Mercedes Lackey is well-known as a fantasy writer, and for the breadth of her books, which have spanned everything from the Modern Day to slightly twisted versions of Modern Day, like the Diana Tregarde series, the Jennifer Talldeer book Sacred Ground and the Serrated Edge series, which involves Elves living in modern day New York and Las Vegas (among many other places).
Sadly, the first two series I mentioned died on the vine because of a lack of interest. Not on my part, but on all fantasy readers, who ignored the books in droves. That's sad, as I enjoyed both very much, but now, in one book, Mercedes has brought back both Diana Tregarde and Jennifer Talldeer, along with a new character, the Techno-Shaman, Ellen McBride. Hopefully, this book will revive interest in the first two series, and make her publishers clamor to publish, and for her to write, new books in the series.
Arcanum 101 is the first and longest story in the book and belongs to Diana Tregarde. With the death of her grandmother, Diana has finally left home and is about to attend college. She knows she will be a magic worker, but she also needs to pay her bills and goes to college for a folklore degree. While moving in to off-campus housing, she discovers that she isn't the only one there who is interested in magic, and goes upstairs to learn more and meets Itzhaak Meyer and Emory Sung, one of whom is into ceremonial magic and the other of whom is a theatre student with a mind that works in interesting ways.
But when a policeman who knows of Diana's work contacts her about a mediumistic fraud being perpetrated by a possibly gypsy con-woman, Diana and her new friends get sucked into the case and work to help her deal with the woman before she can take the grieving mother of a kidnapped child any further into debt or send the police running in circles with her "leads". But when the conwoman turns out to not quite be a con-woman at all, it will take all of Diana's magical and physical resources to deal with the tainted magic this woman deals in, and to bring the kidnapped girl back home again...
In "Drums", Jennifer Talldeer and her boyfriend/business partner, David Spotted Horse, are approached by a native man who is having problems with the woman he loves. He thinks she is being ensorcelled by a ghost that is somehow attracted to her and her property. And the ghost has so scared the both of them that she doesn't want to see him any longer, thinking that is the only way to keep him safe. But as Jennifer probes into the background and legends of her own people, the Osage Tribe, she soon realizes that the ghost thinks that their client's girlfriend is the woman he was killed over long ago, and that he wants her to be with him always.
As her client is put into the hospital when he tries to rescue the woman from the ghost, and Jennifer herself is attacked and injured, she soon realizes that it may be beyond the powers of her or any other shaman to deal with this nasty ghost. But who can she turn to for help, and can she find that help before her client's girlfriend is sucked into the spirit world by the insistent ghost?
"Ghost in the Machine" tells the story of an MMO rather like Warcraft. The developers have just opened a new area, with a new boss monster named "The Wendigo". But for some reason, it seems to be killing the players much more successfully than any other boss, and when one of the coders, who also acts as an Admin for the game, goes there to see what is going on, it kills his admin character dead, which shouldn't be possible. Every time he attempts to see what is going on or shut the Wendigo down, it kills him effortlessly, and he can't detect any hack or virus in the system. He contacts Ellen, and when no one else is able to shut the problem down, the company authorizes her to come and troubleshoot.
What she finds is that, when the company made the Wendigo, they made it a little too well and tied it into the real legends of the Wendigo. This somehow awoke the actual spirit and part of it now inhabits the game and the server. Unfortunately for them, every time it kills a player, it siphons off a little spiritual power, and it could use that power to enter the world for real, which would cause untold havoc. But how do you remove a spiritual power from your MMO without completely shutting it down, and how can Ellen and the rest of the team prevent it from getting the items and power it needs to manifest in the real world. Can they defeat it without being killed, or must they prepare to face the Wendigo in the real world?
I liked this book. It was great seeing the old friends of Diana Tregarde and Jennifer Talldeer again, and also to be introduced to Ellen McBride. As I said above, I hope this book revives interest in the characters and I'd love to see more Diana Tregarde stories, even if they are just about her time in college. Since her time in college formed the background for her very first book in the series, Burning Water, I'd like to see more of the cases that she and her friends took on then.
I also loved seeing another Jennifer Talldeer story. The only problem I see with reviving this series and Diana Tregarde is that both series are set longer ago than 15 years, and that past seems almost like a whole other country- cellphones large as a brick (or no cellphones at all) and some young people who would otherwise be up to reading those stories might as well be seeing them as set in the dark ages as in fairly modern day, and that might turn them off as compared to stuff written in say, an obviously fantasy universe with dragons and castles and knights on horseback.
I see far more promise in the Ellen McBride universe, as it is far more up to date. Even if we don't know the character that well yet and she remains more of a cipher to readers than the characters with more established backgrounds like Diana and Jennifer. Amazing, for me, was reading those books brought it all back to me, those particular universes and characters, and I experienced such emotional flashbacks to the original books that I became very easily invested in the stories. It was like going back to when I first read the books, and i enjoyed every minute I was in those stories.
Ms. Lackey is a writer at the top of her craft, and these characters, old and new, deserve to be written about, either again in a comeback series or in a new series of their own. I can only hope that the publication of this new book sparks interest in these characters, and the dark fantasy universes they occupy. I want to see and read more, and I'm hoping the sales back me up on this. Highly recommended.