The Bartered Brides

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

I’m a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey and will tread anything she writes. I particularly love her Sherlock Holmes series. This latest novel in the Elemental Masters series did not disappoint. The world-building was intricate. The characters were well-developed. The writing was very eloquent and detailed. The mystery itself was very intriguing and well-done. Mrs. Lackey proves that once again, she is the queen of fantasy!
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Mercedes Lackey delves into the Elemental Masters further with The Bartered Brides.  Moriarty is dead; Sherlock Holmes is in hiding; headless corpses of girls are popping up in the Thames.  Who is murdering headless brides?Psychic Nan and medium Sarah work with the elemental masters the Watsons to help Lestrade find out what is happening.  The blackest necromancy is opposing them.  Who will emerge the winner and how many more body will fall in paranormal Victorian London?  Enjoy the developing skills of Nan and Sarah as they work with their spirit animals.
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Overall I have really enjoyed most of the Elemental Masters books, some more than others, but I especially enjoyed how this book incorporated both a fairy tale (Bluebeard) and Sherlock Holmes into one entertaining package. The chapters from the villain's point-of-view were especially good and really added to the overall feel of the book.
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The Bartered Brides is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, as was last week’s Mycroft and Sherlock. But in spite of the two stories having more or less the same starting point, the Holmes canon, they couldn’t be any more different in tone or even genre.

Mycroft and Sherlock was a fairly straightforward, albeit excellent, historical mystery. The Bartered Brides on the other hand puts Sherlock Holmes in the midst of a Victorian urban fantasy. This is a world in which magic explicitly works, although most people, including Holmes himself, are at best reluctant to believe in it.

Just because Holmes doesn’t believe in magic doesn’t mean that magic doesn’t believe in him. Particularly in the person of Dr. John Watson, Sherlock’s chronicler and partner-in-solving-crime. Because Watson is an Elemental Water Master who solves cases that go where Holmes mostly refuses to tread.

Although for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Holmes himself is conspicuously absent for most of this story. The Bartered Brides takes place at a well-known point in the official Holmes canon, after the events of Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty both fell to their purported deaths. And before the events of The Empty House where Holmes returns, not from death after all, but from a long sojourn around the world recovering from his wounds and mopping up the remainders of Moriarty’s criminal organization.

Unlike in the canon, Watson at least, as well as his wife Mary, know that Holmes is alive and on the hunt. Which means that they are also aware that Moriarty’s henchmen in London might very well be hunting them.

But in the meantime, Lestrade is desperate. He does not know that Holmes is still alive. All he knows is that the headless corpses of young women are washing up on the banks of the Thames. He is out of his depth – not atypical for Lestrade. But this case feels weird – and it is – so he calls in his best Holmes substitute, Dr. John Watson and the two young women who assist him with his magical cases, psychic Nan Killian and medium Sarah Lyon-White.

When even their best isn’t good enough, they consider dropping the case. Until an emergency meeting with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, representing Her Majesty’s government and Lord Alderscroft, and leader of London’s Elemental Masters convinces them to stay on the case.

They are both certain that this isn’t the usual kind of serial killer at work. Instead, this series of crimes looks like it’s right up the darker alleys of elemental mastery. Alderscroft in particular is beginning to believe that an Elemental Spirit Master has gone to the bad. And if there’s someone in London dabbling in the foul waters of necromancy he needs to get it stopped.

Nan and Sarah are also right. It would be too much like a bad farce for there to be both a gang of Moriarty’s henchmen out committing evil AND a gang of necromancer’s assistants out doing evil at the same time – even in a city as big as London.

But what could one have to do with the other?

Escape Rating B+: This is a fun book and has become a fun series. Originally the Elemental Masters series seemed to revolve around reworkings of classic fairy tales across various points in time where magic users who were masters of their particular elements were part of the reworking of the tales. And some entries in the series were better than others.

But a few books ago the author moved from reworking fairy tales to dealing with one legendary character in particular. In A Study in Sable she introduced her own versions of Holmes, Watson and the rest of the Baker Street crew. Sherlock was still very much his extremely rational self, but the Watson of this series is very different. His water mastery makes him much closer to Holmes’ equal, albeit in a different sphere. He also has allies and resources of his own separate from Holmes.

This redirection of the series really zings! It can also be read without reading the Elemental Masters series as a whole by starting with either A Study in Sable or an earlier volume which serves as a kind of prequel, The Wizard of London, which introduces the characters of Nan and Sarah as well as Lord Alderscroft, the titular “Wizard”.

The criminal conspiracies in this story do reduce to Occam’s Razor. Two separate gangs doing this much damage would be too much. It is a surprise however to see just how the one set of evil relates to the other – and they are both definitely very evil.

The truth about the headless corpses and their evil purpose will chill readers right down to the bone. As will the mastermind’s methods of obtaining them, which spotlights just how disposable working class women, especially young women, were at this point in history, as well as just how pervasive racial prejudices were at the time.

What makes this subseries so much fun is, of course, the cast of characters. The varying perspectives of this Watson with more agency, his equally powerful wife Mary, and the two young women who are determined to make an independent go of their world lets us see this version of Victorian London from it’s highest pinnacles to very nearly its lowest depths through the eyes of very sympathetic characters.

The villain in this case is deliciously and despicably evil, and we are able to see just enough of his horrible machinations to learn what he’s up to and to wholeheartedly concur with him receiving his just desserts.

This version of Victorian London is fascinating and magical, in both senses of the word. I hope we have plenty of return visits to look forward to!
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Holmsian horror!

Lackey's Sherlock Holmes trope with a touch of horror is vastly engaging.
Sherlock and Moriaty have perished over Ravensbruck Falls. Elemental masters John and Mary Watson, occultists Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White find themselves enmeshed in a struggle with a necromancer who just might have had links to Moriaty's network. Headless bodies are beginning to turn up, dressed in white garments. Brides!  But for what purpose?
Disturbing developments see the Watson's targeted by the unknown adversary. All must be vigilant as danger looms on all sides.
The introduction of the spirit Caro, is an interesting addition to the mix. Sarah and Nan along with their feathered companions, Neville the raven and Grey the African parrot, fierce protectors of the girls in the occult adventures.
I initially started reading with a somewhat jaundiced attitude but as the story moved on I became well and truly ensnared in its twists and turns.

A NetGalley ARC
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Sherlock Holmes is dead, there is a killer on the loose murdering women by beheading them and Nan and Sarah are sent to investigate these terrible goings on.  This is an amazing story Nan and Sarah are “ modern” women working, living on their own, honing their skills, hunting killers.  Neville and Grey are wonderful throughout.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it definitely was a mystery worthy of Holmes himself, sprinkled with the comfort of longtime friendship, humor and action.
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Returning to the world of Elemental Magicians, psychics, and Sherlock Holmes, The Bartered Brides takes the series to its next logical step: what if Professor Moriarty had a necromancer in his organization and, after Reichenbach Falls, that necromancer tried to bring Moriarty back in a new body?  With Holmes in hiding to keep up the presence of being dead so he can track down remaining members of Moriarty's crew, it is up to the Watsons, Nan Killian, Sarah Lyon-White, the parrot Grey and the raven Neville to deal with a case Sherlock wouldn't be able to handle anyway.  But can they track down the villain who is murdering innocent girls to power seriously dark magic before he can bring the Napoleon of Crime back from the dead?

The idea behind The Bartered Brides is a classic, and fits perfectly into Lackey's Elemental/Holmes universe.  It also provides a good showcase for John and Mary Watson, who get overshadowed in the more 'traditional' Holmes world.  As Elemental Masters, John and Mary have always worked to deal with the cases Holmes couldn't, and to try to provide magical insight when his own cases seemed to need it.  Here they are recognized as powerful Masters in their elements, willing to take risks when needed and devoted to hunting down the man responsible for headless corpses turning up in the Thames.  Brides in particular also celebrates the close bond between them.

While John and Mary shine here, Nan and Sarah- the theoretical heroines of the series- fade a bit.  Unless they are using their particular talents (Nan as a mind reader, Sarah a medium) the two girls are pretty interchangeable in Brides.  They think the same way, act the same way, plot the same way, and half of the time I could only remember who was who because of the birds.  As brave and dedicated as all the heroes were, Brides pretty much stars the necromancer Spencer.  Our heroes chase leads and dead ends while Spencer gets all the action.  The reader is horrified by what Spencer is doing, and cheers his (eventual) failure, but he is still the stand out in the book.  I spent most of the book waiting for something to happen.  Which was also what our heroes were doing for most of the book.  With what seemed to me a rather uncharacteristically hurried ending, I didn't feel like I got quite the payoff I was hoping for. 

Unlike Lackey's earlier books (The Black Gryphon for example) Brides spends most of its time wandering.  Loosely written, with largely mediocre and forgettable characters (although I greatly enjoyed meeting Caro!), this was not one of Lackey's best efforts.  Devoted Mercedes Lackey fans will be willing to spend an afternoon with these familiar characters and in this familiar world, but I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for those new to the works of a usually stellar author.
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"The thirteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate Victorian England.

The threat of Moriarty is gone—but so is Sherlock Holmes.

Even as they mourn the loss of their colleague, psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson must be vigilant, for members of Moriarty’s network are still at large. And their troubles are far from over: in a matter of weeks, two headless bodies of young brides wash up in major waterways. A couple who fears for their own recently-wedded daughter hires the group to investigate, but with each new body, the mystery only deepens.

The more bodies emerge, the more the gang suspects that there is dangerous magic at work, and that Moriarty’s associates are somehow involved. But as they race against the clock to uncover the killer, it will take all their talents, Magic, and Psychic Powers—and perhaps some help from a dearly departed friend—to bring the murderer to justice."

Anyone else look at that cover and instantly think of the Victorian hallucination episode of Sherlock?
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This is the third in Lackey's "Elemental Masters" sequence featuring a very mortal Sherlock Holmes and John and Mary Watson being elemental magicians (John is Water and Mary is Air) and the fifth novel (after two introductory short stories) featuring Sarah Lyon-White, a young medium, and her companion Nan Killian, psychic and Celtic warrior in a previous life. The story opens with the characters in mourning for their old friend Holmes, who was drowned at the Reichenbach Falls while fighting the evil Professor Moriarty, who also died. Only they know Holmes is still alive, hoping to track down the rest of Moriarty's cohorts.

Unfortunately one of his cohorts is also an Elemental Master who is coercing young women to marry him and then, when they have accepted him willingly, kills them and removes their heads, transporting their spirits into bottles that will provide him a "battery" to perform his final, most ambitious spell. In short, he is that most dangerous of magicians, a necromancer, and one with no remorse as he expands his collection to fulfill his scientific dreams. In the meantime, the bodies of his brides are turning up in the Thames, to the bafflement of the police.

Much better than the last villain in this series who was so irritatingly ignorant of what his actions were doing that his assistant was smarter than he was; this one knows exactly what he's doing and has no care of whom he hurts to do so. John Watson also has some great scenes, especially a terrifying sequence where he summons an evil spirit to help him track down the source of the bodies. Sarah also acquires an unquiet spirit who helps the group achieve their ends.

While I love Nan and Sarah, their young ward Suki, and the Elemental Masters versions of Watson, Mary, and Holmes, I am a little tired of them (although I love the birds Grey and Neville, the latter who gets some good scenes here) and would like Lackey to go back to creating original characters for this series (as long as it's not the German world from BLOOD RED and FROM A HIGH TOWER, which I found deadly boring).
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Enjoy this series. I like that they are working with Sherlock and Watson. The mystery and the solving of it are always interesting and like the addition of magic. I look forward to more in this series. While this is part of the Elemental Masters series, it is a sub-series so you don't need to read the entire series, but I do recommend starting with the first Nan & Sarah books.

I received an eARC from the Publisher via NetGalley for my honest review.
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This is another series that plays on the Sherlock Homes character. Here he is missing and psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson have to solve a new mystery. At first there are just the headless bodies and no clue as to where they came from or why they are missing their heads. This is the first book of the series I have read but at no time did I feel lost. Lackey is a master at giving clues to the backstory in small easy to find snippets usually in dialog. I loved the strong women and how one because what she felt she had always should have been. Great story with all the tension expected and with some interesting twists and turns. Of course Sherlock did make two small solo appearances.

I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
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Mercedes Lackey is one of my all-time favorite authors, so understandably I had very high expectations of this novel. The repeating characters in this series, as Lackey's version of the Sherlock characters, have become very repetitive and lack the magic of the original books in the Elemental Masters series. The plot twists related to the young characters have become more violent than what I would expect from her and is not the type of escapism that I look for in her novels.
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Within the Elemental Masters series is a sub-series that features Nan and Sarah. This is probably the best of that sub-series that I have read since the first book that introduced these characters. Not only was the story clever and, I thought, original, it had one of the best villains to date. I still don't care for the way that Watson is drawn, but he is probably historically pretty accurate. In this book, however, it was all about the villain.
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The latest Elemental Masters book is another one with Nan and Sarah as the main POV characters.  It is set after the death of Sherlock and how those closest to him deal with it. The only good is Moriarty is also dead, but his gang lives on and they plan to exact revenge on all that have helped Sherlock over the years and they focus their attacks on John and Mary Watson.  Lestrade also asks them to investigate the headless corpses of young women that are appearing in the Thames.  All the threads tie up by the end of the story and if there are any more stories that feature the Watson’s they will certainly be hitting new ground with it.
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Sherlock Holmes has been reported killed, although a few associates know better. Unfortunately, there is a necromancer in London. The Watsons and psychics Sarah and Nan are called in when the headless bodies of young women start turning up, but they do not have anything like Holmes's expertise. But they do have other skills....

Not as good as the rest of Lackey's Elemental Masters series, but not awful. Fans will want to read this.
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Nan and Sarah are back in this latest installment of the Elemental Master's series. This time around, headless corpses dressed in white are being found in the Thames. There is also a side storyline involving Sherlock Holmes, as well as John and Mary Watson, who have been imagined as Magicians, or among those with magical powers. The plot takes us down a dark a twisty path full of dark magic, murder, and the ever-popular body-switching that Ms Lackey seems so fond of.
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The Bartered Brides is a welcome addition to the Elemental Masters series. I loved how Lackey evolved Sarah's character. There was so much growth and development; I can't wait to see what future adventures await Sarah and Nan. This was a fast-paced, exciting story where not only London but the spirit realm. This is a must for fantasy readers.
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