Thanks to settings that range from the shores of Hawaii to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, this anthology infuses a new spirit into a fantasy genre too often confined to medieval Europe. The contributors also write only in time periods before 1919, which allows the stories to feel permeated by an otherworldliness that enhances the stories’ fire, air, earth and water magic. Though the characters are well written (like air mage-haberdasher Miriam in Lackey’s piece) and the worlds are well developed (especially that of the Hawaii-based “Makana”), most of the plots feel weak without a sense of real conflict.
Lackey opens up her Edwardian Elemental Masters world to other authors in this 15-story anthology. Each story follows a protagonist who has an affinity for one of the four elements and must learn to hone that magic power in order to solve a problem in their very different worlds, brought alive by magical creatures like mermaids, crystal golems and talking frogs. Despite their naturally enhanced abilities, the mages run into the barriers of their own cultures and societies, especially restrictions of gender and class. (DAW, Dec., 320 pp., $7.99)