Book Review: Jolene by Mercedes Lackey


Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Elemental Masters, book 15
Publisher: DAW (December 1, 2020)
Hardcover, 320 pages
Fantasy, Fairy tale retellings


The beloved Elemental Masters series moves to America for the first time in a rich retelling of The Queen of the Copper Mountain, set against the backdrop of Tennessee coal country.

Anna May Jones is the daughter of a coal miner. When her father succumbs to Black Lung, the coal company wastes no time in turning the family out of their home. In desperation, Anna May’s mother sends her to live with her Aunt Jinny, a witchy-woman and an Elemental Master, in a holler outside of Ducktown.

As she settles into her new life, Anna May finds herself falling for a stonemason with such a talent for stonecarving that people come all the way from Memphis to commission statues and tombstones from him. But he’s not content with his current skill—he wants to learn to carve stone so well it looks real.

When the stonemason disappears on a quest to fulfill his ambition, it is up to Anna May to follow and find him, armed with the new abilities Aunt Jinny has taught her. To save the man she loves, Anna May must journey into the mountain—and confront the horrors that lurk in the darkness of the mine.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

For sure the book isn’t perfect. The entire book is written in an Appalachian sort of dialect, with the dialogue being much heavier but the text itself having that same twang. It was not my favorite, but I got used to it pretty quickly and it fit the feel of the book. Also, basically the entire conflict/resolution, or the part that was the fairy tale retelling bit, took place in the last 10% of the book. That’s no exaggeration, Anna finally gets to a place where I’m like “Here we go! The fairy tale part!” and I looked and I was 92% of the way through the book. I wish there’d been more pages given to that part of the story, but it didn’t feel rushed or incomplete so I guess Mercedes Lackey knows what she’s doing!

I’m just SO RELIEVED to finally get another book in the Elemental Masters series that’s not about Nan and Sarah! Psychic Nan and Medium Sarah play a major role in the fourth book in the series, The Wizard of London, and I really didn’t care for them. “Oh well,” I thought, “each story is about new people so at least I won’t have to see them again.” But alas – books 11-14 in the series deviate from the fairy tale retelling format and all follow Sarah and Nan on their adventures helping solve mysteries with Sherlock Holmes (or something, I haven’t read them, I disliked Nan and Sarah that much…) Jolene is the 15th book in the series and FINALLY returns to the roots of being based on a fairy tale, with an exciting move to America in the late 19th century!

Jolene is based on the Russian fairy tale “The Mistress of the Copper Mountain.” I hadn’t previously read the fairy tale, but going in with a character named “Jolene” I assumed eventually Anna would be begging of her please don’t take her man. (And if you haven’t ever listened to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” PLEASE go do so!) I think Mercedes Lackey took as much inspiration from the song as she did from the fairy tale, and it made me SO HAPPY to read. The real conflict and action of the book doesn’t take place until the last 10-15%, but it still never felt slow to me. I was content just to “set by an’ watch Anna May git her some learnin’.”

If you’re not familiar, the Elemental Masters series is a collection of stand-alone but interconnected fantasy books that take place in a world that’s much like ours, except secretly some folks have elemental magic. There’s some interconnection between the books, like Dr. Maya from The Serpent’s Shadow shows up as a side character in some of the later books, and Lord Alderscroft shows up in a few books before eventually getting his own in The Wizard of London. The characters in Jolene are entirely new, and I’m hopeful the series will continue with fairy tales and myths from some different cultures. This is book 15 in the series, but can be read as a stand alone.

A digital ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for review. All opinions are unbiased and my own.

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