RogerBW's Blog

Steadfast, Mercedes Lackey 22 February 2014

The ninth and so far final book in Lackey's Elemental Masters series. This time our heroine is a circus acrobat fleeing from an abusive husband.

That's something of a problem, actually: while the psychology of the victim is not badly drawn, the husband himself (who does of course turn up to cause trouble) is so cartoonishly abusive as to be a plot point rather than a character. He's controlling, and violent, and alcoholic, and a rapist, and a philanderer, and… it's all of the traits rolled into a single person, and while I'm sure someone could point out a real-world example he just never feels like an actual person.

Apart from that plot, which takes up the latter section of the book, the story deals with our heroine getting work in a music-hall (somewhat reminiscent of Reserved for the Cat, earlier in this series), where she's perfect for the job, gets star billing, saves the place from financial ruin, and has a chance to learn about her talent for fire magic. And of course everybody loves her except the bad guy, and her only fault is that she thinks she's useless. I realise that these books are meant to be about strong heroines, but it's all getting a bit too Mary Sue-ish for my liking.

The title tells us that the fairy-tale model is The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and the bones are close to the surface: the hero is a veteran of the Boer War (Bridge-Guard on the Karroo is cited explicitly) with a wooden leg, the heroine is working as a ballerina (and fire-sprites provide the obligatory spangle), and the climactic scenes happen during a fire.

If I were trying to write a book in this series, this one would be very useful: all the disparate elements are laid out in plain sight as a checklist for the aspiring author. What it doesn't really do is integrate them into a single convincing story by applying interesting characters.

After Home from the Sea and this I shan't be rushing to read more in this series. The current work in progress is apparently Red as Blood: "It will feature Red Riding Hood, all grown up and hunting wereworlves" (sic). OK then…

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