Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey
Steadfast: (Elemental Masters #8)
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(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Lionel Hawkins is a magician whose act is only partially sleight of hand. The rest is real magic. He’s an Elemental Magician with the power to persuade the Elementals of Air to help him create amazing illusions. It doesn’t take long before his assistant, acrobat Katie Langford, notices that he’s no ordinary magician—and for Lionel to discover that she’s no ordinary acrobat, but rather an untrained and unawakened Fire Magician. She’s also on the run from her murderous and vengeful brute of a husband. But can she harness her magic in time to stop her husband from achieving his deadly goal?”
While I haven’t been all that impressed with the Elemental Masters series of late, this book represents a bit of an improvement. I thought that this novel’s pacing was better, and it kept the action moving along without stagnating into endless conversations and explanations (at least until the end, which I’ll touch on later). The plot was also more coherent, with a clear conflict and a goal for the characters to strive for.
I liked the characters in this story, but oddly enough, I found that I liked the secondary characters more than the main ones. They seemed a bit better-rounded—since they were “normal” people with no magic, they didn’t end up being defined by their power level or by the element that they would identify with. One of them, a singer in the theater, is probably the most interesting character in the story, since she’s divorced three times and making a living singing bawdy songs. The issue with the main characters is that with the magicians, we’ve mostly seen stories like theirs before; admittedly, these are retellings of fairy tales, which are couched in generalities, but there’s enough room in them for improvisation that cookie cutter characters shouldn’t be a problem.
Speaking of similarities, it’s hard not to notice that a lot of this novel’s elements are nearly the same as Lackey’s earlier novel Reserved for the Cat. While there is no cat, the theme of dancing and of mimicking a Russian theme is virtually identical, from what I remember. There doesn’t seem to be any relation between the novels, so I don’t know why the two are so alike.
One thing that does differ from previous novels is the nature of the elemental spirits. In all of the other books, the elementals talk to those who can manipulate magic. In Steadfast, they are mute and can’t communicate with the magicians beyond gestures and guesswork. Lackey may have been trying to make a distinction between magicians and Masters, who wield more power, but that was never spelled out explicitly and so I can’t say that for sure. Suffice to say, it sticks out as very different from what’s been established before. The author also introduces extremely powerful guardian spirits, one of whom talks to Katie in a dream, and this is also something completely new and somewhat out of left field.
What I’ve been most frustrated about in this series is the author’s tendency to abrupt endings. In this case, she sets up some elaborate plans involving Katie and the other mages, plus possible intervention from the London mages, only to toss the entire plan out the window and solve the problem with an accident. It’s like Chekhov’s Gun misfired at the last minute. I felt like I’d been left hanging and wondering “Wait, what happened to all that prep in the last fifty pages?”
What this series boils down to for me is the literary equivalent of comfort food. I can read these books, turn off my critical side, and not be challenged. They’re fast, light reads I enjoy, regardless of any flaws that I may notice. Steadfast certainly isn’t Lackey’s best novel, but it’s entertaining in its own way, and if you’re a fan of the Elemental Masters series, this book is a decent addition to your collection.
Also by this author: Beauty and the Werewolf, Brightly Burning, Changes, Changing the World, Conspiracies (with Rosemary Edghill), Crossroads, Elemental Magic, 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, Take a Thief, Under the Vale, Unnatural Issue
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 6, 2013.