A Study in Sable by Mercedes Lackey

a study in sable

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is the most recent book in the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, in which she reimagines classic fairytales with elemental magicians as the main characters. They are one of my favourite fantasy series, since they reimagine classic fairy tale characters as powerful sorcerers commanding one of the four elements. It really adds a cool new spin on stories we have all seen before.

This is a rewrite of “The Twa Sisters”, a little know fairytale, and includes Sherlock Holmes and Mr Watson as characters! Sarah and Nan, the protagonists from two other books in the series, are back with their bird companions, and are assisting Holmes and Watson with a case. While Holmes refuses to admit to the reality of magic, Dr. Watson has being doing some magical detecting on the side, helping those who seek assistance with unusual problems. He has hit upon a mystery that could use the psychic abilities of Sarah and Nan, so they are pulled in to help. Sarah is also called upon to help an Opera diva who is being haunted nightly.

The best thing about being this far into this series (this is the eleventh book) is that Lackey has run out of the famous fairy tales and is now having to delve deeper into the more obscure ones to find material. As someone who has spent a significant amount of time reading fairy tales, this presents the enjoyable challenge of trying to figure out which of the hundreds of possible tales she is using. This one is actually a ballad, but like most of the early tales, has fairy tales and other ballads that roughly follow the same storyline. If you want the ending of this book to remain a mystery, do not read the original tale, Lackey stays fairly close to the source materials!!

What keeps this series from going stale so far is that the books do not have a consistent cast of characters that the author is forced to use and reuse. Sarah and Nan are the most repeated characters, and this is only their third book. Other characters show up in books not their own, but as very minor, supporting characters. The only real binding thread is the world, which is broad enough to fool around in for quite a while.

Sherlock Holmes is actually not a hugely central character in this book, which I really appreciated. When an author takes another author’s character and makes him/her central to the new book and messes it  up, it can destroy a book. By keeping Holmes a minor character, it allows him to be included without disappointing anyone. Anyways, Dr. Watson is also wonderful and deserves to take centre stage once in a while.

This book has much of the same feel as the others in the series. Characters are a little too stereotypically good or evil and the feminism is a little to upfront for the time period, but they are really amusing and hard to put down. For being this far into the series, the quality also has not deteriorated very much and they are still really enjoyable.



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