Monday, November 12, 2018

The Bartered Brides: An Elemental Masters Novel by Mercedes Lackey

I have always been a fan of fantasy novels. I remember a high school English assignment where I had to create a make believe world (including drawings) and how much I loved doing that. My earliest reading memories were of books that involved some element of magic and fantasy-John Bellairs! and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series are two of my favorites. This was years and years before Harry Potter, but even then, writers understood kids needed that element of magic and fantasy in their stories.

I'm still a big fan of fantasy but I don't put it at the top of my reading list, and for that I'm annoyed with myself. One series I do enjoy is Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series. There are thirteen novels in the series and I haven't read them all (some sit on my bookcase...) but I've read enough that I always look forward to reading the next. She mixes late Victorian England, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, along with elemental masters. Elemental masters are people who are gifted with the power of one of the four elements: fire, air, earth, water. They serve to protect England from evil. And as we know, power corrupts, and some folks who are elemental masters are not so pleasant.

In this novel, Sherlock is dead. Not really, but only his closest friends know he's alive, actively working to shut down the evil Moriarty's vast network of minions before they can harm anyone else. Moriarty is dead, thanks to Sherlock, but of course when you're that evil, it takes a bit more to really be dead. Enter Spencer, a fellow who is an elemental master of spirits. This kind of elemental master is very rare; he can command spirits, trap them, and have them do his bidding. He can move between this world and the spirit world with ease. What he's planning is horrific: to bring Moriarty back by taking over the body of a young wealthy man. To do so, Spencer must gather enough power to make this leap possible. How to do that? By trapping the spirits of young women who are bound to him. Their anguish fuels the talisman needed to bring Moriarty back. 

Spencer is pretty awful. He finds young, poor women, promises to marry them, and takes care of them. Once they're married (by a total faker), he ends up decapitating them and keeping their heads. All this is designed to trap their spirits, and their misery in the spirit world fuels Spencer's powers. 

Headless bodies are showing up in the Thames, and no one can figure out who they are, and where they are coming from. It seems like a hopeless case, and without Sherlock around to look at the clues, the police are stumped. Nan and Sarah, two cohorts of Sherlock and Watson, and elementals in their own right, work to figure out what is going on; completely unaware that Moriarty is not completely gone--and plotting to come back and create havoc. 

I love Mercedes Lackey's Elemental series. Her use of magic using the elements, along with fairies and other creatures always peaks my interest. I'm still that kid who thinks that fairies live in the backyard, I guess. I appreciate the logic of Sherlock Holmes, and wow-who knew Watson was a Water Elemental Master?

This would be a great series to start for a middle school or high school reader who loves fantasy. There really isn't any graphic violence--most is done "off-screen" and good triumphs over evil after some great battles. 

Rating:  4/6 for a twist in the Sherlock-Moriarty battle, with a satisfactory ending and a new beginning for one of the characters. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

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