RogerBW's Blog

Unnatural Issue, Mercedes Lackey 30 January 2014

The seventh book (or, if you believe the publisher, sixth) in Lackey's Elemental Masters series; for a change, it's not just more of the same. Well, all right, there are similarities. The protagonist is as always a young woman with magical powers having to defend herself against powerful foes. The time is nebulously just before the Great War, though on this occasion also during it. We start in Yorkshire; our heroine is the utterly-neglected daughter of a man whose beloved wife died giving birth to her, or rather neglected until he decided he could bring said wife back with appropriate necromancy and a suitable vessel.

Yes, it's Donkeyskin through the lens that Lackey brings to the series. The complication in the inevitable romance is that our heroine falls in love with the wrong chap, but that's a relatively minor part of the plot.

In common with other books in this series, the villain suffers from terminal stupidity. Most of the series' villains have been megalomaniacs to some extent, and the heroines usually defeat them by outthinking them, so it's not entirely unreasonable, but that does get a bit samey. At least here we don't have the situation of The Gates of Sleep, where nobody bothers to inform the heroine that the aunt who's ripping her away from her beloved foster family is the villain who cursed her and caused her to be sent away from her parents in the first place!

The language is odd. I assume Lackey's trying to write in period American for her primarily American audience, which is fair enough, though words like "auto" and "shirtwaist" ring oddly on the lips of English characters and throw me out of the narrative. (After some research, I've discovered that at this particular time "shirtwaist" in American meant a shirt for a lady, i.e. a blouse. Before these books I'd only met the term from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.) In this book, the odd language goes one step further into factual error: a bully in the village pub spills our hero's pint, fair enough, but it's explicitly described as a pint of lager.

Um, no.

But all right, it's not a plot-affecting error; this is no Blackout/All Clear. Once the action shifts to the battlefields of the Great War, things perk up a bit, and even a Zeppelin bombing raid is woven into the plot in a fairly clean manner. The implication that German necromancers are actively involved in their side's military effort is an interesting one, and I look forward to more of this side of things if the series runs to that; it's somehow rather more convincing than the contention in Phoenix and Ashes that the Spanish 'Flu epidemic in the USA was the result of a casual invocation.

In sum, this series still feels reasonably fresh, and I shall read more of it while not expecting Great Literature.

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  1. Posted by Meg at 08:00pm on 24 February 2014

    I'd never heard of this author or this series, but this one sounds really good! Think I can just dive in here, or should I start at book 1?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:16pm on 24 February 2014

    I think you could enter at any point and not be too badly lost, but you will miss stuff by doing so. Alderscroft, the chief of the magical good guys, is introduced in The Serpent's Shadow and his background is explored in The Wizard of London.

    I read them in order.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 08:17pm on 24 February 2014

    Also: Welcome!

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