Another Sherlock Holmes tale has been released, in the form of Mercedes Lackey’s The Case of the Spellbound Child. Lackey is a very experienced author, known for her Valdemar series and this, the Elemental Masters, series amongst others. She has also written three prior volumes in this particular series which featured Sherlock Holmes, and 13 prior volumes in the series overall. Once again the reader is given a tale where Holmes plays something of an auxiliary role, and Watson, his wife Mary, and Nan and Sara must take the case.
The latter two young women, mages of a certain spiritual skill, are the leads. The platonic pair form an untraditional but interesting family with their young ward Suki, a former street urchin with mystical skills blooming of her own. They care for one another, and each have a certain degree of opinion on the evils of the Victorian era without ever seeming exceptionally out of step with the setting. This is a difficult tightrope for some authors, and the progressive concepts expressed by the author and her characters alike. However, as with any Sherlock Holmes tale, the mystery is a key factor.
In a village near Dartmoor children have been going missing at an unusual rate, and not found. These events catch the characters’ attention thanks to a letter sent to Holmes, which is received by Watson. He choosss ro consult with his wife, who is currently pretending to be dead, as well as Nan and Sara to see if there is any serious concern.
At the same time the reader learns the additional fact that those who use Earth Magic have a great deal of difficulty with Urban environments, to the point of being unable to live in the city long term. This comes up in an organic way that clearly shows all of the lead characters are thoughtful, observant, and have good hearts. It also provides probably the first clue within the text relating to the main mystery.
Particularly heartwarming moments include Suki being utterly adoring of Sherlock Holmes, and the great detective succeeding in being good-natured towards her even if he is somewhat hesitant in human interaction. The book ends on a rather dark punchline in light of the magic and crimes at play, however the fact that the ending is overall happy should make this actually funny or appropriately eye roll inducing to a reader.
Themes of child exploitation are discussed, in the form of a metaphor using magical exploitation, and the discarding of a used up child. Combined with discussions of traditional child labor and other horrible uses, the meanings are clear. In addition the question of sexual assault is adressed, and treated as evul without being given enough detail to become either gratuitous or lurid. The trans character from the previous book appears once more, and while there is some difficulty with gendering for the various characters when they interact, this is still depicted as due to the oddities of the time and the leads are quite accepting.
Once again Mercedes Lackey uses the Elemental Masters series to demonstrate her skill at a relatively hard magic system. The complicated mix of ideas, both those presented for the first time or in detail in this volume, and those which first appeared in earlier volumes serve to allow the reader to solve certain details of the supernatural mystery even before the detectives. This is relatively rare in fantasy mysteries, and greatly appreciated because of that.
As always, Mercedes Lackey produces a very nice supernatural tale with Sherlock Holmes as a relatively minor character. All of the classic elements feel more or less as they should, and the decision to set it in Dartmoor provides familiarity to the reader, even though the hound is not mentioned in any significant manner. While it would be a good idea to read Mercedes Lackey’s other Sherlock Holmes tales before this one, it is a very good read with an interesting mystery that remains true to the setting.