Sharon Shinn, Joan Johnson, Carol Berg and Rebecca York
2007, Fantasy Romance
Berkley, $14.00, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425217868
With an array of interesting-sounding stories inspired by the four elements of air, earth, water, and fire, Elemental Magic had the potential to be a wonderful read. However, the quality of the stories varied greatly, making this merely a mediocre read overall. Though more fantasy than romance, I adored the Shinn story most of all, but even that is not quite enough to justify the price of this trade paperback.
Bargain with the Wind by Sharon Shinn is easily the strongest of the lot. With its eerie gothic tone and setting, this fairytale of sorts drew me in from the very first. Duncan Baler, master of Gray Moraine, meets a beautiful stranger who has come uninvited to a ball at his home. He is determined to make her his and keep her at Gray Moraine, but it soon becomes apparent that Duncan's beautiful stranger holds secrets that could prove the undoing of them both. Told in eloquent language, this tale haunted me from first to last. I only wished that it had not felt quite so rushed as it did. Grade: B+Fantasy Romance
Sadly, Shinn's strong opening is followed by the anthology's weakest link. In Birthright, Joan Johnson tells of a quest that failed to impress me with its urgency. The main tale of twins on journeys to determine which of them is in fact born to be the heir and future Empress could have been compelling. Instead the story's power is diluted and ultimately lost in a morass of odd language and complex world-building. This may have worked in a full length novel, but Johnson barely had enough space in this book for a story, let alone the creation of a complicated world. As a result, everything suffers as the world-building edges out plot and draws away emphasis from the central love story, leaving a thin shell indeed. Everything pulls together rather well at the end, but too late to undo the problems of the opening chapers. Grade: C-Fantasy Fiction
Carol Berg's Unmasking also requires some complex world-building, but she accomplishes this more deftly than her predecessor. In this tale, a magic worker, part of the elite of her society, must join forces with a despised nonmagical commoner to root out a spy in their midst. Joelle, the heroine of this piece, learns much about herself and about the commoners whom she had imagined to be so different from herself as she plots with Gareth to find and expose the foreign spy who threatens their safety. The set-up of this story runs a little too slowly and we are told rather than shown a few times too many, but the main characters engaged me and there is a cleverness to this tale that makes it very readable. Grade: B-Paranormal Romance
The final story in the anthology, Huntress Moon by Rebecca York ends things on a rather weak note. This story is quite short and feels a little underdeveloped. Zarah, in hope of saving her mother's life, finds herself sold as a sex slave to Griffin, ruler of a rival city-state. Her own government has told her that if she goes, spies on Griffin, and reports his secrets back to her home government, her mother will receive care. Zarah does as she is told, and that is where the story starts to fall into the realm of the merely average. So much time is spent in detailing Zarah's sexual awakening that the story itself is rather lost. Again, in a novel, this tale may have worked, but a short story simply does not do it justice. The story has its pleasant moments and Zarah is a rather interesting heroine simply because she actually does seem to grow throughout the story, but it is ultimately a rather average paranormal sexfest.
Though it had the potential to be much more, Elemental Magic does not rise high enough above average to garner a recommendation. Sharon Shinn's tale is a wonder and Carol Berg also provides an entertaining story, but these are not enough to rescue the collection overall. For the money, I would search the ample paranormal offerings on the shelves and find another tale in which to lose myself.
-- Lynn Spencer
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