This is a book review. A book series review. I will try to keep it spoiler-free, but since I've read all but one of these books (the short story compilation Bedlam's Edge) and love them to death, I might tread close.
The Bedlam's Bard series, by Mercedes Lackey, Ellen Guon, and others, is a series of urban fantasy stories that focuses mainly on Bards, human beings with the special ability to create magic through music. These Bards end up in trouble, sometimes due to mortal means, sometimes because of the interference of magical creatures. They tend to befriend the Selieghe (pronounced seal-y) elves, and be targeted by the Unselieghe (un-seal-y) elves.
The covers, especially of the first 2 volumes from the early 90s, encapsulate the feel of the series pretty well. There are elves. In the modern world. They fight. Their human allies fight alongside them. The series does an excellent job of taking itself seriously enough to help you suspend your disbelief, but still not too seriously.
The main protagonist for the first part of the series is a young man named Eric Banyon. He starts out as an alcoholic flute player who mainly gets by via busking and playing at Renaissance Faires. He's kind of a loser at first, but does become more mature and responsible as the series progresses (so don't let that stop you from picking up the first book). Eric Banyon is single-handedly responsible for (accidentally) waking up the elves in the San Francisco area, among other things.
Other protagonists come and go, but Eric is powerful enough to attract the attention of a lot of magical beings, and as a result, he tends to appear in most of the books. Other Good Guys include a former singer for a televangelist, a Selieghe elf child, an enigmatic businesswoman, a gang of teenage mallrats, and a girl with clinical depression who just wants to enjoy a camping trip with her boyfriend.
The main villain of each book varies. There are several plots by Unselieghe elves, lots of greedy humans who are easy for said elves to manipulate, an evil sea-creature called a lamia, and sometimes entire armies of magical creatures that the Good Guys must stop. The one thing I can guarantee is that the conflicts are always interesting, the stakes never feel out of proportion to the action, and the characters' limitations and abilities feel believable at all times. Again, this series is co-written by Mercedes Lackey, who is well-known in the fantasy world for a damn good reason.
Overall, if you don't mind the slight datedness of the early books (I personally think it adds to their charm), and you enjoy urban fantasy, Bedlam's Bard is a good series to check out. The older books are out of print, sadly, but used bookstores with a decent sf/f section might have them, and they do tend to come up on eBay now and then. I give Bedlam's Bard a 9/10.Content Warnings: The following appear in the Bedlam's Bard series and may be upsetting to some readers:
- Polyamory (only in books 1 and 2)
- Drug abuse
- People misusing Christianity to make money
- Child abuse
- Realistic depictions of clinical depression
- White-supremacist rock bands (only in book 7)
- Mind-wiping of teenagers
- Controlling parents trying to live vicariously through their kids