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The Case of the Spellbound Child
An Elemental Masters novel #14
by Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books; 313 pp; $27
Published: December 2019

The fourteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England.

While Sherlock is still officially dead, John and Mary Watson and Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White are taking up some of his case-load--and some for Lord Alderscroft, the Wizard of London.

Lord Alderscroft asks them to go to Dartmoor to track down a rumor of evil magic brewing there. They’ve also been sent a request for help from a young mother from Dartmoor who in a fit of rage over the children spilling and spoiling their only food for dinner that night, sent them out on the moors to forage for something to eat. This is not the first time she has done this, and the children are moor-wise and unlikely to get into difficulties. But this time they did not come back, and in fact, their tracks abruptly stopped "as if them Pharisees took'd 'em." She begs them to come help.

They would have said no, but there's the assignment for Alderscroft. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

But the deadly bogs are not the only mires on Dartmoor.

I’ve read many of the other books in the Elemental series but am way behind so when this title become available, it intrigued me; first as an opportunity to check up on what Mercedes Lackey had been up to with the series but also the inclusion of Watson and mention of Sherlock Holmes. The alternate history in the previous novels was quite interesting and I love a Holmesian-style mystery.

What I most enjoyed was the weaving of the plight of the Dartmoor children with the detectives attempting to locate them. The magical elements were detailed and the worldbuilding is intricate and interesting. The magical systems are similar to other novels, including ones by Lackey herself but she does have her own unique voice in the spellcrafting. The types and variety are realistic as well, most facets of which are obviously quite well-researched from alternate religions and mythos.  Besides the worldbuilding, I loved the children. They were bright; not perfect but smart and while in need of rescue, their personalities were well-written.

As for the adults of the novel, I found them interesting and engaging, in particular, Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White. Both characters are intelligent, prepared for trouble, and practical in their actions. While some might find practicality less enticing, I found it a novel change to have characters that think their way out of a problem, rather than merely utilizing brute force. And intelligence from characters trained by Holmes seems perfectly fitting, especially for the mystery elements of the story. The characters plan and track down their answers and while some of it does seem to come more easily, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the ending.

If I were to critique, the beginning is slow to build. Instead of introducing us to the protagonists from the beginning, we are introduced to the idea of ghosts first, then bringing in the characters we will follow throughout the story. This element almost made me stop reading the novel as I could not engage in the story or the character point of view.  Building from the main characters would have been more engaging. I also found the villain as well as a few other characters a bit flat and two-dimensional with not enough development. The villain in particular is merely a bad man, with very little idea of the motivation behind his actions except extrapolation on the part of the detectives. While it reads somewhat like a Holmes story, I would have preferred a more modern interpretation with a three-dimensional villain.

Overall, fans of the series will like the novel but I do feel new fans might struggle to follow along with the characters references to past events. You can still enjoy the novel but might feel like you want to know more about those past novels. Even with the gap in books from the last in the series, I read, I found it fun and liked the mystery elements.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5. ~~ Andrea Rittschof

For other titles by Mercedes Lackey click here
For other titles in this series click here

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