Mercedes Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series


This is a historical fantasy series, set in the late 19th and early 20th century, in the UK and Europe. (The author states in the introduction to “Elemental Magic” that she has confined herself the period 1870 – 1919.)  It is presented, not so much as an alternative history, as a hidden aspect of our own history. Magic exists, but most people are unaware of it.

The magic relates to the four classical elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Air. People with magic related to the four elements are Elemental Magicians. The most powerful of these are the Elemental Masters. There are various magical beings or creatures related to the four elements; these are called Elemental Creatures. The Elemental Magicians are aware of, and interact with, the Elemental Creatures, especially when performing their magic.

Mercedes Lackey has loosely based each of her stories on a fairy tale. In the Introduction to “Elemental Magic”, Mercedes Lackey lists the following fairy tales that her stories, up to that point, are based on: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Puss In Boots, Tattercoat, Cinderella, Snow Queen, Tam Lin.

There is also a theme in the series of women standing up for their rights, during a period when women’s rights were not generally recognised.

The Wikipedia entry for “Elemental Masters” makes the following statement: Baen Books published The Fire Rose. DAW Books published the remaining books in the series and invented the “Elemental Masters” series name and numbering. Due to this, the series numbering begins with The Serpent’s Shadow. Although The Fire Rose is not technically part of the Elemental Masters series, it follows the same theme as the series, and is included here.


The Fire Rose (1995)

[Based on “Beauty and the Beast”.]

[The San Francisco Earthquake occurs towards the end of this story, so this must be set in 1906.]

Rosalind (Rose) Hawkins is a scholar of classical languages at the University in Chicago.  But then her father dies, leaving her penniless.  When she is offered a job as a governess in San Francisco, teaching the children of a wealthy rail baron, Jason Cameron, she has little choice, but to accept.

Arriving at Cameron’s mansion, outside the city of San Francisco, she discovers the job is not what she has been told.  There are no children.  Her job is to read various books, in various languages, to her employer, via a speaking tube, and to translate books which are in languages that Cameron doesn’t know.  She never sees him; he is confined to his own suite of rooms in the mansion.  There seem to be many servants, but she never sees them; apparently they do their tasks when she isn’t looking.  She only ever sees Cameron’s secretary, the sinister Paul du Mond.  She learns that Jason Cameron had suffered some accident, leaving him disfigured.

The nature of the books she reads leads Rose to suspect that Cameron is attempting to heal himself with magic and alchemy.

But we, the readers, learn (before Rose does), that Jason Cameron is a Fire Master.  He had attempted to turn himself into a werewolf, of the kind which can transform at will, and retain his human consciousness while in wolf-form. But the spell had gone wrong, and he is now stuck as a man-wolf hybrid.  He can no longer hold things easily, and his transformed eyes cannot focus on books.  This is why he had employed Rose, to try to locate a spell which could turn him back into a man.

Paul du Mond is Cameron’s apprentice, training to also become a Fire Master.  But du Mond is lazy, unwilling to submit to the discipline required to reach that status.  Also, we soon discover, he is cruel and unscrupulous.  Periodically he is required to go into the city to buy supplies, and conduct business for Cameron.  But secretly he is meeting with Cameron’s rival Fire Master, Simon Beltaire, who is also unscrupulous and cruel.

Rose starts to wonder about the magic described in the books she is reading: is magic real?  And why are the servants invisible?  She puts these questions to Cameron, who tells her that magic is real, and explains what had happened to him. And the invisible servants are Salamanders, the Elemental creatures of Fire.  But now she knows about them, they make themselves visible to her.

From then on, Rose understands better how to do her job.  Cameron starts to teach her magic.  They discover that her magical nature is in the Element of Air, with the related Elemental creatures being Sylphs.

Cameron decides to send du Mond to the city permanently, ostensibly to oversee one of his businesses, but actually because du Mond is unpleasant and lazy, and Cameron doesn’t think he can teach him any more magic.  Du Mond is happy to go, so he can be Beltaire’s apprentice instead. Beltaire has offered him a shortcut to Mastery, involving sex and drugs.

When Rose returns from a trip to the city, the Salamanders call her into Cameron’s suite.  This is the first time she has seen him.  She finds him ill and in pain; he had attempted another spell to turn himself back, but it had failed.  Rose looks after him and helps him recover.

Rose and Jason are falling in love with each other.  But each thinks separately that such a relationship will not work.  Will Cameron be able to reverse the spell?  And are Beltaire and du Mond planning something nasty for them?

The Serpent’s Shadow (2001)

[Based on “Snow White”.]

Maya Witherspoon was born in India of an English father and an Indian mother.  [Maya is the “Snow White” character, although not because of her skin colour.]  She had become a doctor, like her father.  She discovered she had magical abilities, but her mother, a Hindu priestess, wouldn’t teach her.  Maya learnt magic by surreptitiously observing her mother and other magic users.

Her parents died – her mother in a cholera epidemic, her father of snakebite.

Feeling there is some enemy, Maya flees to England, and gets recognition as a doctor, living in a working class suburb of London.  She has a private practice at home, and also works at the Fleet Charity Clinic and St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. Most of her patients are working class people.

The members of Maya’s household include: Gupta, who had been the family servant in India, Gupta’s son and the son’s wife and children.  Maya also has 7 animals: 2 mongooses, a parrot, a peacock, a falcon, a monkey and an owl [paralleling the 7 dwarves of the “Snow White” story].  These are actually mystical creatures representing some of the Hindu gods, but Maya doesn’t realise this.

Maya experiences a lot of prejudice: she is a half-breed, and a woman working as a doctor, during a time when female doctors are rare.

There is a Masters Circle, or White Lodge, a society of Elemental Masters, based in the Exeter Club in London.  It is headed by Lord Alderscroft (“the Old Lion”).  The White Lodge has detected the presence of a previously unknown Earth Master, and Alderscroft sends Peter Scott (a Water Master) to investigate.

Peter discovers Maya, realises she is the Earth Master, but that she is untrained.  He agrees to train her.  Peter and Maya become close.

Maya didn’t realise, but her mother had had a sister, Shivani, who is a priestess of Kali, the Hindu goddess of Death. [Shivani corresponds to the Evil Queen from “Snow White”.] She has moved to London, and set up a temple, hidden in a warehouse.  Her followers go round killing people – initially drunks and members of the underclass who would not be missed.  But Shivani’s goal is to take revenge on English servicemen who have served in India.  She also had been indignant that her sister had married an Englishman, and had been responsible for Maya’s parents’ deaths.  Now she wants to kill her sister’s daughter – but doesn’t know where she is, as Maya has created magical shields around her house.

Some Englishmen also become Shivani’s followers, not knowing what she potentially has in store for them.  She kills one and imprisons his spirit in a mirror.  [This parallels the magic mirror from “Snow White”.]  Shivani forces the mirror servant to search magically for Maya’s location.

Shivani conjures up the Shadow Serpent; it kills those of Shivani’s targets who are not easily accessible by her followers.

The White Lodge learn of the killings, which are obviously magical, and of Indian origin.  Alderscroft mistakenly thinks the magic is being cast from the country of India, and the White Lodge establish a shield to prevent magical attacks from abroad.  But Peter Scott believes it is closer to home – possibly the enemy Maya had fled from. He learns from Gupta about Maya’s aunt.

Peter Scott has an ally, a fellow Water Master called Lord Peter Almsley. They call themselves the “twins” because of their common first name and Elemental Power.

Shivani finally locates Maya, disguises herself as an apple seller and poisons her, and leaves her unconscious.  [Another parallel with “Snow White”.]  Peter discovers her and attempts to save her.  Norrey, a female patient of Maya’s, uses her underclass connections to locate the temple warehouse.

To save Maya, the two Peters, Gupta, the 7 animals, and Norrey and her friends attack Shivani and her followers in the warehouse.

The Gates of Sleep (2002)

[Based on “Sleeping Beauty”.]

In the Prologue:

Alanna and Hugh Roeswood (both Earth Masters) are holding a christening party for their baby daughter Marina, at Oakhurst Manor, in Devon. It is already clear that baby Marina has an affinity for Water Magic. There are six guests, Marina’s godparents, all Elemental Masters, who are giving magical blessings to Marina.

Hugh’s sister, Arachne, arrives, uninvited. She had been estranged from the family, and she had had no Elemental Magic. But now she has evil magic of a different kind, and she puts a curse on Marina. The effect of the curse is that Marina will die sometime between then and her 18th birthday.

One of the guests, Elizabeth Hastings, a powerful Water Master, has not given her blessing yet. The curse is too powerful for her to dispel, but she modifies it: Arachne must be physically present to activate the curse, and Marina will not die; something else will happen instead, but Elizabeth does not know what.

To hide Marina from Arachne, Marina’s parents allow three of the guests to take her away. These are Sebastian and Margherita Tarrant, and Margherita’s brother Thomas Buford, who live in a farmhouse in Cornwall. The three of them are artists, who live a bohemian lifestyle.

Chapter 1 picks up the story when Marina is 17.

She is developing her magical abilities as a potential Water Master. She is being taught, in both magic and general academic studies, by Sebastian, Margherita and Thomas, whom she refers to as her uncles and aunt. Sebastian is a Fire Master, and Margherita and Thomas are Earth Masters, so Marina has not been taught by a Magician of her own Elemental Power. She is pleased when Elizabeth Hastings comes for a visit, to give her training in Water Magic.

Marina has never met her parents since her christening day, so she doesn’t know them, although she receives letters from them. She has also not been told about her aunt Arachne, or the curse Arachne had put on her.

But then three lawyers arrive to say that Marina’s parents had died in a boating accident while on holidays in Italy. And her aunt Arachne, as Marina’s blood-relative, is taking custody of her. She has no option but to go with the lawyers to Oakhurst Manor, where Arachne and her son Reggie are now living.

Arachne insists that Marina learn the behaviour required of high society, especially in relation to meals, clothes and dancing. Marina is generally confined to the house and not provided with any money. So she can’t even write to her aunt and uncles. Reggie, whom she finds obnoxious, seems to be trying to romance her.

Marina finds that the servants who had known her parents are sympathetic to her. This includes sneaking her extra meals, as the meals she has with Arachne are not very substantial.

Marina insists that she go to church on Sundays, and Arachne permits this. Marina had followed this practice when living with her aunt and uncles, but now it is as much to get out of the house as a religious observance. The vicar is pleased to meet her, and later Marina attends a women’s group at the vicarage, to show them art-embroidery techniques she had learnt from Margherita.

So Marina gets into a habit of attending meetings at the vicarage, getting there on horseback. On the way home one day, she encounters a young woman who seems distressed and lost. A man arrives by horse and cart – he explains that he is Dr Andrew Pike, who runs a sanitarium. The young woman, Ellen, is one of his patients. It is soon revealed that Andrew is an Earth Master.

Marina doesn’t realise that Arachne and Reggie are practising black magic and Satan worship. Arachne had inherited four pottery factories from her deceased husband.   They employ young women with touches of Elemental Magic to paint the pots, using lead-based paints. But the lead poisons them, and they die in distress, with Arachne and Reggie feeding off the negative magical energy via their Satanic ceremonies. Ellen had been one of the painters, who had been rescued by a relative, and put into Andrew’s sanitarium.

But Arachne and Reggie are also plotting how to inherit Oakhurst Manor from Marina. Arachne knows that her curse had failed somehow, and is trying to work out how to reactivate it. As an alternative, Reggie could marry Marina, and inherit the manor, and later they can dispose of her.

Marina meets with Andrew and the vicar (who is also an Elemental Magician) at the vicarage. This is so Marina can use her Water Magic to remove the poison from Ellen’s body. But the group are also trying to work out what to do about the lead poisonings at the factories. Marina discovers that her aunt Arachne owns the pottery factories where the poisonings are occurring.

So when Marina meets Reggie again, and Reggie is proposing romantic outings, Marina asks to go with him to one of the factories. When they get there, Marina detects the feeling of black magic. This makes her ill, and vulnerable to what happens next.

Eventually, as you’d expect, Arachne works out how to reactivate the curse, and it involves Marina pricking her finger (but not with a spindle), and falling into an enchanted sleep. [It has taken a long time to get to the “sleep” mentioned in the book’s title.] Arachne sends Marina to the sanitarium, not realising Marina’s existing friendship with Andrew. And her aunt and uncles, and Elizabeth, turn up at the sanitarium to try to help cure her.

Andrew goes to the manor to confront Arachne and Reggie. And then there is a confrontation between Marina and Arachne in the dream world, where Marina had found herself.

Phoenix And Ashes (2004)

[Based on “Cinderella”.]

Set in 1914 – 1917, during World War 1, in Broom, Warwickshire, and other places in England.  Chapter 1 is set in 1914. The rest of the book is in 1917.

Eleanor Robinson is the Cinderella character. Her father, Charles Robinson, has remarried. His new wife is Alison, who has two daughters:  Lauralee and Carolyn.

Eleanor’s father goes off to war.  Eleanor had expected to go to Oxford University, but her father hadn’t made the arrangements before leaving.  She finds herself a servant in her own home, especially since the other servants gradually leave.

But then the news comes that Charles Robinson has died in the war.  It is then revealed that Alison is an Earth Master, practising the darker and nastier aspect of that magic.  Her accomplice is her solicitor, Warrick Locke, and her two daughters are her apprentices.

Alison had expected to inherit the house and business, including several factories.  But Charles hadn’t changed his will, so Eleanor inherits.  Killing Eleanor would raise suspicions, and in any case, if Eleanor dies, some cousin will inherit.  Alison chops off the little finger of Eleanor’s left hand, and buries it under the hearthstone, casting magic spells to confine Eleanor to the house.  She casts other spells to force Eleanor to obey her commands, and to make the people of the village practically forget that Eleanor exists.

Chapter 2 picks up the story 3 years later in 1917, Eleanor having lived a life of drudgery, wearing rags, and not having much to eat.

Eleanor discovers that she is developing magic powers of her own.  She has inherited the powers of a Fire Master from her deceased mother.  She also discovers that Alison’s magical power over her is weakening.

When Alison and her daughters are away in London, a woman comes to her door, who introduces herself as Sarah Chase, Eleanor’s godmother [corresponding to the fairy godmother of “Cinderella”].  She is the village witch, an Earth Magician (although not a Master), as well as the district nurse and midwife.  She is aware of what has happened to Eleanor, but couldn’t take action while Alison was present, because of Alison’s greater power.  Sarah teaches Alison about Elemental Magic, and helps train her in her powers. This includes teaching her the magic spell to enable her to leave the house temporarily.

Reginald (Reggie) Fenyx is the equivalent of the prince in “Cinderella”.  He is an Elemental Air Master, and has been flying as a pilot in the war.  But his plane was shot down, and then he got buried alive, and was tormented by dark Earth Elementals, hostile to a Magician of the opposite Element of Air.  Reginald is returned to a hospital in England suffering from physical injuries, and shell-shock.  Doctor Maya Scott (from “The Serpent’s Shadow”) visits the hospital and realises that Reggie is also suffering mental distress from the Elementals’ attack. He has apparently lost his magic.  Maya arranges with Lord Alderscroft to have Reggie discharged and returned home.

Reggie is lord of the manor at Longacre Park, his father having died two years previously.  He is welcomed home by his mother and the household servants.  Longacre Park is not far from the village of Broom.  Reggie continues to have attacks of depression and shaking fits as he remembers his experiences in the war.

Lord Alderscroft appoints Alison to keep an eye on Reginald, not realising that Alison is a renegade.  Alison is quite happy with this; she hopes to marry one of her daughters to Reginald, and proceeds to insinuate herself into the higher society which the Fenyx family occupies.  She casts various dark spells to accentuate Reggie’s suffering, and to make her daughters seem more attractive to him, intending to make it appear that her daughters have relieved his suffering.

Eleanor discovers that her spell to temporarily leave the house allows her to get as far as the closest field of Longacre Park.  Eleanor had known Reggie previously, as she and the boys of the village had helped Reggie take off in his aeroplane in that field.  She finds Reggie in that field, and they meet there several times in the period that follows.

Reggie has a visit from his godmother, Lady Virginia, who is also an Air Master.  She dispels one of Alison’s magical attacks.

Sarah learns that there is an Air Master at Longacre, and tells Eleanor she must visit her, to escape from Alison’s power, and to prevent Reggie from coming under her power.  There is going to be a fancy dress ball at Longacre, so Eleanor can go in disguise.  Eleanor must cast a stronger spell to escape her house and travel the longer distance to the manor house.

But events do not go smoothly, and Alison has some nasty plans for both Eleanor and Reggie.

The Wizard of London (October 2005)

[Based on “The Snow Queen”.]

The Snow Queen character is Cordelia. The Kai character is David Alderscroft. The character corresponding to Gerda is possibly intended to be Isabelle, although the parallel is a bit vague. She is the former girlfriend of David, and eventually part of the group that saves him from Cordelia. However the main storyline follows Sarah and Nan, rather than the plot corresponding to the Snow Queen story.

Isabelle and Frederick Harton run a boarding school in London. (Frederick is not involved directly in the school, and works for an import company.)

Isabelle had met Frederick in India, where he was stationed as a soldier. When they had returned to England, they had established the school, primarily for the children of expatriate English people in India. Some of their staff are from India, as are the three warrior guards, Agansing (a Gurkha), Selim (a Moslem) and Karamjit (a Sikh). But also, Isabelle and Frederick and the three guards all have psychic abilities (this is different from Elemental Magic). Children with psychic abilities are secretly encouraged to attend the school, where they receive training in these abilities.  The staff and students of the school refer to Isabelle as Memsa’b, and to Frederick as Sahib.

Sarah is the daughter of medical missionaries living in Africa. Her parents are Elemental Magicians, but when she develops psychic abilities, they send her back to England, to the Hartons’ school.

It is Karamjit’s practice to take left-over food out to the gate for the street kids each evening, although most of them are too afraid to accept it. Sarah has been going out to the gate with him. One evening they meet a girl called Nan, who accepts a basket of food from them. So from then on, Nan is there each evening to accept food. Nan and Sarah strike up a friendship, which Isabelle encourages, since she senses that Nan has psychic abilities.

Then one evening, two men come for Nan. Her mother has sold her to the brothel owners. Sarah runs to her defence, and the two girls run away down the road. But before the men can do anything, they are attacked by a ghostly bird – the spirit of Sarah’s African Grey Parrot, whom Sarah had left behind in Africa. Then two of the guards from the school come and beat the men up, and return the girls to the school. Nan becomes a student at the school, earning her keep by working with the nursemaids looking after the smallest children.

Shortly afterwards, Sarah’s mother visits from Africa, and brings Sarah’s parrot, which is called “Grey”, to her. Not only can the parrot talk, but it understands what it is saying, and it has mystical abilities.

Isabelle asks Sarah and Nan to attend a seance with her, run by a medium, who Isabelle suspects is cheating a friend of hers. The medium is proved to be a fake. But Sarah discovers that she herself is a true medium, able to perceive and communicate with spirits, and guide them to the afterlife.

The school takes a trip to London Tower, where Nan meets a raven called Neville, which returns to the school with her. This raven has mystical abilities. So each of the two girls now has a mystical bird companion.

After this, Sarah and Nan are lured to a house at Number 10, Berkeley Square, where they are attacked by a monstrous spiritual creature. But Nan discovers mystical powers within herself, which enables her to fight back. And Isabelle, Frederick and the three guards arrive to rescue them.

Isabelle refers the incident to the Elemental Masters, where it comes to David Alderscroft’s attention.

Cordelia is an Air Master, with a touch of Fire Magic. She had encountered an Elemental ice spirit in Switzerland, who had taught her methods relating to Cold and Ice. David is a Fire Master. Cordelia became his mentor, teaching him magic relating to Cold, the opposite aspect of his Fire power. Their goal is political power. David is a member of House of Lords. He hopes to get a Ministry of Arcane Sciences (ie magic) – eventually to have Elemental Masters controlling the government.   Cordelia is resentful of the fact that women don’t have much social and political power, and that she must work through an intermediary.

David is the son of the Lord Alderscroft (“the Old Lion”) mentioned in previous stories, who had died 2 years previously. David has become head of White Lodge, and revitalised it. He is referred to as “the Young Lion”, or “the Wizard of London”.  In later stories, people start referring to David as “the Old Lion”. [I’m not sure of the chronological order of all these stories. In some stories “Lord Alderscroft” is David, in others it’s his father.]

In the past, David and Isabelle had been going together. Then when Cordelia appeared on the scene, David had snubbed Isabelle, implying that their difference in social status made the relationship unsuitable. Isabelle was bitterly disappointed. It was after this she went to India.

Cordelia uses some really nasty magic – killing orphaned children, and making their spirits her slaves.

The staff and students of the Harton school go to an estate in the country. This is something of a holiday, although lessons continue, with each weekday being a half-holiday. And the lessons generally involve observations and explorations of the house and property.

They plan to put on a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. But Isabelle doesn’t know who to cast as Puck. Then the real Puck (also called Robin Goodfellow) – that ancient spirit of England – appears and agrees to take the role. The play goes ahead successfully and magically.

David goes to a country house party, which happens to be at the adjoining property to where the Harton School staff and students are staying. He visits Isabelle, who gives him a cool reception.

A bit later Cordelia arrives. She has something nasty planned for David. But Puck senses something is wrong, and alerts Sarah, Nan, Isabelle, Frederick and the three guards.

Reserved for the Cat (October 2007)

[Based on “Puss in Boots”.]

The Puss in Boots character in this story is Thomas, the cat (although he does not wear boots). The person he is protecting is a young woman, Ninette, in place of the miller’s son in “Puss in Boots”, but as in the fairy tale, this involves deception and a false identity. And there is a Troll in place of the ogre of the original story.

Ninette Dupond is a dancer in the Paris Opera Ballet. One day, the star of the ballet, La Augustine, is injured, and Ninette substitutes in the starring role. But she does so well that La Augustine becomes jealous, and has Ninette fired.

Ninette tries to get another job, but fails. And then her cat starts talking to her mentally. The cat, Thomas, is apparently a magical being which had belonged to her father, an Elemental Earth Master, who had disappeared when Ninette was a child. And her father had made Thomas responsible for Ninette’s safety.

With the cat’s guidance, Ninette travels to England, to Blackpool. And also with the cat’s guidance, Ninette takes on the identity of the famous Russian ballerina, Nina Tchereslavsky, and sets up the appearance of having swum ashore from a shipwreck, on a stormy night.

Nigel Barrett, who is an Air Master, runs the Imperial Music Hall. He is assisted by Arthur Gilbert, the orchestra conductor, who is also an Air Magician, and by Wolf, an African Grey parrot, who is a composer, and claims to be the reincarnation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The three are out driving when Thomas, the cat, runs to them, asking for help with his mistress, who is stranded on the seashore. (Only people with Elemental Magic are able to hear Thomas’s mental voice. Ninette herself had inherited a trace of magic from her father.)   They rescue Ninette, and discovering her assumed identity and her dancing ability, Nigel decides to include her in the show.

Nigel contacts Jonathon Hightower, who is a stage magician, as well as being a Fire Master (and who secretly includes his Fire Magic in his illusions). Jonathon comes to the Imperial Music Hall, and they plan a production which will include Ninette’s dancing as well as Jonathon’s magic. In the meantime, Ninette performs solo dances, and assists Jonathon in his magic act.

The real Nina Tchereslavsky, who is doing a tour of Europe, hears about this girl taking her name. But in fact, this Nina is not the real Nina at all, but a Troll (an Earth Elemental) who had absorbed (consumed) the original Nina, and taken on her identity. The Troll had been conjured up by some Elemental Magician in the past, but the Troll had absorbed him, and continues to absorb other people. For each person she absorbs, she inherits their knowledge and intelligence, so has become quite clever, and she can take on the form of any person she has absorbed. Nina (the Troll) becomes angry that someone has stolen her identity, and travels to England to take revenge on the imposter.

Nina sets fire to the theatre, but Jonathon summons salamanders to put the fire out. Then she sends a disease-carrying homunculus to attack Ninette, but Ninette and her friends manage to defeat it. At this point, Nigel, Arthur, Wolf and Jonathon conclude that their enemy is an Earth Master, and make plans to track him or her down. And Ninette confesses her true identity to them.

Finally there is the confrontation between the cat and the Troll, but it is not resolved as simply as in the Puss in Boots story.

Unnatural Issue (June 2011)

[In the Introduction to “Elemental Magic”, Mercedes Lackey gives “Tattercoats” as the inspiration for “Unnatural Issue”. The story includes elements from “Tattercoats”, but also from “Donkeyskin”, or a similar story.]

Richard Whitestone is an Earth Master, who lives in a manor in Yorkshire. His wife, Rebecca, died giving birth to their daughter Susanne. Devastated, Richard rejected his daughter.

Susanne has been brought up by servants, and lives and works among them. She is also an Earth Master.

Susanne encountered Robin Goodfellow as a child. (Robin, also known as Puck, previously appeared in “The Wizard of London”.) He taught her magic, for the caring of the land. Susanne uses her magic to look after the land of the manor property – a job which her father should have been doing.

Richard Whitestone remains secluded in his suite of rooms upstairs, looking for a magical way to bring his wife back to life. He turns to necromancy. When he sees Susanne at age 20, he decides to kill Susanne and bring Rebecca’s spirit back into Susanne’s body.

To disguise his intent, he shows that he has taken notice of Susanne, gives her a room on the upper floor, and new, good clothes, and starts giving her lessons.

But Susanne is concerned about her father’s true intentions. Robin and the Elemental Creatures warn her that her father is involved in something dark. She gets an invisibility ring from Robin, and sneaks into her father’s rooms.

What she sees there causes her to run away from home. She eventually finds her way to Branwell Hall, and takes a job as a dairy maid.

In London, Lord Alderscroft has detected that there is someone practising necromancy in Yorkshire, and sends a Water Master, Lord Peter Almsley, to investigate. Peter and his valet Garrick come and stay with Peter’s friend Charles Kerridge, at Branwell Hall.

Suspecting that Susanne knows something about the necromancer, Peter takes on the role of the gamekeeper, and offers Susanne training in magic, hoping to be taken into her confidence. And Susanne finally tells Peter her background, leading Peter to conclude that Susanne’s father is the necromancer.

But Richard Whitestone discovers where Susanne has gone, and sends an army of dark Elementals and resuscitated corpses to attack Branwell Hall. But Peter, Garrick, Charles, Susanne and others manage to fight them off. Defeated, Richard disappears.

Peter sends Susanne off to France, to stay with Peter’s Uncle Paul, to get her out of her father’s clutches.

But war comes to France. Charles Kerridge joins the army, and is posted to France. Hearing of this, Susanne, who has fallen in love with him, takes a job as nurse to be close to him. Peter also comes to France as part of MI13, a secret magic military intelligence unit. Peter notices Susanne’s attraction for Charles, and believes there is no future in it. And he realises he is in love with her himself.

Richard learns that Charles is in France, and travels there to take revenge, sending resuscitated corpses to attack Charles in the trenches. Charles is injured, and loses his memory, and is sent back to England. Susanne is discovered as an imposter – she is neither French nor qualified as a nurse – and is also sent back to England.

Peter and his friends decide they must set a trap to capture Richard, and Susanne agrees to be the bait.

Home from the Sea (June 2012)

[Based on “Tam Lin”, and traditions about selkies.]

Mari Prothero lives with her father Daffyd, on the coast of Wales. Daffyd is a fisherman – a very successful one. He even goes out fishing in stormy weather, and catches lots of fish even then.

Mari has been seeing magical creatures all her life. She wonders whether they are real, or whether she is going mad.

When Mari reaches her 18th birthday, Daffyd explains that there is a bargain between the Prothero family and the Selch (the Welsh equivalent of the Scottish Selkies) – creatures that can transform between seal-form and human-form. In each generation, a Prothero must marry a Selch, they would produce two children, one of which would become a Selch, and return to the sea with the Selch parent. In return, the Selch protect the Prothero fishermen on the sea, and guide them to the best fishing.

Mari learns that the magical creatures she had been seeing are real; they are Elemental Water Creatures. In fact she has powerful magic; she is a Water Master.

Mari is upset that her father hasn’t told her all this before, and that she is obliged to marry a Selch man. However she makes her own bargain with the Selch Clan Chief, Gethin. She knows they need her magic. She insists he provide her with a teacher of magic, and a few Selch young men to court her, amongst whom she will choose a husband.

So Gethin sends a teacher, Idwal, and four suitors, who arrive at the Prothero cottage out of the sea.

Meanwhile, Sarah and Nan (from “The Wizard of London”) had graduated from the Harton school, and spent a year in Africa, where they visited Sarah’s parents. They now return to the school – which at the end of “The Wizard of London” had been relocated to David Alderscroft’s country estate.

Sarah and Nan take on the job of teachers at the school, but discover they are not very good at it. So when David Alderscroft offers them a job, they take it willingly.

Lord Alderscroft has learned from his Elemental Creature contacts that there is a new Water Master on the Welsh coast, and sends Sarah and Nan (along with their birds) to investigate. They stay in a cottage on the estate of the local manor house.

Sarah and Nan encounter Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) again (as they did in “The Wizard of London”), who gives them advice. (Puck must tread carefully – he does not have jurisdiction over the sea.) So Sarah and Nan meet up with Mari, and provide her with advice, and they soon become friends.

But Mari finds she does not care for any of the suitors, but instead she falls in love with the teacher, Idwal. So Mari and Idwal marry. Clan Chief Gethin is angry at this.

In due course Mari gives birth to twin boys. But the Selch arrive and take Idwal and the boys away.

With the help of Rhodri, one of the former suitors, Mari follows the Selch into the sea, and comes to a land in the magical realm, and insists on the return of her husband and sons. The Chief makes her undergo a series of tests.

Elemental Magic (2012)

Anthology featuring stories by Lackey and other invited authors. Mercedes Lackey’s story is “I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing”. Ms Lackey has allowed the contributors to set their stories any time in history up to 1919, from any part of the world.

I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing, by Mercedes Lackey

[The title comes from T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.]

Miriam Tayler receives a message from Jacob Harsetter, who had been a friend of her father, and travels from Boston to the fishing town of Solace, in Maine, to meet him. Jacob is an Earth Master. Miriam is an Air Magician, although not a Master, but she has the unusual ability of being able to communicate with Elementals of all the Elements.

There have been some unusual occurrences in Solace, all relating to Water: a fisherman’s net cut to ribbons, lobster pots smashed, a well going dry, a cellar flooded. And Jacob had heard the mermaids singing, and they sounded to be in pain. There may be a renegade Water Magician involved.

Because of Miriam’s special ability, Jacob hopes that she can solve the problems.

Steadfast (June 2013)

[Based on “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”. Most of the main characters of this story are based on characters of the fairy tale. However, the characters in this book are human beings rather than the toys of the fairy tale. The parallels with the fairy tale are in the character roles rather than the plot.

The Tin Soldier character is Jack Prescott. Jack is a retired soldier, and like the Tin Soldier, he has a missing leg, which he had lost in the Boer Wars.

The paper ballerina character is Katie Langford, who is a dancer and acrobat.

The goblin jack-in-the-box character is Katie’s abusive husband, Dick Langford, although he is more actively malevolent than the goblin in the fairy tale.

The other main character is Lionel Hawkins, but he doesn’t have a counterpart in the fairy tale.

As in the fairy tale, a massive fire plays a significant role towards the end of the story.]

Katie had worked in the circus as a dancer and acrobat. When her parents died in a fire, the circus owner had arranged the marriage between Katie and Dick Langford, the strongman. But Dick turned out to be a violent, abusive husband. Finally Katie runs away.

Lionel Hawkins is a stage magician at the Palace Music Hall in Brighton, as well as an Air Magician, and he uses Elemental magic to perform illusions in his act. He needs a new assistant, as his current assistant is leaving to get married. When Katie arrives at the theatre, he gives her the job.

Jack Prescott is the doorman of the theatre. He lost a leg in the Boer Wars, which has been replaced with a wooden leg. He is a Fire Magician.

Lionel and Jack realise that Katie is also a Fire Magician, but she is unaware of this fact. But she gets a shock when she starts to see Elemental Fire creatures. Lionel and Jack decide they must train Katie in magic, especially given how dangerous Fire Elementals can be; they could set fire to a building if a Fire Magician loses control of his or her emotions. Jack is the main teacher, as his Elemental Aspect is the same as hers. Lionel organises for Katie to move out of her boarding house into a rented cottage; this would avoid Fire Elementals appearing in the boarding house. As they work together, Katie and Jack start to fall in love.

Katie is trying to organise a divorce, but this requires money. As well as working as a magician’s assistant, she dances with the chorus dancers. When a supposed “Russian” dancer cancels, Katie takes on this role, performing the kind of dances she had previously been trained in.

But suddenly Dick turns up at Katie’s cottage and moves in, continuing his abusive behaviour, beating her, requiring her to give him his meals, taking her money, drinking, and sleeping with prostitutes. There is not much Katie can do; the law is on his side, as a wife is regarded as the property of her husband. And she must appear to submit, otherwise Dick, being strong and violent, might harm her friends. Lionel and Jack find out, and try to work out what to do.

But when Dick returns, blind drunk, to the cottage one night, he accidentally sets it on fire.

Elementary (2013)

Anthology featuring stories by Lackey and other invited authors.

Mercedes Lackey’s story is “Into the Woods”, based on “Little Red Riding Hood”. This story also appears as the Prologue of “Blood Red”.

Blood Red (June 2014)

[Based on “Little Red Riding Hood”.]

The parallel to “Little Red Riding Hood” occurs in the prologue. Rosamund (Rosa), who is a young girl at this stage, is a developing Earth Master, living in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Germany. She regularly goes through the forest to the home of “Grandmother” Helga, who teaches her in Elemental Magic. On this occasion, she finds a werewolf in Helga’s house, and discovers her teacher dead. She calls for help, and is rescued by the Brotherhood of the Foresters, who are the Elemental Magicians of the Schwarzwald region. From then on she lives with, and is trained by, the Brotherhood.

The remainder of the book occurs years later, when she has reached adulthood, and become a Hunt Master in the Brotherhood. The main activities of the Brotherhood are to hunt down nasty magical creatures, but they also look after the forest and the Elemental creatures, and rescue lost children.

Rosa and a fellow Earth Master travel to Transylvania at the invitation of the Elemental Magicians there, to hunt and destroy a werewolf and a vampire who are killing villagers.

On her way home to the Black Forest, she is invited to stay at the mansion of the Graf (or Count) von Stahldorf, the Lodge Master of the Elemental Magicians in Munich.   He invites her to take on a broader task, hunting monsters throughout Europe.

One of the Count’s guests is Marko, who to Rosa’s shock turns out to be a werewolf, but a benevolent one from a family of hereditary werewolves. Marko and his cousin Dominik have come to the Count to ask for help in another part of Transylvania, where a large number of people are going missing. Rosa goes with them to solve the problem. But this will turn out to be her most dangerous mission.

From a High Tower (2015)

[Based on “Rapunzel”. The author also states in the Foreword that she is referencing the works of Karl May, a popular 19th century German writer of American Western stories.]

Like “Blood Red”, the story is set in Germany.

The parallel to “Rapunzel” occurs in the prologue and Chapter 1, but with quite a few differences. The Rapunzel character is called Giselle, and the witch character is instead a benign Earth Master called Annaliese, whom Giselle calls “Mother”. The counterpart of the prince is a young man called Johann Schmidt, who is not so benign.

The prologue tells how Giselle’s father raids a neighbouring garden for fresh vegetables. The owner (Annaliese) insists he give her the new-born Giselle or she will report him to the police.

Chapter 1 is set when Giselle is 14 years old. Giselle and Mother are living in the renovated tower of an abandoned abbey. Giselle has developing powers as an Air Master, and Mother is training her. Giselle is aware of her true parentage, and is quite happy with the current arrangements. The abbey is isolated, so Giselle rarely meets other people. She is not confined to the tower, except that when Mother goes to buy supplies, Mother locks Giselle into the tower for her protection. The tower has four storeys, and has all necessary facilities, so this is no great hardship for Giselle. She has a bedroom with a window at the top level.

One time when Mother is away, a young man (a hunter) called Johann Schmidt approaches the tower, and she talks to him from her window at the top of the tower. He seems quite friendly, and she pulls him up on a rope (not her hair) to her room. However, once inside, he attacks her, and attempts to rape her, but Mother arrives and pushes him out the window. He should have died or been injured from the fall, but they do not find his body.

After this, two men from the Brotherhood of Foresters train Giselle in self-defence and fighting techniques. She becomes an expert in shooting with a rifle.

As an Air Master, Giselle is often surrounded by Air Elementals, such as sylphs. When she is shooting, the sylphs often help her hit the target, by guiding the bullets. Also, apparently related to her Air magic, her hair grows at a faster rate than normal, requiring her to cut it more frequently. She normally wears it in braids.

A few years later, Mother dies, and Giselle earns her living by entering shooting competitions in various villages, disguising herself as a young man, because women are not allowed in the competitions. However, an Army captain, taking her to be a young man, arrests her, to induct her into the army for national service. She reveals that she is a woman, but the man attacks her. She asks the sylphs to take his breath, meaning for him to fall unconscious, but the man dies. She escapes and takes refuge with an Earth Master called Tante Gretchen. Hearing her story, Gretchen accepts that Giselle is not guilty of the man’s death.

But to avoid arrest, Giselle can no longer disguise herself as a man, and so cannot enter any more shooting competitions. She heads off on horseback for the Brotherhood of Foresters, hoping for money or employment.

On the way she comes across Captain Cody’s Wild West Show: a travelling show with American cowboys, Indians, horses, longhorn cattle and buffaloes. Being an avid reader of Karl May’s stories, she attends a performance. When they discover that she is an expert shooter, they invite her to join the show. So she does. Captain Cody is a Fire Magician, and the leader of the Indians, Leading Fox, is a Medicine Chief, the equivalent of an Air Master.

As the show approaches the Black Forest, Rosamund (from “Blood Red”) arrives, as a representative of the Brotherhood. When she hears Giselle’s story of the Army captain’s death, she also clears her of wrongdoing. But she has another purpose for coming. The Black Forest is full of nasty magical creatures, and the presence of three Elemental Magicians is sure to attract them. So she joins the show to protect them. She also continues Giselle’s training.

And they do have some dangerous encounters on the way. In an incident reminiscent of the “Hansel and Gretel” story, Rosamund and Giselle, with the help of a friendly troll, rescue a group of children from a Blood Witch, a nonhuman creature which imprisons and eats children.

When winter arrives, Giselle invites the show people to stay at her abbey, and Rosamund arranges with dwarves to have the abbey buildings rebuilt. But they encounter Johann Schmidt again, and he is even nastier, and more dangerous, than Giselle had previously realised.


A Study in Sable (2016)

[Based on “The Twa Sisters” (“The Two Sisters”).  Also, in this story, Ms Lackey combines her Elemental Masters world with the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.]

Nan and Sarah (who previously appeared in “The Wizard of London” and “Home from the Sea”) have been retained by Lord Alderscroft as psychic investigators. He has set them up in a flat. They have the care and training of a former street urchin called Suki, who lives with them in their flat.  Suki has similar psychic abilities to Nan, namely telepathy and psychometry (that is, the ability of reading the history of an object).  Nan and Sarah had rescued her from a fake medium, who had been using her to read the minds of the clients. And rather than send her to an orphanage or a workhouse, they had taken her into their own care.

Lord Alderscroft sends Nan and Sarah to assist Dr John Watson (the associate of Sherlock Holmes) and his wife Mary in their investigation of cases involving magical elements. In the Elemental Masters version of the world, John Watson is a Water Master, and Mary is an Air Master. Sherlock Holmes is sceptical about the existence of magic, and John and Mary take those cases which Holmes rejects which contain magical elements. Although Nan and Sarah are there to assist the Watsons, they do also assist Holmes with some of his cases. This work involves a number of visits to Baker Street over a period of days, and the girls return home to their flat at the end of each day.

First they tackle again the creature at Number 10, Berkley Square, which Nan and Sarah had encountered as children, in “The Wizard of London”.

Sherlock Holmes is investigating the disappearance of Johanna, a young woman from Germany, who came to London with her sister Magdalena, who is an opera singer.

Quite independently, Magdalena, discovering that Sarah is a medium, requests her to come to her hotel room, where she is tormented each night by ghosts. Sarah discovers a huge number of ghosts each night, somehow attracted to Magdalena. Sarah is kept busy for many nights trying to guide the ghosts to the afterlife.

In the meantime, Lord Alderscroft sends Nan, John and Mary, with Suki and the raven Neville coming along too, to Kent, where there is a report of someone performing blood sacrifices.

Nan becomes jealous of Sarah, who is attending Magdalena’s performances at the opera, and eating sumptuous meals provided by Magdalena. But she gradually becomes aware of a change in Sarah; she is beginning to become obsessively dependent on Magdalena. Is Magdalena exerting some mysterious influence over her?



Wikipedia: Elemental Masters:

Mercedes Lackey – the Official Website:


2 thoughts on “Mercedes Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series

    • Thanks for your question Beverly.
      Nan and Sarah visit Sherlock and the Watsons over a period of days, returning to their own flat at the end of each day. Normally Suki stays at home at their flat, but on the trip I mentioned, when Nan goes with the Watsons to Kent, Suki joins them. I have amended my review to clarify.

      I have also added a comment about how Nan and Sarah had originally rescued Suki from a false medium.


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