Carolyn Cushman Reviews The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey and The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

Mercedes Lackey, The Bartered Brides (DAW 978-0-7564-0874-9, $27.00, 314pp, hc) October 2018. Cover by Jody A. Lee.

Though the title evokes the comic opera The Bartered Bride by Smetana, this latest novel in the Elemental Masters series owes a lot more to Sherlock Holmes, or maybe the Sherlock TV series. Holmes’s death at Reichenbach Falls has just been announced, but the Watsons (both Elemental Masters), psychic Nan Killian, and medium Sarah Lyon-White know Holmes is alive and undercover, working on dismantling Mori­arty’s network. Meanwhile, Lestrade is desperate without Holmes, and recruits Nan, Sarah, and the Watsons to investigate the appearance of bodies, headless young women in wedding dresses. It’s a weird case with some interesting magical as­pects, and only gradually do the four put enough clues together to suspect Moriarty’s network is involved. The only problem is the reader knows who’s responsible, and soon enough, why – so the real suspense lies in whether Nan, Sarah, and the Watsons can stop him in time. Unfortunately, the bad guy’s no substitute for Moriarty, but there are enough twists to keep things involving right down to the wire.

Jaclyn Moriarty, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone (Allen & Un­win Australia 9781760297176, A$22.99, 494pp, hc) November 2017. (Levine 978-1-33825584-3, $17.99, 377pp, hc) October 2018. Cover by Karl James Mountford.

Ten-year-old Bronte’s adventures begin when pirates kill her parents in this wonderfully quirky middle-grade fantasy. Bronte’s not terribly upset, since she doesn’t remember her parents; they went off to have adventures and left her as a baby with her Aunt Isabelle. Bronte’s life since has been pleasant, if rather proper and uneventful, but now her parents’ will – a magically enforced document – requires her to go traveling, alone, to deliver gifts to each of her ten other aunts, a widely scattered bunch, some she’s never met. The will comes with very detailed instructions, down to how many days she must stay with each aunt, what time to give them their gifts, and where to buy certain foods. Despite having so much laid out for her, Bronte ends up having some grand adventures, many with aspects of fairytales, such as helping someone and in return getting just the right object needed later on. Bronte notices things like that, even if she’s not always sure what they mean, which makes her endearingly different from most fairytale characters, and rather amusing. The aunts themselves come in a wonderfully eccentric assortment, some fun, others not so much, but all offering food for thought. The world is charming, a sort of early 20th century, maybe, with telegrams, magical beings, rare automobiles, pirates, and lots of tiny countries scattered about. Eventually, Bronte has to face off against a dark threat to the world, using what she’s gained in her journey, but in the end it’s family and friends that really matter, with a truly touching conclusion carried off amusingly in Bronte’s wonderfully non-sentimental style. Many things in this middle grade tale are kept a bit simplis­tic, but the attitude has appeal for all ages.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the December 2018 issue of Locus.

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