Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series is not great literature. It will not win prizes. But it is my trashy addiction (with trashy being used in the most loving way, of course), and I need some solace in these dark days of winter.
Ostensibly a retelling of "The Snow Queen," The Wizard of London is a charming, if exceedingly scatterbrained, book about Talented children and Indian expatriates in Victorian London. Lackey seems mildly obsessed with bringing Indian characters into her books. While she always treats them with respect, they often take on the aspect of the magical Eastern guru. And calling the master and mistress of the boarding school Sahib and M'sahib is uncomfortable in the extreme.
However, the characters are fun, if not totally fleshed out. Sarah Jane hails from Africa, where her parents use missionary work to cover up their identities as Elemental Masters (humans with the power to control one of the four elements: Air, Water, Earth, or Fire). Sarah, however, doesn't have Elemental power, but she certainly has something. So her parents send her off to England to a school run by Frederick and Isabelle Harton, Talented humans whose powers are called "Arcane." It's not really explored nearly as much as I wanted it to be, but the concept of being Talented just means you're drawing on different sorts of power. For example, you might be able to talk to the dead, or read minds, or see feelings. Elemental Masters dish out the power in a flashier manner.
Nan, a street waif, stops by the school one night, hoping that the rumors of a food hamper for the poor are true. They are, and what's more, Sarah senses Talent in Nan as well. After a hairy escape from some child buyers (Nan's mom is pretty awful), Nan enrolls in the school as well, and she and Sarah become best of friends. Each girl has a bird companion--Sarah has a grey parrot and Nan a raven from the Tower of London.
As their Talents become more pronounced, someone begins to notice them and their power. Despite being children, they are a threat. And so traps are set, rescues are made, and powers are discovered. Isabelle is furious that someone would attack children, and realizes that the key to finding the culprit lies with the so-called Wizard of London, Lord Alderscroft. The cold and unapproachable Alderscroft is also the turd who threw Isabelle over as a girl, making it very clear that he changed his mind about loving her solely due to her low social standing as a vicar's daughter. He now only keeps company with a similarly frigid woman named Lady Cordelia, who is an Air Master and his mentor.
In truth, Lady Cordelia is totally, supremely wicked (but you knew that already, didn't you? Morals in most of Lackey's books operate in absolutes). After learning how to wield Ice Magic from a mysterious power in the Alps, she has twisted her power to keep herself young and beautiful. However, she realizes that she can only gain so much power as a woman in Victorian England, so she hatches a rather bizarre scheme to groom Alderscroft and then steal his body. She's done much the same with many orphans and urchins--taken their lives and imprisoned their ghosts as servants. But now, with Sarah's ability to communicate with the dead becoming more powerful, and Nan growing into her role as a warrior, Cordelia is threatened.
We have some fun romps with Robin Goodfellow, a murderous ghost, and the Wild Hunt, but the ending of The Wizard of London rushed up on me suddenly and was over before I could say boo. I was hoping for much more resolution, since the characters really did have a lot of potential, especially Nan and Sarah. However, I can forgive this, because reading Lackey is a cozy and safe experience. You can curl up with a book, knowing just what to expect. Fluffy fantasy with a dose of sassy women characters.
I came back to work today to check out the next book in the series, Reserved for the Cat, since I still need more bibliotherapy.