Steadfast ~ Mercedes Lackey

  • Title: Steadfast
  • Author: Mercedes Lackey
  • Series: Elemental Masters #9
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  The new novel in Mercedes Lackey’s bestselling series of an alternative Edwardian Britain, where magic is real—and Elemental Masters are in control.

Lionel Hawkins is a magician whose act is only partially sleight of hand. The rest is real magic. He’s an Elemental Magician with the power to persuade the Elementals of Air to help him create amazing illusions. It doesn’t take long before his assistant, acrobat Katie Langford, notices that he’s no ordinary magician—and for Lionel to discover that she’s no ordinary acrobat, but rather an untrained and unawakened Fire Magician. She’s also on the run from her murderous and vengeful brute of a husband. But can she harness her magic in time to stop her husband from achieving his deadly goal?

Review:  This is a really weak novel.  The best one word to describe it is almost.

The writing is dismal: too much telling, explanations, and preaching; not nearly enough showing. It was an effort to finish this book.

The story is a standard Lackey’s coming-of-age tale, lightly spruced with magic, but unfortunately, nothing of consequence happens in it. A young circus dancer Katie is on the run from her abusive husband. Her fear of him provides this story with its sole almost conflict.

Katie arrives in Brighton and finds work in a music hall as a magician’s assistant. For no discernible reason, everyone is super friendly around her, everyone bends backward to help. I wish my neighbors were half as nice.

While Katie becomes almost happy and almost successful, she is still atremble at the mere thought of her husband’s name. And then he arrives on her doorstep and resumes his beating and humiliation routine. How did he find her is not explained. While she’s shaking in fear in her loft and tries to devise a way out, and her friends lament her bad luck, the bad guy gets drunk, accidentally sets himself on fire, and dies oh so conveniently. The problem solved! The novel finished.   

The characters are also disappointing – flat and static. They fit perfectly into the archetypal provisions of Carl Jung, with almost no elaborating details. There is the protagonist Katie, young, pretty and an orphan. In the course of the novel, she is almost maturing as a performer, a woman, and a mage. At least in theory, she should’ve done all three. She should’ve also fallen in love, but in practice, her almost romance seems kind of … watery; and her maturing is only hinted at, the writer’s wishful thinking rather than the truth. Katie didn’t do anything to speed up the abolishment of her villainous husband either. If he didn’t essentially kill himself (deus ex machina in action), Katie would still be cringing and whimpering under his punishing fists.

Katie’s almost beau Jack is a prescribed tortured hero, a former soldier tormented by bad memories of war. Again, he could’ve been a deep, complicated personage, the background is all there, but he rises from the pages as a dull nonentity, boring and didactic instead of tragic.

Katie’s boss, magician Lionel, should’ve been a classical wise man, helpful to the heroes, gifting them with magical artifacts to fight evil – in theory. In this book, he is an aging illusionist in a second-rate show act. He is kind and he tries to be helpful, but that’s all I can say about him. He is almost the mentor of the tale.

And then, there is the theme: the heroes maintain that the forces of good mustn’t do bad things, mustn’t kill their enemies or get revenge. Otherwise they become the opposites of themselves. The good guys should endure and hope for the best.

I hate such moralizing. In my opinion, the forces of good should have swords and guns. They should fight back when the evil attacks, or they become wussies, silent philistines, and the evil inevitably wins, which is what basically happens in this novel.

The best thing about Steadfast is its cover art by Jody A. Lee, a longtime illustrator of Lackey’s books. It’s beautiful and provides enough conflict of its own that you want to pick up the book and open it. That the text doesn’t deliver on the image’s promise is not the artist’s fault.