Book Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey

Posted November 21, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
Series: Elemental Masters #14
Genres: Paranormal Fantasy, Historical
Published by DAW Books on October 16, 2018
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Also in this series: Elementary: All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters, The Case of the Spellbound Child, The Serpent's Shadow

Also by this author: Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill, Victories, Blood Red, The House of the Four Winds, Closer to Home, Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar, Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar, Winter Moon, Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar, Elementary: All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters, No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar, From a High Tower, Hunter, Closer to the Heart, Silence, A Study in Sable, Elite, Closer to the Chest, Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar, A Scandal in Battersea, The Hills Have Spies, Dragon's Teeth, Eye Spy, Breaking Silence, Pathways, The Case of the Spellbound Child, Jolene, Passages, Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, The Serpent's Shadow, The Oathbound, The White Gryphon, The Silver Gryphon, Beyond

Fourteenth in the Elemental Masters historical paranormal fantasy series and revolving around Elementals of Air, Earth, Water, Fire, and Spirit. The focus here is on Nan and Sarah working with Dr Watson and his wife, Mary, and set in June in Victorian London.

If you’re interested, there is a chronological listing of the Elemental Masters books on my website.

My Take

Lackey incorporates Sherlock Holmes and his world into that of the occult, using Nan and Sarah as the bridge into her world of magic. I do enjoy Holmes’ not quite acceptance of magic, although he does, now, acknowledge that it exists. He simply prefers to ignore it, *laughing*.

In The Bartered Brides, Lestrade is desperate for help with the latest murders, but Holmes isn’t there to help, and so he turns to Dr Watson and the girls. And it’s one pip of a story, as none of them, including the Lodge, can find any trace of where those headless bodies are coming from.

I suspect this lack of progress is why I found the story tediously slow — and gave it a “3”. It does use a third person global subjective point-of-view, giving the reader access to the thoughts and emotions from the primary perspectives of Nan, Sarah, and Spencer. As you’d suspect, the girls are stalwart and good while Spencer is the epitome of evil.

Oh, meow, *laughing*, Lackey gets in her licks about women treated as second-class citizens, as she pokes fun at the traditional men’s club with Nan and Sarah thinking of those poor souls acting as window dressing, believing they actually hold the reins of power. Then Caro who desperately wants to be a boy. And in the end, the prejudice against women creates quite the problem for Lord Alderscroft, for the Lodge doesn’t allow female members, does allow rogues and ruffians who have magic — and yet England has just acquired a Spirit Master and a Magician.

Lackey comes up with an intriguing explanation of the spirit plane and why ghosts linger, using Caro as her “human” interest.

I love that the Harton School takes into account how foreign England is to the expatriate children and provides them with the people and foods with which they grew up.

The bad guys are truly evil in this with that sociopathic approach to the lives of others, so casual in their destruction.

The Story

The plan had been to take down Moriarty and all his gang, but now Sherlock Holmes is dead, and it’s up to Nan, Sarah, and the Watsons to keep an eye on Moriarty’s crew.

Little do Lord Alderscroft, the Watsons, or Nan and Sarah know how dangerous his Organization remains, as Spencer is recruiting his brides to bring Moriarty back.

A brilliant and evil man who plots to murder John Watson.

The Characters

Nan Killian, a former street urchin, is a psychometrist with a Celtic Warrior avatar while Sarah Lyon-White is a medium (her parents had been doctors in Africa). Neville is Nan’s raven while Grey is Sarah’s African parrot, who are Astral Guardians to the girls. Suki is their psychic ward who came to them in A Study in Sable, 11. They live in a flat paid for by Lord Alderscroft who employs them on missions. Sometimes the girls work with the Watsons. When not on a case, Sarah helps spirits move on. Mrs Horace is their landlady who provides meals as well; Mary Ann is her maid of all work. Both girls are protected by Robin Goodefellow, the Oldest Old One in England who has granted them Puck’s Blessing (Home From the Sea, 8).

Caroline “Caro” Wells died and her spirit clung to her locket. Her mother, Charlotte, died giving birth to Stephen, her brother. Her father is Brandon Wells, a solicitor.

221 Baker Street is/was…
Sherlock Holmes‘ flat and where his partner Dr John Watson and his wife, Mary, live in the flat above, 221C. Both are Elemental Masters, John of water and Mary of air. Mrs Hudson is their landlady and an excellent cook. Mycroft Holmes is Sherlock’s older and more intelligent brother…Sherlock claims his brother is the government.

The Baker Street Irregulars are aching to help, and young Tommy Wiggins has them coordinating the hunt.

The White Lodge, a.k.a., the Hunting Lodge, is…
…a ruling magical body based in London with Lord Alderscroft, a.k.a., the The Wizard of London (5) or the Lion, a Fire Master, as its leader. He is also a Member of the House of Lords, the unofficial Minister of Magic to the Crown, and a confidant of the Prime Minister. The Exeter Club, a men-only club, is the Lodge’s home. They’ve only recently allowed women past the public dining rooms. Williams is the doorman. Lily is a maid in Alderscroft’s London townhouse. His scullery maid and cook want to learn self-defense from Nan. Charles is the butler.

Beatrice Leek is a witch who will tutor Sarah into expanding on her mediumistic gifts. Caprice, a.k.a., Cappy, is her enormous black cat. Alderscroft makes use of some young Lodge members: Eddie is a Fire Magician, Fred is an Air Master, and George is an Air Magician.

Inspector Lestrade is desperate for the help of the girls and the Watsons.

The Harton School for Expatriate Children is…
…a school for both expat children and psychically gifted children. Isabella Harton, a.k.a., Memsa’b, runs it along with Sahib, Frederick Harton. Karamjit, Selim (the strongest magically), and Agansing work at the school teaching self-defense in mental and physical combat. Dilawar is Selim’s nephew who is in training with Mustafa and fills in as a driver. Kadar and Taral are nephews of Karamjit and Agansing, respectively. Gupta’s wife is a kitchen wizard.

The Organization is/was…
…headed up by Professor James Moriarty who died at Reichenbach Falls. Supposedly. A Spirit Master who has embraced the dark side as a necromancer and Moriarty’s executioner, Spencer is holding the men together. Mrs Kelly, an Earth magician, is the woman acting as his housekeeper/cook with an amazing ability to lie. Geoff the Elf is Spencer’s primary henchman. Tony, Rudolfo, and Michael are an intimidating group of brothers. George is another member of the gang.

Mary O’Brien‘s parents, Ned and Meggie, sell her to Gerald “Jerry” Baker, who is moving to Canada. Her older sister, Sally, had also married a man who going to Australia. Peg had been in service but became pregnant by the master. Xi’er is an ugly Chinese woman carefully prepped by Shen Li.

Shen Li is a powerful old Chinese merchant of whom even the Tongs are afraid. Vladimir Volkov, a Russian, is possibly a Fire Mage or even a Master. Old Don will sell anything and anyone. Hugo Werlicke holds evening salons. Quite dull really, but useful for certain genuine occult secrets. Peter Hughs is one of his attendees, a frustrated poet who indulges in opium. Mrs Stately comes to visit the girls. Lee Chin operates an opium den.

There are five Elements — Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit, which can interact with all the Elementals as well as human spirits. There are two levels of mastery: magician or Master. Each Element is capable of being used for good or ill. Sylphs are the smallest and most delicate of Air Elementals. Jenny Greenteeth is a nasty Water Elemental who prefers to dwell in polluted waters and preys on children.

Maestro Sarasate is likely an Elemental Magician of Spirit who uses music as his medium of interaction. The ill side of Spirit is necromancy, a Master who chooses to dominate spirits.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a gruesome collage against a burgundy background softened by the pink wedding dress and flowing veil with its crown of flowers worn by the hideous skeleton. In the foreground is a tall rectangular framed picture of Reichenbach Falls while Grey and Neville each hold half of a torn newspaper headline announcing the death of Sherlock Holmes. The author’s name is at the very top in an embossed silver outlined in black while the title is at the very bottom in an embossed white also outlined in black. Tucked into the bottom left corner of the picture is the series information.

The title refers to the one essential commodity Spencer requires for his plan, The Bartered Brides.

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