Fairy Tales Reimagined: The Elemental Masters Series
When I picked up an interesting-looking book from the shelves at a massive discount book store in the US, I didn’t realise that I was beginning what would become an obsession with an author.
I am a sucker for fairy tales, in any and all forms, up to and including Brothers Grimm and Disney. Oh yes, I’ll complain along with others that Disney are ‘prettying up’ their fairy tales, but I’ll still fawn over Cinderella and Belle as loudly as any toddler.
When I was visiting friends in the States, I was taken to a massive discount book warehouse, which may have ended up being a mistake, as my suitcase home was predominantly comprised of books. To give a vague idea, most of the books were a dollar, perhaps two. I left there with fifty dollars worth of books. Um, oops?
Whilst browsing the shelves I picked up a couple of books by an author called Mercedes Lackey. I had never heard of her before, but the covers were pretty and the books’ blurbs interested me, so into the bag they went. I had thought, upon reading the blurb of Phoenix and Ashes, that it sounded a little like Cinderella’s story, but thought little of it, and indeed forgot that I had thought that as I read the book. Lackey’s brilliant use of characterisation and plot – not to mention the fact that the story was set in the UK during the Great War – kept me hooked until the end, at which point I promptly leapt online to find more books, and discovered that I had started midway through a series known as the Elemental Masters series.
Throughout this series, which is still going as of this year, Mercedes Lackey takes fairy tales from all over the world, and translates them into her world of secret magic users, and are all (with the exception of The Fire Rose) based in Victorian/Georgian era England. As a history fanatic and someone who lives in the UK, I find Ms Lackey’s attention to detail remarkable, especially for an author not native to these shores (Ms Lackey is based in Tulsa in the USA).
Each book is based upon a specific fairy tale, from Beauty and the Beast to The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and it is a great deal of fun for me to try and figure out which fairy tale the book is based upon. Some, like The Gates of Sleep are obvious, but others are not so apparent. I shall not spoil the fun and tell you which book corresponds to which fairy tale; I shall leave that in your capable hands.
Magic, in these books, is based on one of the four elements: Earth, water, air, or fire. A person can be an Elemental Magician and have small command of a single element, or be an Elemental Master, and have full command of said element. Each of the elements has a set of creatures that correspond to it, such as salamanders for fire, naiads for water, fauns for earth or sylphs for air. Each element has its positive and negative points, and each has strengths and weaknesses of use.
One thing I love about these books is the recurring cast of characters. You expect to see Lord Alderscroft, the head of the White Lodge of magic in London, appearing in more than one book, but other characters might not be so obvious. For example, we are introduced to Lord Peter Almsley as a side character in The Serpent’s Shadow, and in An Unnatural Issue he is one of the main protagonists. In a different manner, Doctor Maya Whetherspoon is one of the main protagonists in The Serpent’s Shadow, and makes a small cameo in Phoenix and Ashes. None of the characters in these books are created by chance.
Technically, the series begins with The Serpent’s Shadow, though as The Fire Rose is in the same universe and follows the same rules, I often class it as a precursor to the series. I don’t believe it makes a difference where in the series you choose to read this book.
The Fire Rose is a story set in Chicago in the era of the Great Fire, and follows the story of Rosalind Hawkins who takes on an unusual position after the death of her father, and begins employment with Jason Cameron. Until the release of Blood Red, this had been the first book set fully outside of the UK.
The Serpent’s Shadow, following the story of Eurasian Earth Master Doctor Maya Witherspoon and her escape to London from India is, as I mentioned, technically the first book in the series. Also featured in this book are Peter Scott, a Water Master, who is tasked with investigating Maya, and his friend Lord Peter Almsley, as well as the members of the White Lodge in London.
After the Serpent’s Shadow is The Gates of Sleep, which is the story of Water Master Marina Roeswood and her turbulent coming-of-age.
Following Gates of Sleep is Phoenix and Ashes, that I read first with no adverse issues for the story. Phoenix and Ashes is set during the Great War and is the story of Elanor Robinson and Lord Reginald “Reggie” Fenyx. This story also sees the return of Doctor Maya Witherspoon.
After Phoenix and Ashes is The Wizard of London, which tells the story of two young girls, Missionary’s daughter Sarah Jane, and street-brat Nan, who are not Elemental Masters, but are otherwise special, thereby adding an entirely new element of magical ability to the world. This story also tells the origins of Lord Alderscroft.
Following on from that is Reserved for the Cat. This is the story of Ninette Dupond’s flight from France to England, following instructions from a mysterious talking feline.
After that is Unnatural Issue, which sees the return of the affable Lord Peter Almsley, and brings the reader to the Second World War, introducing the character of Susanne Whitestone and her rather frightening father.
Then comes Home From The Sea, which sees a return of Nan and Sarah from The Wizard of London, older now, and working for Lord Alderscroft to locate and investigate unusual magic sources in Wales.
After that is Steadfast, which follows Elemental Magician Lionel Hawkins and his unawakened Fire Magician Katie Langford, with only the briefest of mentions of previous characters.
Only-just-published Blood Red is the latest tale of the Elemental Masters, which I have not yet completed. It is the story of Rosamund Von Schwarzwald, a young Earth Master who is taught to wield her power as a hunter as opposed to healer after a particularly unpleasant experience as a youngster.
In addition to these stories, if you find yourself wanting for more tales within the Elemental Masters universe, there have been two compilations of stories by various authors: Elemental Magic and Elementary. I have read the former, but not yet the latter.
Further information on this series can be found here, and further information on Mercedes Lackey and her writing can be found here. I can highly recommend these books to those who are interested in fantasy and history, as well as those who enjoy romance that isn’t overblown and ridiculous.