The Case of the Spellbound Child is the 14th book in Mercedes Lackey‘s Elemental Masters series, and quite honestly if you didn’t like this series to begin with, this book will probably not change your mind. Set in an alternative reality Victorian era, magic exists here and is focused around the four classic elements of earth, water, air and fire. There are also people – such as mediums and the like – who deal in psychic magic.
Admittedly starting off with the 14th book of a series is usually a bad idea, but taken on its own merits The Case of the Spellbound Child just wasn’t particularly gripping. One thing to bear in mind is that the final rating given will be only for how well this book fares as a stand-alone story rather than as part of the overall series.
The book kicks off with the story of a rogue ghost, but it has no real bearing on the main plot. It then segues into the story of a woman who may have been declared mad in order for someone to steal her fortune. This also appears to have no real bearing on the main plot and ultimately ends in a rather anticlimactic way.
After this, it’s time to get stuck into the main story and the entire plot can be summed up in one sentence: “Man kidnaps children to steal their magic”. That’s pretty much it. There are no grand plans, no world-ending plots, our villain has no particular plan other than to live a comfortable life and all in all it just seems really mundane. He doesn’t appear to be in league with anyone, his activities don’t appear to connect to any other overarching plot such as Holmes and Moriarty, and it’s not helped by there being too many dangling plot threads and references to other events that have gone on before (as is to be expected when you’re fourteen books into a setting).
Sherlock Holmes is a ghost, various people seem to be inhabiting other people’s bodies, there are birds that can talk and this is really not a good place to try and come into a series, so your humble reviewer can only apologise if fans of the series are tearing their hair out over my ignorance!
When the main plot does arrive, it is accompanied by lorryloads of Lackey’s now trademark peasant accent, the same one she uses any time she needs a rough/uneducated/country voice, and in this book it is laid on with the literary equivalent of a JCB with paragraph after paragraph like “Tis like–‘ee be lyin’ a bier, but ‘ee knows ‘ee be lyin’ a bier. Cain’t move, cain’t see, cain’t ‘ear, but ‘ee feel. An’ ‘ee feels, like blood drainin’ oot.” One might wonder if Mercedes Lackey goes through a lot of keyboards as the apostrophe key wears out in record time.
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As a fan of Mercedes Lackey’s work since my teens, it’s genuinely sad to have to be so negative about this particular book, but this is a book that seems like it will only appeal to those familiar with the characters of Nan, Suki, Sarah and the like. For a new reader, with no investment in this world or these people, there is precious little to draw you in, little attempt made to try and ease new readers into this world, and again that is an inevitability when you are 14 books into a series.
This definitely isn’t written for someone coming in cold, but fans who find pleasure immersing themselves into the world of the Elemental Masters will probably find something here to enjoy.
The Case of the Spellbound Child is released on 7th January by Titan Books.