I just finished reading all 4 stories. I picked up the anthology because it included Sharon Shinn and Rebecca York, but Shinn's story almost made me not want to finish the book. Usually with an anthology, they try to put the strongest story in the first position, so it lowered my expectations.
1st story: Sharon Shinn's story was told entirely from the viewpoint of a third party. It read more like a fairy tale, but an unhappy one, and there was little romance.
2nd story: Jean Johnson's story was much more romantic. The characters spent time together developing a relationship and the fantasy elements were supporting the story rather than the purpose of the story. I think this was the strongest in the book and would be interested to read more by this author. This tale had twin royal sisters trying to determine which of them is firstborn and would become their father's heir. While researching a solution, the heroine meets a mage that provides assistance in her quest.
3rd story: Carol Berg's story was okay - it has a psychic investigator who is still a student that gets involved in espionage. This story seems to be crying out to be a larger novel - a lot of time is spent defining the class problems between psychics and people without powers, problems with a neighboring region, types of law enforcers and types of power holders. The amount of time for the hero/heroine to meet and fall in love is short and unsubstaniated. Seems likely this was part of a larger book, maybe a prequel where there heroine and hero meet. Not much romance, some physical attraction.
4th story: Rebecca York's story was okay - it is the sexiest of the stories in the book, including a virgin sex slave. The paranormal plot is interesting. The storyline is obviously trying to set up an alternate universe earth, in the future after people have invented a device that creates mental powers and ends up causing chaos and war. The characters seem surprised to blurt out they were in love, and I was surprised too, as they had almost barely meet each other and spent little time together and not really shown that they were in love. I didn't buy in to the romance storyline, but the intrique was sustainable to finish the story.
All four short stories were from good authors, but no standouts, not their best works.
In case you want to know what the stories are (from the back of the book)
"Air, Fire, Water, Earth. Let them guide your heart...
From wizards to weathermen, everyone has always known the powers of the four elements -- natural forces that can direct the fates, change destiny, and unite lovers in the most unexpected ways. Now those magical elements come together in perfect balance in new stories from four charmed authors...
In Air find romance... in a breathless retelling of the Cinderella fable from award-winning author Sharon Shinn. [Bargain with the Wind]
In Fire find adventure... in a parallel dimension of werewolves and love slaves from USA Today bestselling author Rebecca York. [Huntress Moon]
In Water find fantasy... and a remarkable, universe of magic, demons, and dangerous passion from an award-winning author Carol Berg. [Unmasking]
And in Earth... discover the ultimate in profound pleasure from Jean Johnson. [Birthright]
There is such a thing as perfect harmony between a man and a woman.
Experience it for yourself in Elemental Magic."
Okay, my take on this book. I picked up this book because of Rebecca York. As expected for me, I totally enjoyed Rebecca's story.
As for the other three authors who I've never read before, they did not grab and keep my attention, but I'm one of those readers that say to myself "it must get better". Of the three authors, Sharon Shinn had a nice twist at the end.
as anthologys go this was not very good, the stories were just ok.
Two good anthologies back to back! This one holds 4 stories, each with an elemental theme. Sharon Shinn's romance has a happy ending despite the pitfalls of making bargains with capricious air elementals. Jean Johnson's exotic desert setting is perfect for her tale of twins trying to determine who is the ruling heir with the power to command the earth. Carol Berg's wizards and sorcerers live in a world where water strips away all illusions. And in Rebecca York's parallel universe of psychics, magic and werewolves, those who control fire have the power to heal as well as harm. A satisfying collection of classic and contemporary fantasy.
I am a fan of both Berg and Shinn and was looking forward to collection. I did enjoy their novellas, but was not at all impressed with the other contributions. The Shinn and Berg stories were much better crafted in terms of dialogue, setting, plot and pretty much everything. Knowing what I know now, I still would have bought the book to read the Shinn and Berg novellas but I don't know if I would have wasted my time on the other two.
Shinn's piece was entertaining but did not compare with her novels. It was a sadder story but pretty. Berg's was my favorite. I've read the series that the universe is based on and enjoyed it so that might have influenced my opinion. I do find her to be a strong tight writer, and I know when I pick up a book by her that I will enjoy it.
The other two novellas were not at all to my taste. York's had very stilted "matter of fact" dialogue that annoyed me throughout the story, and Johnson's love at first sight sex slave story was poorly written and the story line was implausible.
I was incredibly conflicted in deciding what rating to give this collection. Two of the novellas were near perfect, one was kind of lame, and the last one was such complete trash I'd almost rather believe it was written as a satire of romance novels. Still, I am going to try and focus on the stronger stories, so I bumped the rating up a little.
The first story, loosely centered around the element "Air" and also very loosely a reimagining of the Cinderella myth, is called "Bargain with the Wind," and is written by Sharon Shinn. It is the reason I bought this collection, and it really impressed me. Shinn's writing style is fairly simple and a little weak, but she excels at creating characters that the reader cares about. This story is some of her strongest work in some time, nearly at the level of her Campbell Award-winning first novel, The Shape-Changer's Wife. Like that novel, it also ends with a melancholy, haunting beauty that lingered in my mind for some time.
The second novella is very loosely centered around the element "Earth." "Birthright," by Jean Johnson, was the story I found a bit lame. It felt pulled in two directions -- there was too much romance to have enough time building the world and setting up the plot, but there was so much plot (and a rather weak plot to boot) that Johnson skipped all the most interesting parts of the romance: the actual falling in love. Her characters meet, want each other, spend a month together that the reader doesn't get to see at all, then fall into bed (or in this case a bathing pool) with each other and are ready to pledge their undying love. Still, it moved quickly, and the bathing pool scene walked the fine line between being R-rated and X-rated carefully enough that it was titillating rather than either horrifying or ludicrous.
The third novella is the strongest. Centered around "water" and set in the world of her major trilogy, "Unmasking" by Carol Berg was a revelation. I had read Berg's standalone novel Song of the Beast and wasn't terribly impressed; it read quickly, but I forgot it almost as soon as I finished it. This novella caused me to go out and get the first novel in her Rai-Kirah trilogy immediately on its strength alone. There is nothing flashy about her writing style, but it is serviceable and there is no clunkiness as there sometimes is in Sharon Shinn's writing; but the strength in this story is her characterization. It is the shortest of the novellas in this collection, yet its characters are the ones I will remember the longest -- the inhabit a world I can picture perfectly, they are multi-faceted, and the protagonist faces quite a few hard choices with wonderfully realized courage and grace. While the romance takes up very little time, it made my heart ache. Truly an impressive work.
The fourth novella is sadly the weakest by far, and left a horrible taste in my mouth after Berg's small masterpiece. Centered around "Fire" -- and much more literal an interpretation of the element than the other three novellas -- "Huntress Moon" by Rebecca York was disgustingly inadequate from the very first page. The characters make no sense, the world-building is trite and nearly non-existent, the plot is hackneyed, and the content is. . . well, I have to say that I don't read romance novels. I will admit to some snobbishness about them. But I never really believed that someone (and a woman no less!) could write such utter filth, and that other people (women!!!) could enjoy it. It is a horrifying tale of a girl buying into her own destruction wholeheartedly. The main character agrees to become a sex slave with the hope of saving her mother and is instantly swooning over her purchaser. Their sex is described graphically (but not at all sexily) and repeatedly, and then they are magically brought together by several coincidences, the evil-doers are conveniently routed, a couple of slaves are freed (but of course, not all of them can be, that would be a sign of weakness -- but by the way, when did Zarah learn to care about slavery? it isn't shown in the text), and everyone lives happily ever after. I only kept reading after the first two pages because I didn't feel qualified to review it if I didn't finish it. I strongly recommend anyone else picking up this collection to simply cut the pages out of the book and burn them.
Still, if I ignore the fourth novella, this is a strong collection -- one brilliant story, one excellent story, and one that is adequate. I will take my own advice and burn Rebecca York's novella, and then I can absolutely place this collection on my keeper shelf.