The novels in the Elemental Masters series, by Mercedes Lackey, are a mix of historical fiction and fantasy, with a big scoop of fairy tales stirred in. Most of them are set in the late 1800s-early 1900s.The books “officially” in this series are:
The Serpent’s Shadow
The Gates of Sleep
Phoenix and Ashes
The Wizard of London
Reserved for the Cat
Home from the Sea
Elemental Magic - An anthology similar to the ones for the Heralds of Valdemar series, except about Elemental Masters and Magicians.
Elementary -Another anthology
Red As Blood
The Fire Rose uses the same pattern and tropes as the official books, but was published by a different company so isn’t normally included in a list of the series. However, it will be included on this page.
This series provides examples of:
A Girl And Her X: Nan and Sarah from The Wizard of London and Home from the Sea have familiars, Neville the raven and Grey the parrot, respectively.
Acquired Poison Immunity: Reggie has developed a resistance to opiates, thanks to the large doses he's been taking in order to get any sleep. When Alison tries sedating him near the end of the novel, it wears off much sooner than she'd expected.
Action Girl: In their "Warriors of the Light" aspects, both Isabelle Harton and Nan can pull this off. Ninette Dupond manages this as well, and then immediately lies about it because No Guy Wants an Amazon. Rosamund von Schwarzwald is the real champion of this through. She goes out and kills blood mages for a living.
Several of the women in the series are this. Most of the rest fit under Action Survivor instead.
Alchemic Elementals: Sylphs, Gnomes, Undines, and Salamanders all show up. They will serve those who have a talent for their respective elements, and cooperate with mages with a complementary element, but dislike and avoid those with opposing elemental affinity.
All Trolls Are Different: The troll in Reserved for the Cat is an evil earth elemental with the ability to shapeshift into many different forms, including humans. Trolls also show up briefly in Unnatural Issue, serving under necromancer Richard Whitestone.
Played with after Mari chooses her Selch husband. Since she has to have a marriage license if she's not going to be treated like a whore by the village, Dafydd Prothero pretends he's forcing Mari into an arranged marriage with a cousin (the Selch fiance) to ensure that she'll be able to keep their cottage after Dafydd eventually dies.
Back-Alley Doctor: Dr. Maya Witherspoon fits the "highly trained and well-equipped criminal" version. She’s a fully-qualified doctor and surgeon, with a perfectly respectable clinic. She also volunteers at a clinic in one of the rougher neighborhoods of London, holds late office hours for the convenience of several courtesans/mistresses among her patients, and is willing to provide any female patient with contraception (illegal at the time).
Behind Every Great Man: At one point, Rose thinks back to a fellow student who stole her research while courting her. She had wondered at the time if it would really be so bad to have her work published under her husband's name. In the event, he was only courting her for her family's money; when a scammer drove her father to bankruptcy, the student dumped Rose.
Bitch Alert: Alison, Carolyn, and Lauralee throw enough bitchiness to fill a kennel in the very first chapter of the "Phoenix and Ashes."
Crazy-Prepared: Ninette's maid Ailse. Originally hired as someone who wouldn't freak out at elementals running around, it turns out she carries a revolver loaded with Cold Iron, Silver, and Blessed Lead bullets. At all times.
Crossover Cosmology: All religions have some truth to them; both the Christian afterlife and the Druidic Summer Country are shown to exist, for example, though the Christian version isn't as all-encompassing as it claims to be. Also, the divine magic of the Hindu pantheon plays a significant part in The Serpent's Shadow.
Cultured Badass: Lord Peter Almsley, a young gentleman and scholar, proves that he's this when he comes up against the (much larger) town bully in Unnatural Issue. The bully gets pulped, Peter's only injury is sore knuckles from hitting the bully so many times.
Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Jason Cameron from The Fire Rose is contemptuous of his apprentice's use of magic to cheat at gambling games (in the specific mentioned incident, a cockfight). A genuine Fire Master (which Paul theoretically could become if he actually put some work in) could make a fortune in a few years through completely legal means like he did.
Death by Childbirth: Unnatural Issue begins with Richard Whitestone returning home mere hours after his wife Rebecca succumbs to this. He does not take it well.
Draft Dodging: Warrick Locke's servant/bodyguard Robbie (Phoenix and Ashes) uses his ability to dislocate his shoulders at will to avoid the draft.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The Fire Rose is the only book set in America, includes a Unicorn as a spirit elemental (and includes spirit as an element, for that matter, instead of having psychics), mentions only satyrs, undines, salamanders, and sylphs instead of the multiple kinds of elementals for all four elements, and doesn't distinguish between Light and Dark elementals. The magic system is slightly different—the main character must pass a "test" by summoning and making a pact with an elemental to begin her magical training, and during this the sylph she summons tries to trick her into madness, when in later books no one begins by calling an elemental and sylphs are wholly benevolent unless provoked. It also spells magic as magik, which never happens again.
Elemental Embodiment: Several. Those with a touch of magic can see them; masters of the corresponding element can command them.
Elemental Powers: Most magic in this series is based on the four Western elements.
Elemental Tiers: This is alluded to in The Wizard of London when Lady Cordelia is working on her plan to Grand Theft Me David; she thinks that after stealing David's body and powers, "instead of the weak Power of Air [Cordelia's element] behind the Power of Ice, she would have the immense strength of Fire [David's element]."
Fair Weather Mentor: Jason Cameron to Paul du Mond. He knows that this is because Paul simply isn't willing to put in the effort to actually master Fire, but he is meanwhile just taking advantage of Paul's services as a secretary while withholding lessons that Paul wouldn't be able to master anyway. Paul sees him as a full-blown case of this, of course, and turns to another master for lessons; one who is far less scrupulous than Jason.
Fate Worse than Death: Jonathon Hightower warns Ninette that she may be facing this, "and I do not mean mere rape".
Faux Flame: Part of Jonathon's magic act. Sometimes he doesn't bother to tell his assistants the flames aren't real. Ninette was not amused.
Financial Abuse: When Katie's husband Dick finally catches up to her, he lives off of the good salary she gets from her job at the music hall and keeps close track of the money she spends so that she can't hide any away.
Alison forgot to make Eleanor's father change his will before she got him killed. She pockets the regular allowance Eleanor gets from the estate, and forces Eleanor to write regular letters to the law firm in charge of the estate asking for additional money for extra expenses.
Florence Nightingale Effect: Doctor Pike has enough female patients falling for him during psychotherapy that he routinely uses his magic to make them fall out of love (or infatuation, at least).
The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Eleanor’s pinky finger gets chopped off by her Wicked Stepmother in the first chapter as part of a binding spell, so when she leaves her gloves behind at the masquerade ball, there's no question about who they belong to. Doesn't stop her stepsister Lauralee from trying, though, and coming out to the hero to claim her gloves still loopy from the painkillers.
The Glasses Gotta Go: Averted in The Fire Rose — when one of Jason's Salamanders comments that Rosalind is nice-looking despite her glasses, Jason immediately declares that glasses are just another accessory.
Inverted as well—without her glasses, Rosalind says that Jason merely looks like a man with a remarkable beard.
Exists, but isn't described; the one time it's seen, it's just a glorious light through a gateway. Sarah finds two ghost children, who believed that they were destined for Hell for being bad kids, and opens the road to Heaven for them.
The pagan Summerland also serves this function. It's primarily for the dead who followed the old Druidic religion, but in some situations where a Christian ghost can't make it to Heaven but doesn't deserve Hell, the Puck arranges for them to go to Summerland as well.
Hermetic Magic: Several Masters, most notably Fire-aligned Jason, Jonathon and Eleanor, use drawn circles and runes, either to actively work magic or as a means of mental focus.
Historical-Domain Character: Aleister Crowley is a disgraced Magician turned con man. The Elemental Masters positively loathe him, but consider him to be a useful idiot for keeping up The Masquerade; as long as people associate Magick with him and his crowd of drug addicts, they'll be less likely to see it as real.
Historical In-Joke: Constantly. One of the funniest is an offhand remark about "that incident at Loch Ness" which may give the lake a certain notoriety.
Homeschooled Kids: The backstories of several characters in the series include being taught at home by tutors who were themselves Elemental magicians. Considering the time period, this is normal, since many wealthy families hired tutors for their children if they weren't being sent to Eton or some other boarding school.
Honor-Related Abuse: Shivani kills her sister Surya and Surya's English husband, as well as trying to kill their daughter, in order to cleanse the shame of Surya's mixed marriage from the family line.
Hopeless Suitor: Susanne spends most of Unnatural Issue carrying an intense torch for Charles Kerridge, until she finally has to acknowledge that a) he's in love with someone else and b) he has absolutely no interest in her.
In Vino Veritas: Alluded to in The Serpent's Shadow, when Maya Witherspoon brings a young man injured on the orders of one of the book's villains to the Fleet Street Clinic. The head nurse is worried about the attraction he shows to a female medical student/clinic volunteer, until Maya points out that there's just as much truth in a quarter-grain of morphine as there is in wine.
Life Drain: Alison does it to her solicitor in order to increase her magical power, also to her two daughters. Possibly Shivani, since Peter Scott notes that she looks too young for her twin sister to have a twenty five year old daughter and there are only so many ways to preserve youth.
Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: The twins sisters in "The Serpent's Shadow". Surya was gentle, loving and maternal (light). Shivani is vicious, vindictive and cruel. Maya as well is light being a doctor and healer.
Lower Deck Episode: Steadfast is about lower-level Mages in the seaside city of Brighton, with no Master in sight (though Lord Alderscroft and Lord Peter Almsley are mentioned) until after the whole problem is cleaned up.
Magicians Are Wizards: Jonathon Hightower, an Elemental Master of Fire, is also a skilled stage magician. Most of his stagework is sleight of hand, but he enjoys using "real magic" at least once in each show. Also Lionel Hawkins in Steadfast, who is an Air Magician and has sylphs that help him with his magic acts.
Magic Knight: Hunt Master Rosamund von Schwartzwald from Blood Red switches between her considerable Earth Magic and weapons of varying mundaness in her battles with various monsters and/or rogue wizards.
Maligned Mixed Marriage: Maya's parents. Maya and her mother were looked down as inferior by the British ex-Pats in India and barred from pretty much all of the social institutions. And for all that, the British were still more accepting of the marriage than Surya's family was...
Meaningful Name: Marina in The Gates of Sleep and Mari in Home from the Sea, both Water Masters. Also Maya's name means 'illusion' and she is very adept with spells to avert notice. Peter means stone and Peter Scott marries Maya, an Earth Master. The other Peter follows him in Unnatural Issue, with his love interest being also an Earth Master.
Eleanor's nickname Ellie is quite similar to Ella for Cinderella.
Mentor Ship: In Home from the Sea. Mari ends up falling in love with the Selkie sent to be her magic teacher, instead of the Selkies sent to court her.
Misogyny: Richard Whitestone is absolutely convinced that women are mentally inferior to men.
Maya Witherspoon, being a doctor in an era when women were seldom encouraged to aspire to anything apart from marrying well and keeping a household, gets a lot of this as well.
In fact, it's a recurring theme in the entire series; appropriate considering the era.
Earth mages not only use their healing powers to become doctors, but use Earth Magic to handle household tasks such as making cheese.
In The Fire Rose, a Fire Master is able to divine fluctuations in the commodity market, while his apprentice bets on a cockfight, then drives his chosen bird berserk to ensure an easy win. Other magical means of acquiring wealth are mentioned; Water Masters make their fortune in shipping, Earth Masters can predict gold strikes, and Air Masters become entertainers.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After a close call involving her psychotic necromancer father, Susanne Whitestone was bundled off to safety by the White Lodge. To be precise, she was evacuated to a country estate in the Ardennes department of France... in late June1914.
Ninja Maid: No kung-fu, but Ailse McKensie takes on a magical assassin with an iron cookpot.
Noble Bigot: Lord David Alderscroft can never quite override his biases against those of lower social classes. He gets manipulated like a puppet by a commoner (and Dark Magician) who did the Henry Higgins thing and took elocution lessons to speak like an upper-class lady.
Of Corset Hurts: In The Gates of Sleep, after Madame Arachne carries off Marina, her maid forces Marina into tight lacing with the comment "You've never been properly corseted". (Marina eventually figures out how to tense her abdominal muscles to keep her corset from being laced too tightly.) Maya in The Serpent's Shadow and Rose in The Fire Rose also show dislike for wearing corsets, and never laces theirs as tightly as fashion would dicate.
One Steve Limit: Lampshaded aversion. Peter Scott and Peter Almsley share the name, Water Mastery, and temperament, and they're thick as thieves, jokingly referring to each other as "twins" because of the shared name and mastery.
Only in It for the Money: Ninette's entire motivation, at least at first. Played sympathetically as a matter of survival, not greed.
Oop North: Most of Unnatural Issue is set in Yorkshire.
Our Angels Are Different: In The Fire Rose, the Unicorn is strongly implied to be this. At the very least, it's a spirit of something other than the four elements, it cannot be coerced by any kind of magic, and it's apparently speaking and acting on behalf of some kind of higher authority.
Oxbridge: Several characters have attended or are attending either Oxford or Cambridge. Eleanor Robinson goes to Oxford to study literature at the end of Phoenix and Ashes. In Home from the Sea, a minor character mentions that he is being sponsored at Cambridge by Lord Alderscroft, and when Sarah asks, "What, not Oxford?", he replies that his father was a Cambridge man and the idea of his son attending Oxford made him turn puce.
Parasol of Pain: Custom made umbrellas with sharpened tips, reinforced shafts comparable to crowbars, and hidden compartments in the handle are mentioned in more than one book as discreetly martial accessories for ladies.
Post Modern Magic: Dr Witherspoon's arcane talents and senses are invaluble in determining what newnote for Edwardian values thereof medical theories actually work, while her knowledge of anatomy and the process of the disease enables her application of Healing Hands to properly cure a case of Tuberculosis.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Paul du Mond from The Fire Rose is a bad man, and one of the ways that this is made abundantly clear is that he essentially works as a professional rapistnote He's still paying for the use of the women, but he gets a discount, turning poor Mexican and East Coast girls into properly-broken San Francisco prostitutes.
When forced to be, Lord Alderscroft is this, being the stern patriarch of the Exeter Club and the one man who's most responsible for keeping rogue mages from running wild in England and maintaining good relations with the local elementals. However, while he can be trusted to do the right thing in the end, until then, he's often not much help.
Unnatural Issue explains that this is in a gamekeeper's job description. Theoretically, a gamekeeper is supposed to prevent all illegal poaching on his lord's land, but actually enforcing this just leads to a messy, covert war that benefits nobody. Both Robin Goodfellow and Peter Almsley, when they take on the job, instead confine themselves to ensuring that nobody overhunts the land they're responsible for. (Of course, in Robin's case, it helps that he couldn't care less about game laws, only about the good of the land.)
Religion is Magic: The Hindu gods are very active in The Serpent's Shadow. Furthermore, Christian holy relics (such as lead from a church roof) are effective against dark magic. The pagan gods of England are also quite active, but they're seen as another variety of Fair Folk or Elemental spirit, rather than something truly different.
In Reserved for the Cat, Jonathan pretends to be someone who just won a lot of money and is buying rounds to celebrate as a way to keep a reporter occupied while Thomas and Wolf search the reporter's apartment.
In Phoenix and Ashes, Reginald routinely offers to buy rounds at the local pub. He's loaded and knows that the guys he befriended there could use a drink since many of them (like him) were sent home after being injured in WWI.
In Unnatural Issue, when Lord Peter Almsley is masquerading as a gameskeeper, it is mentioned that he endeared himself to the regulars at the local pub in the proper manner by buying the house a round.
In Home from the Sea, when Nan and Sarah are telling their former teacher about their trip in Africa, they mention that they were helped in Egypt by a lady who is known as "Sitt Hakim" and from the rest of her description is clearly Amelia Peabody.
Silver Bullet: Ninette's maid Ailse carries with her at all times a revolver loaded with Cold Iron, silver, and Blessed Lead bullets. Ninette later gets a revolver of her own with those bullets and learns how to shoot it.
Smoky Gentlemen's Club: The Exeter Club passes itself off as one of these (going so far as to hire pension-off male servants to sit in the padded leather chairs and read the newspaper/nap) as a cover.
The Soulsaver: Part of Sarah's job as a medium is to help ghosts, who are shown to exist in a gray, dreary limbo, move on to Heaven or the Summer Country (depending on their religion).
Spot Monkey: After Ninette's performance in La Sylphide at the beginning of Reserved for the Cat, one reviewer complements her for avoiding this trope and making the Sylph's death scene brief. The injured ballerina Ninette was filling in for was notorious for dragging the death out so long the orchestra had to start repeating measures.
Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism: Alluded to in The Gates of Sleep. Doctor Pike does not treat cases of "nerves" that result in childbirth a few months later.
Strong Family Resemblance: Susanne Whitestone looks almost exactly like her mother...which unfortunately attracts the wrong kind of attention from her father.
The Svengali: Jason Cameron is a mild example of this to Paul du Mond. He's using Paul as an agent while theoretically teaching him Fire Magic, but he knows damn well that his teaching isn't doing Paul any good because the man won't apply himself. While he doesn't lie to Paul, he's happy to let him lie to himself, and he's planning to discard Paul the first chance he gets.
Tall, Dark and Snarky: Jonathon Hightower in Reserved for the Cat. He loses some of the arrogance but keeps the snark.
Talking Animal: Wolfgang, Maya’s seven "pets" when possessed by the Hindu gods they’re associated with. Thomas doesn’t qualify, as he can only speak mind-to-mind, and only to those with some degree of magical ability.
Tarot Motifs: Eleanor's magical instruction in Phoenix and Ashes.
Title Drop: The last four words of Reserved for the Cat. Home from the Sea does the same thing.
Training The Gift Of Magic: Marina specifically points out in The Gates of Sleep that while she may have the potential to be an Elemental Master, she doesn't have the training to claim that title.
Unscrupulous Hero: Jason Cameron's worldview in The Fire Rose, inherited from his own Master. He's not exactly a good person, but he believes in being a good shepherd to the lower classes because well-fed poor work better and don't start riots. It's essentially Pragmatic Villainy taken to the point where he doesn't need to be a villain.
The Vamp: Alison Robinson, she got where she is by using and destroying men. Her daughters try but they are nowhere effective enough.
Victorian London: The setting/period for The Wizard of London, chronologically (though not in publication order) the earliest of the novels.
Waif-Fu: Ninette. She's a ballerina, but, as she herself points out, ballet builds muscle.
War Is Hell: This is a major theme in Phoenix and Ashes and Unnatural Issue. WWI has severe negative effects on the characters who are soldiers, as well as those on the home front.