The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley By Mercedes Lackey
Book/Novel Author: Mercedes Lackey
Book/Novel Title: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley
The sixteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series follows sharpshooter Annie Oakley as she tours Europe and discovers untapped powers. Annie Oakley has always suspected there is something “uncanny” about herself, but has never been able to put a name to it. But when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show goes on tour through Germany, Bill temporarily hires a new sharpshooter to be part of his “World Wide Congress of Rough Riders”: a woman named Frida, who also happens to be an Elemental Master of Air. Alongside this new performer, Annie discovers that she and her husband, Frank, are not simply master marksman, but also magicians of rare ability.As they travel and perform, Annie must use her newfound knowledge and rare skill to combat creatures of the night scattered across the countryside, who threaten both the performers and the locals. Annie’s got her gun, and it’s filled with silver bullets.
I’ve been a fan for most of Ms. Lackey’s career, and I have read dozens of her books. This one asks the question: what if sharpshooter Annie Oakley lived in a world where magic was real? For the story is basically a slice of life of Annie (and her husband Frank) on tour with the Wild West show. There is minimal action: far more time is spent discussing the mechanics of “wintering over” a show on tour, or building a friendship than dealing with magic. As for the ostensible Big Bad, the foreshadowing is so blatant that it’s not Chekhov’s gun we’re dealing with but Spock’s beard. And yet, the big showdown is rushed and anti-climactic. The world-building is delightful, but the plot very nearly isn’t there. It’s decent, but insubstantial.
The villain shows up at 96% of the way thru. The “action” is over at 98%. You do, however, get to read at length about circus logistics, art nouveau, and costumes. It did make me look at the Annie Oakley wiki page and ticked off every biographical detail from the book.
Normally, I can’t get enough of Mercedes Lackey; I’ve been a fan for many years now, and while I’m not fond of the whole “Wild West” theme, I was excited to give this book a try based on the author’s name alone. I wish I hadn’t. This book gives the phrase “phoned in” a bad name. It is bland, repetitive, and utterly mediocre, not at all up to Lackey’s usual high standard. The vast majority of the book is spent describing the camp, describing how the camp is packed up, listing the names of places that the camp goes to, and describing how the camp is unpacked and set up. When they’re not describing the camp, every other sentence is about how cold it is in Germany during the winter. One chapter felt like nothing more than a love letter to the “Art Nouveau” style of architecture. The characters lack any sort of development, and the villain is utterly flat and uninteresting. There is little meaningful conflict and at times I even forgot this was supposed to be a fantasy novel. What magic there is is either glossed over or happens off screen. I had to grit my teeth and force myself through the last 25% of the book, and if I never hear, see, or read the word “temporized” again, it will be too soon. Honestly? Take it from me and don’t waste your time.
I love the Elemental Masters series…except for this one, which felt quite phoned in. The characters were not fleshed out, and it seemed like she was getting paid for “descriptions of circus trains” which became tedious and uninteresting quite quickly. If the only option is repeating this lackluster book, it’s time for the series to end.
Well, now I’m disappointed again. First I got exasperated at Lackey’s oh-so-obvious parody of Donald Trump in EYE SPY, and then the first of her “Founding of Valdemar” books, BEYOND, was so good, and now this, the next in her Elemental Masters series, about Annie Oakley on tour in Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, showed such promise. It opens with a basis in truth: Annie Oakley, then Annie Moses, was farmed out as a servant to a couple who abused and starved her. In Lackey’s version, the couple are actually werwolves and the Alpha Male has a sinister future planned for Annie, but with some magical help, she escapes. Fast forward: Annie and her supportive husband, Frank Butler, are now the big stars of Buffalo Bill’s show. In winter quarters in Germany, just before Christmas, Annie meets Frida, who is also a sharpshooter, but with a bow, and her American husband Jack. They are also Elemental Masters who tell Annie she has magic and so does Frank. During the course of the winter Annie and Frank begin learning magic under the tutelage of Frida and Jack, and even hunt with the supernatural Hunters on Christmas Eve. Finally, the wild west show is back on the road, but Annie must receive her final tutelage of being an Air Master to defend herself from the werwolves. This story builds and builds with endless description of the clockwork precision of how the Wild West show travels, the beautiful castle and decor of Frida’s friends Theo and Sofia (she likes Art Nouveau, which we are told endlessly), the wonderful Christmas market, etc. And there are a few exciting scenes of the Hunters hunting demons on the town streets at night. But there’s finally a moment were Annie has to receive her final training and she can’t get it, so she gets it in an alternative way. Then she gets kidnapped by the big bad. The whole climax that the story has been building toward is resolved basically in four pages. What? I expected her to meet this great enemy from her childhood which we’ve been told is terrifying and has some hold on Annie, and that she would have to fight the enemy off for five or six chapters. There might be some physical or psychological torture involved. Instead she does a basic bit of magic that was taught to her at the beginning of her training and…whap! story over! What happened? Did Lackey get bored and just decide to end it, or reach her page limit and decide she didn’t want to get rid of the descriptions, so she got rid of Annie struggling against her enemy instead? I was waiting for a big payoff and instead it was pretty much solved by a finger snap. Really disappointed.
The plot is an odd choice, I think – Lackey has set a second book in the distinctly odd world of the traveling wild west show in Germany, and again, she’s focused on a female trick shooter, only this time it’s Annie Oakley. While I can’t say she’s written the same book twice, there’s really an uncomfortable level of overlap. If you are a fan – if you just want to it down and enjoy Lackey’s writing and cruise through another book, it will serve and serve well. But, it is completely predictable. There are simply no surprises or plot twists whatsoever. After the fairly harrowing first chapter (not uncommon in an Elemental Masters or 500 Kingdoms novel), the challenges are all a bit tame, and even the final confrontation is a bit of a let-down. On the other hand, there IS a ray of hope – Lackey teases the concept of an American offshoot, dealing with uniquely American elementals and the very different culture.