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Home from the Sea
by Mercedes Lackey
Daw Books, 2012, $25.95, 311pp
Release Date: June 5, 2012

Here is Book Seven of The Elemental Masters series, each of which is a stand-alone with new central characters, but all of which are connected by shared themes and visiting characters from the others, set in the early decades of the 20th century, primarily in England . Most of the previous volumes had been directly based on a fairy tale or classic of literature: Phoenix and Ashes was a variation of Cinderella, for example; The Gates of Sleep was an exotic re-casting of Sleeping Beauty; The Wizard of London contained elements of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, best known for The Secret Garden; and Unnatural Issue was a variant of Cattikin/Many Furs. Mercedes is a Master of her own element, bringing originality, depth, and historically accurate complexity to each re-telling, casting her spell of enchantment and wonder over her readers.

Home from the Sea is based on variants of the legends and songs of the Selkies, or the Selch, which is the relevant Welsh variant of the part-human, part-seal shape-changers who occasionally need to take human lovers to bear their children.

Mari is the daughter of Daffyd Prothero, and they live in the house their family has owned for generations, well apart from the villagers who only rent their cottages from the lord of the local Manor. Daffyd has uncommon, and uncanny, luck on the sea. He comes back through every killing storm, always with a better catch than any other fisherman can make. And Mari sees and hears creatures no one else seems to notice, in the water barrel, in the tide pools and streams, and the ocean itself: a black horse, three wandering cows, sprites mischievous and benign. From the old stories told to children, she knows what they are supposed to be, but why does she alone actually see them?

When Mari learns the truth, she discovers that she is pledged by a Bargain made centuries ago by her ancestor: bound to take a selch lover and bear two children, one to inherit the human side of the Bargain, one to return to the sea with his father. She is horrified and angry, but with help from one of the water elementals, she finds a way to twist the Bargain to a shape more to her liking, with humorous and romantic results.

Meanwhile, the Master of London has got wind of a mysterious new Elemental Master, and he delegates Sarah and Nan, the young heroines of A Wizard of London (who are like the good karma reincarnations of Tarma and Kethry) to investigate and report.

I suspect that this series has become Lackey’s favorite project, simply because she brings so much joy to the telling of each story. In any case, these and the 500 Kingdom books have become my favorite of all this prolific author’s offerings. (Although I still reread Oathbreakers most often of all.) Is there any chance she will put out a CD of related songs? ~~ Chris R. Paige

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