Elemental Magic edited by Mercedes Lackey
Elemental Magic: All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters
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(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Among Mercedes Lackey’s many novels, few are as critically acclaimed and beloved as those about the Elemental Masters. The novels in this series are loosely based on classic fairy tales, and take place in a fantasy version of turn-of-the-century London, where magic is real and Elemental Masters control the powers of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Now other authors join Mercedes Lackey to add their own special touches to this delightful alternate history, in a world where magic is always just around the corner…”
I’ve been a little leery of themed anthologies, because they often produce stories that are serviceable without being anything extraordinary. Elemental Magic falls into that category. I think that part of the problem with this shared universe is that there isn’t a lot of variety to work with. There are four kinds of magic, which can be either Light or Dark, and a user can be either a Magician or a Master. There’s just not a wide array of things to choose from to create a plot.
About half of the stories, in one way or another, involve a Magician just coming into his or her powers and the chaos that it causes. In some of the tales, the main character is the newbie, but not always. Since a new Magician is usually confused by the growing powers at their beck and call, each of these stories feels pretty much the same. The only difference is in which element the fledgling user can use. Of these, the one I liked the best was “Air of Mystery”, in which an apprentice in the art of perfume making finds that she has a talent for Air magic when she’s tricked into mixing a scent that allows its wearer to be controlled.
The rest of the stories mostly involve conflict between Magicians and/or Masters, although a couple involve Magicians getting into trouble and finding their way out of it. “The Phoenix of Mulberry Street” is one of the best of this lot, although it has strong overtones of “The Little Match Girl” and the old tales of kindness to strangers being rewarded.
A couple of the stories I found to be, quite frankly, kind of bad. “Stones and Feathers”, the story of a young Earth mage drawn to live in London, really doesn’t have a coherent plot and doesn’t give any reason for ending the way that it does. “War to the Knife” relies on a secondary character doing a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn in their personality to accomplish the plot. “Tha Thu Ann” isn’t a bad story, but it is edited so horribly that character names get swapped more than once. And then there’s “The Collector”, in which the only African-American mage in the entire volume is also the only main character to choose Dark magic, which really makes it stand out… and not in a good way.
The universe of the Elemental Masters is one that I’ve enjoyed in the past, but this anthology didn’t do much for me. Elemental Magic is passable, but unless you’re really a fan of the series, don’t bother using this as a gateway to the stories, because you’re likely to get turned off and never try the novels.
Also by this author: Beauty and the Werewolf, Brightly Burning, Changes, Changing the World, Conspiracies (with Rosemary Edghill), Crossroads, Exile’s Honor, Exile’s Valor, Finding the Way, The Firebird, The Gates of Sleep, Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, Home from the Sea, Intrigues, Joust, Legacies (with Rosemary Edghill), Phoenix and Ashes, Redoubt, Sacrifices (with Rosemary Edghill), The Serpent’s Shadow, Steadfast, Take a Thief, Under the Vale, Unnatural Issue
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on March 3, 2013.