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by Mercedes Lackey
Daw, $25.95, 298pp
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Here is one of Lackey's wonderful Elemental Masters stories, dealing with magicians in Victorian and Edwardian England; which, over time, has become my favorite of all her series. There is great depth to this story, for all that it reads smoothly and easily. Steadfast is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", only with a better ending than the original, dreary tale. If you've seen Fantasia 2000, you are familiar with the basic plot, but Lackey has made it very much her own.

Katie Langford is a dancer; an acrobat who has grown up performing with her parents, most recently as part of a small traveling circus. She has run away from an abusive marriage to Dick, the Strong Man of the circus, and after taking refuge with a family of Travelers - the British gypsies - she finds work at Brighton , the famous seaside resort. There she meets Lionel, an Air Magician who needs a new assistant for his act, and Jack Prescott, recently returned from the Boer War. Jack is the steadfast soldier of the story, down to the missing leg. (His war experiences are realistic for the timeframe of the story, but they may also resonate with soldiers and veterans of recent campaigns. Bear in mind, the author’s own son was on active duty in a hot place, and she no doubt heard from him some of what really goes on in war.)

For all their obvious differences, Jack and Katie have a great deal in common. For one thing, both are Fire Magicians - not as powerful as Masters, but with a natural affinity for fire and the elementals of fire: salamanders and firebirds especially. It was fire elementals that saved Katie from the fire that killed her parents, but it isn't easy for her to accept the notion that real Magic exists, or that she has anything to do with it. Gradually, however, Lionel and Jack are able to convince her not only of magic's reality, but of a Magician's responsibility to learn how to control her power.

Katie is haunted by the fear that Dick will find her, but with help from her friends, including a fellow performer named Peggy, she formulates a plan to gain her freedom. Of course, plans never survive first contact with the adversary, do they? When Dick shows up unexpectedly, Katie, Jack, and Lionel will need all their ingenuity, courage, and determination to find a working solution that doesn’t depend on magic.

Wait, why don’t they use their Elemental power? This story has the best explanation for why it can be wrong, really wrong, to use magic in anger, even for such excellent-seeming reasons as self-defense. So when Dick destroys everything Katie and her allies have worked for, they have to rely on their wits and ordinary skills lest they cause irreparable harm. Lackey has worked her own magic once again, telling a story that is enchanting and compassionate, and guaranteed to give you something to think about. –~~ Chris R. Paige

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