Jul 10 2017 8:30am

Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters Tells a Different Kind of Fairy Tale

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

Fairy tales are the foremothers of fantasy. It is in these stories that humanity first imagined a world of magic. Fairy tales are also the origins of romance; it is in these fables that the idea of happily ever after was born. Mercedes Lackey, using various fairy tales as starting points, has a delightful fantasy series that combines the magic and romance of these yarns and upgrades them for a more adult audience: The Elemental Masters.

Unlike Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series, which focused on the romance, the Elemental Masters series is comprised of fantasy tales with strong romantic elements. The early books can be read as standalones but as the series progresses you are going to want to read them in order. And if you are a fantasy romance fan, you are going to want to read them because these delightful stories will definitely get your heart to singing and your imagination soaring.

Elemental Masters are mages who have control over a specific element – air, water, earth and fire. Each master also has control/relationship with the elementals of his element.  The basic elementals are: Gnome (earth), Undine (water) Sylph (air) Salamander(fire). They also work with Selkies or other beings of their element. The series is set primarily during the Victorian and Edwardian eras and takes place mostly in England, where the British Elemental Masters Council is headquartered at The Exeter Club in London.

The first story, The Fire Rose, is a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast. Jason Cameron, wealthy San Franciscan and Fire Master, had attempted an old spell and found himself trapped in wolf form. Slowly losing his humanity, he engages Rosalind Hawkins to read to him. They do not meet face to face but converse through a speaking tube. She finds his taste odd – she has never before read through texts on alchemy – but she does as requested. Soon the two are holding spirited conversations and Rosalind finds herself quite drawn to the enigmatic Jason. But how will she feel once she sees him in wolf form? A fascinating new take on a familiar story, The Fire Rose is a terrific start to this series.

The Serpent’s Shadow by Mercedes Lackey

The second novel, The Serpent’s Shadow, is very loosely based on Snow White.  In fact, the author does a very tongue in cheek jab at the prejudice of the time by having the heroine, Maya Witherspoon, have Indian heritage giving her the very black hair but not the pale complexion of the heroine in the original fable. Maya has fled India, knowing she has an enemy but not knowing who it is. She establishes a new home in England where she works as a doctor, serving many of the local fallen women in the area with whatever contraceptives are available as well as providing abortions when needed. She also works at the Fleet, the charity hospital, doing her best to see that everyone, regardless of ability to pay, receives stellar care.  Peter Scott is a Water Master, able to control all aspects of his element. When he is sent by the council to discover who the amateur mage is that is setting protections around their home, he finds Maya and her menagerie of seven protective “pets”. Peter quickly offers to tutor Maya in the ways of magic but before long, their relationship is going in a clearly different direction. But as the romance between the two has heated up, so has the danger. For Maya’s enemy also crossed the ocean and they have no intention of giving up their prey. This is a wonderful, magical tale that is as rich in history and the fight for equality and social justice as it is in romance.

The Gates of Sleep is a rambling retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Marina Rosewood lives in a country cottage with her doting godparents. Her own family, for reasons that remain a mystery, could not raise her. They send long letters and money but have never even visited. Her foster family is comprised of Elemental Masters and Marina herself is slowly being trained in her own mastery of Water. When her parents die, an unknown Aunt gains guardianship and quite suddenly, Marina finds herself in a very peculiar situation. Also a dangerous one. For the reader knows that it is the Aunt who placed the curse that kept Marina from her family. And that curse must either find it’s intended victim or rebound on the caster before Marina turns 18, just a few months away. Aiding Marina in battling her evil Aunt is Dr. Andrew Pike, a friend who quickly becomes more as the two try to outwit their nasty opponent.

Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Phoenix and Ashes, Lackey’s rendition of Cinderella, does a fantastic job of combining early twentieth-century history with magic. Reginald Fenyx is a pilot in WWI. What makes him an exceptional one – an Ace – is that he is a Master of Air and able to work with the element to keep his plane flying and himself safe. But when he meets another Master of Air in the skies and gets shot down, he experiences a horrific ordeal which has him blocking his magic. Eleanor Robinson is the prisoner of her step-mother, a powerful Master of Earth who has worked a spell locking Eleanor to the hearth of their home. But the step-mother doesn’t know about the witch godmother Eleanor has in the village nor of Eleanor’s own growing powers as a Master of Fire. When Reggie returns to town the two renew their childhood acquaintance and together defeat the evil that has been slowly taking over their small community. An excellent love story and the fascinating history woven into it make this one of the best tales of the series.

The series takes a turn from HEA conclusions—but continues to deliver sweet romance - with the Wizard of London. This Victorian era take on The Snow Queen gives us a brief glimpse of the history of Lord David Alderscroft, Master of the British Elemental Masters Council. It also introduces us to two important characters who will appear at regular intervals  – and star in several – of the remaining books: Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White. In this novel they are young girls, experiencing their first year at The Harton School, under the tutelage of the charming and deeply in love Isabelle and Frederick Harton, affectionately called Sahib and Mems’ab. The Harton School is home to children whose parents are living and working overseas – India, Africa, Egypt – but who want their children in the safety of England and receiving a proper British education. It is also home to those children who are Talented and Gifted; while they are not Elemental Masters, Talented and Gifted children have powers, with some reaching master status and becoming Warriors of the Light.  Frederick and Isabelle’s love filled marriage makes a sweet backdrop to a story of a woman who will stop at nothing – including murder- to gain power and the two young girls who bring her plans to ruin.

Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey

The next six books have HFN (happy for now) endings. Readers are left in no doubt that the resolution will fit the HEA perimeters of their fairy tale origins but unlike the earlier books, these don’t end with weddings or honeymoons. Reserved for the Cat – Puss in Boots – tells the story of a young dancer who finds her life forever changed when she follows the advice of a stray cat. Unnatural Issue – Donkey Skin – is the frightening tale of a love gone horribly wrong when a father wishes to exchange his daughter for her dead mother. Home from the Sea –combines a plethora of tales (East of the Sun and West of the Moon, as well as bits and pieces of Tam Lin and the Selkie of Sul Skerry) to give us the story of a young, independent woman who finds herself facing a very odd arranged marriage.  Steadfast-  a reworking of The Steadfast Tin Soldier – delves into the world of the wounded from the First World War and gives us insight into the world of the magic shows of the era. Blood Red (aka Red as Blood) reimagines Red Riding Hood as a hunter living in the forests of Germany. She specializes in hunting down unnatural beasts such as werewolves and other shape shifters but then she meets a Hungarian wolf who makes her begin to question all she ever thought about their kind. The final (for now) fairy tale based story is From A High Tower, a book about a strong and resourceful Rapunzel who wasn’t rescued by the man who climbed through her window but assaulted. Saved by an Elemental Master of Earth, she hones her own powers as both a marksman and a Master of Air to survive. But she is haunted by her initial attacker for she knows that nobody has ever been found even though he took what should have been a fatal fall. Each book partners a strong heroine and hero who are clearly perfect for each other, even if they don’t get an immediate trip down the aisle.

With the most recent books, A Study in Sable and the soon to be released A Scandal in Battersea, the series takes a turn away from fairy tales. These novles focus on Sarah and Nan from The Wizard of London, as well as John Watson, a Master of Water and his wife Mary, a Master of Air. They also include none other than Mister Sherlock Holmes! While not romances these fabulous fantasies combine magic, mayhem and beloved characters to deliver tales well worth reading.

Fans who enjoy their fantasy with a heaping dollop of romance and lovers of sweet, fairy tale renditions will want to rush out and add these novels to their to be read piles. Well written, original, warm and heartfelt these stories will have you reading into the wee hours of the morning.

Learn more about or order a copy of the books in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series:

The Fire Rose
The Serpent's Shadow
The Gates of Sleep
Phoenix and Ashes
The Wizard of London
Reserved for the Cat
Unnatural Issue
Home from the Sea
Blood Red
From a High Tower
A Study in Sable

H&H Editor Picks:

Mercedes Lackey’s Empowered Heroines

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July 2017 Romance Novel New Releases Shopping List






Maggie Boyd, blogger, reviewer, avid reader.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
This sounds like a fascinating series, Maggie. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Jennifer Proffitt
2. JenniferProffitt
I love this series! When I got all caught up on her Valdemar series, I went to the Elemental Masters (actually not loving her 500 kingdoms series) and fell head over heels. Found Fire Rose at my local library and fell in love!
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