Carolyn Cushman Reviews A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris and The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

Charlaine Harris, A Longer Fall (Saga 978-1-4814-9495-3, $25.99, 293pp, hc) January 2020.

The second book featuring gunslinger Lizbeth Rose, AKA “Gunnie Rose,” finds her working for a new crew trying to deliver a crate to the town of Sally in Louisiana, in the country of Dixie. As seems to happen a lot to her, things go bad quickly; an attempt at train robbery is followed by a derailment, and Gunnie Rose ends up in Sally without the crate and with most of her new team dead. To her surprise, the Russian grigori (wizard) Eli Savarov turns up, looking for her. It turns out he also has an interest in this mysterious crate, but other parties do, too – some of them willing to kill for it. While investigating, Lizbeth gets caught up in the town’s social problems, and while she and Eli defuse some by pretending to be married, which provides some humor, the issue of racial inequality is about to boil over. Lots of deception, a high body count, bunches of bigots, and at least one raving lunatic keep things exciting. The big secret of the crate is, well, weird, in an interesting, but not quite satisfying way, which seems to be the point since that feeling lingers to the end, with Eli and Lizbeth parting, once again, on uncertain terms that left me wanting more.

Mercedes Lackey, The Case of the Spellbound Child (DAW 978-0-7564-1211-1, $27.00, 313pp, hc) December 2019. Cover by Jody A. Lee.

The Elemental Masters series feels more like a Sherlockian spin-off than a bunch of fractured opera fairy tales at this point, but this 14th book in the series manages to toss in a bit of “Hansel and Gretel”, a hint of Oliver Twist, and a little Puck in a creepy tale of magical child abuse. The novel takes its time getting to the point, lead­ing with a couple of events that involve ghosts before getting to the real tale, but then it takes off. Siblings Simon and Ellie, roaming the moor in search of edibles, are magically led astray and end up captives of the Dark One, an evil magic user who captures children who won’t be missed but have a bit of magic talent, keeping them like slaves and periodically pulling magic from them, sometimes killing them. Ellie doesn’t have any talent, but she’s smart, and most important, she and her brother aren’t unwanted strays. A letter from their mother seeking help from Holmes (who’s still pretending to be dead) gets to John Watson, and the usual crew, including birds, heads to Dartmoor to investigate. The use of dialect gets a bit heavy-handed, and a few too many coincidences crop up, but overall this is an entertaining, sometimes thrilling tale of kids in jeopardy, with a bad guy who really deserves what he gets in the end.

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 January 2020 issue of Locus.

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