A Study in Sable (Elemental Masters) by Mercedes Lackey

June 3, 2016 Book Reviews 0 ★★★★

A Study in Sable (Elemental Masters) by Mercedes LackeyA Study in Sable Series: Elemental Masters #12
on June 7, 2016
Pages: 320
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Also in this series: The Serpent's Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, Phoenix and Ashes, Home from the Sea, Steadfast, Elemental Magic:, Blood Red, From a High Tower

Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White—along with their clever birds, the raven Neville and the parrot Grey—have been agents of Lord Alderscroft, the Elemental Fire Master known as the Wizard of London, since leaving school. Now, Lord Alderscroft assigns them another commission: to work with the famous man living at 221 Baker Street—but not the one in flat B. They are to assist the man living in flat C. Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, themselves Elemental Masters of Water and Air, take the occult cases John’s more famous friend disdains, and they will need every skill the girls and their birds can muster!

Nan and Sarah’s first task: to confront and eliminate the mysterious and deadly entity that nearly killed them as children: the infamous Haunt of Number 10 Berkeley Square. But the next task divides the girls for the first time since they were children. A German opera star begs Sarah for help, seeking a Medium’s aid against not just a single spirit, but a multitude. As Sarah becomes more deeply entwined with the prima donna, Nan continues to assist John and Mary Watson alone, only to discover that Sarah’s case is far more sinister than it seems. It threatens to destroy not only a lifelong friendship, but much, much more.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


A Study in Sable unabashedly appropriates Sherlock Holmes, and more importantly, John and Mary Watson, into the late Victorian world of Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Magic. While the super-rational Holmes refuses to believe in magic or take cases involving it, the Watsons of Lackey’s imagination are Masters of Water and Air, respectively. The book also reintroduces Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White, last seen in Home from the Sea, who possess not magic but psychic talents. I’m fond of Nan and Sarah, and even fonder of their avian sidekicks, Neville and Grey, and enjoyed the chance to see them again as young women making their way in the world. They’ve taken on a young apprentice or fosterling, who is really delightful.

Holmes is not the central character or even the main investigator in this book, magic being both beyond his abilities and something his scientific mind rejects. But he plays an important subsidiary role, and I enjoyed his reactions to the realms of magic and psychic phenomena, and his involvement in the mystery. Lackey also introduces at least one historical character; I can’t tell you who without giving too much away, since their real-life identity is only revealed in the last fifth of the book.

The books in this series are usually retellings of (or at least inspired by) fairy tales. In A Study in Sable, it’s a ballad or folk tale that serves as the major inspiration. “The Twa Sisters” exists in a number of variants (“Binoorie”, “The Cruel Sister”) in both English and Scandinavian folk culture. I’m not going to tell the story here, in part because spoilers and in part because, as usual, Lackey introduces her own twists, the involvement of the Baker Street residents being only one of them.

The plot is somewhat episodic, with three more-or-less separate problems for Nan, Sarah, and the Watsons to tackle, but it flows pretty well from one to another; one investigation actually takes place during the course of the major, ballad-based plot.

All in all, A Study in Sable was an entertaining read, and better than some of its immediate predecessors.



About Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is perhaps best known for her bestselling Valdemar, Elemental Masters, and Tales of the 500 Kingdoms series. Her books now total well over 100, not counting anthologies. She writes (or has written) several other popular series as well as stand-alone novels, both on her own and with collaborators including Larry Dixon (her husband and illustrator), Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Rosemary Edghill, Marion Zimmer Bradley, James Mallory, Roberta Gellis, and others.

Lackey graduated from Purdue University in 1972 and worked as a computer programmer before quitting to write full-time. A strong storyteller and a prolific writer, she turns out four to six books per year. She has also written lyrics and recorded songs (many of them based on her stories) for Firebird Arts and Music. Music is a prevailing theme throughout her work, and a major element in the Bardic Voices and Bedlam’s Bard series.

Mercedes Lackey lives with her husband in Oklahoma. She keeps parrots and has been active in raptor rehabilitation. She has also been active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and the MRPG community.

(sources: Goodreads, author website, and Wikipedia.)

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Clean Sweep ARC Challenge (May 2016)
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