwardian London where elemental magic is real, and is monitored by the members of an elite yet secret organization of Elemental Masters. This book began a series of novels set in an alternate Britain where certain gifted individuals wield the powers of the elements: earth, air, fire, and water, for good or ill. The headquarters of this secret organization is London's White Lodge, and it is led by the aristocratic and powerful David Alderscroft, a Fire Master of unrivaled abilities known to insiders as "The Wizard of London." From his seemingly traditional men's club in the city, Lord Alderscroft and his fellow Masters monitor the magical doings in their realm, and find, guide, protect, and train all those in the British Isles who are born with the ability to control the elements. Be they commoners, women, or those not completely human, these Masters set aside the rigid customs of their day to help those gifted with magic.
Inspired by this magically parallel turn-of-the-century Britain, other time travelers have followed Mercedes Lackey to this universe to add their gifts to this rich world. Join Tanya Huff, Diana Paxson, Fiona Patton, Elisabeth Waters, and others in the very first anthology of the Elemental Masters, including a never before published story by the real head of the White Lodge — Mercedes Lackey.
Elemental Magic is an anthology of short stories set in Lackey’s popular Elemental Masters universe. Unlike the novels in the series, which are all set in Britain between 1870 and 1919, the contributing authors were not limited to any historical period or locale. Thus, there are stories set in the ancient world, pre- and post-colonial Hawaii, post-Civil War U.S., and the fledgling Canada, to name a few.
Only one story directly references any of the novels: Gail Sanders and Michael Z. Williamson’s “A Flower Grows in Whitechapel”. The tale takes place shortly after the events described in The Wizard of London and involves several of the same characters, yet it lacked the compelling action and characterizations of Lackey’s own work.
Ms. Lackey’s own story is set in post-Civil War New England, and involves an Air magician called in to solve a spate of mysterious events possibly involving a Water mage; it was one of my favorites in the anthology, and not just because Lackey wrote it. I also enjoyed Diana Paxson’s “Song of the Sea”, in which Archelaus’ daughter and her fiance Meto are shipwrecked by the Sirens. Paxson’s blend of mythology, fantasy, and historical fact is pitch-perfect — no surprise, since she was the author chosen to take over Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series after Bradley’s death. “Makana” by Fiona Patton offers a fascinating glimpse of pre-colonial Hawaiian culture, while Cedric Johnson’s “For the Sake of Clarity”, set in Colorado’s mining country, blends the Wild West with classic fairytale enchantment – and offered several plot twists I didn’t see coming. And Tanya Huff’s “Tha Thu Ann” (there you are in Scots Gaelic) skillfully combines Elemental magic and the main character’s ability to converse with the dead to create what easily qualifies as one of the best stories in the collection.
Only a few of the entries include obvious references to well-known fairytales. In “The Phoenix of Mulberry Street”, Michele Lang makes a brief reference to Andersen’s “Little Match Girl”, but doesn’t dwell on it. On the other hand, Dayle R. Dermatis clearly plays a variation on Rapunzel in her tale set in southern Wales. (I’ve visited Castell Coch, and was delighted to recognize it as the main character’s tower.)
|Castell Coch, a Victorian High Gothic castle near Cardiff, Wales|
Several of the individual stories are quite appealing in their own right, particularly those by Paxson and Huff, but as a whole, the book probably works best for readers already familiar with Lackey’s Elemental Masters series.
Rating: 3.5 stars (average for the collection; several stories rated 4 stars)
Read for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge & Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- TBR Pile Reading Challenge 2014
- Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge 2014