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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

An Urban Fantasy Anthology: "Urban Allies: Ten Brand-New Collaborative Stories"

Title: Urban Allies: Ten Brand-New Collaborative Stories
Editor:  Joseph Nassise
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher:  Harper Voyager (7/2016)

There are winners and losers in this anthology, but overall, the most important thing that this book did for me is to inspire me to read some series that I have somehow missed—books that have slipped through the cracks on my to-be-read shelf.

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                    
    In this impressive anthology, twenty of today’s hottest urban fantasy writers—including Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Maberry, Kelley Armstrong, Seanan McGuire, and C. E. Murphy—pair together to write ten original stories featuring their favorite series characters. 

     Worlds collide when two different urban fantasy series meet in each of the ten electrifying stories in this collaborative project, featuring beloved characters such as Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, Joanne Walker and Harper Blaine, Joe Ledger and Special Agent Franks, Sabina Kane and Ava. Urban Allies melds the talents of some of the most high-profile authors in the genre today—many of whom are working together for the first time—to give readers a chance to see their favorite characters in an imaginative and fresh way.

   Edited by acclaimed bestselling author Joseph Nassise, who is also a contributor, this outstanding collection showcases the brilliant storytelling talents of some of the most acclaimed urban fantasy writers working today—among them seven New York Times bestselling authors and one USA Today bestselling author.  xxx—xxx

If the author's name is a pink-link on the list below, that means that you can click on it to go to my review of his or her series that is part of this book. Contributors include the following. 
  > Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden
  > Jonathan Maberry and Larry Correia
  > Joseph Nassise and Sam Witt
  > Steven Savile And Craig Schaefer
  > David Wellington and Weston Ochse
  > C. E. Murphy and Kat Richardson
               SUMMARIES AND CRITIQUES OF THE STORIES                
"Ladies' Fight"
Caitlin Kittredge (HELLHOUND CHRONICLES: Ava and Leo)
Jaye Wells (SABINA KANE SERIES: Sabina, Adam, and Giguhl)
Memorable quotation from Sabina as she watches humans having a good time on Bourbon Street: "It was the one thing I envied about humans. It was the curse of immortality that time never felt precious, so life never felt worth celebrating."

Plot: Leo needs to find the Grim Reaper's soul-sucking scythe so that he can get on with his new supernatural job. When a sketchy acquaintance gives him a tip that the scythe is in a vampire's home in New Orleans, he and Ava take a road trip to retrieve it. Unfortunately, that vampire turns out to be Sabina, and the "tip" turns out to be a trap meant to set the two groups against one another. But the good guys are way too smart to fall for the villain's tricks, and they team up to track him down. 

Critique: Although it's great to see these characters in action, the two worlds don't really mesh all that well, resulting in a brief adventure that doesn't have very much mythology or suspense. Giguhl (aka Mr. Giggles) is always good for a laugh, so he added some needed entertainment to the story.


Seanan McGuire (INCRYPTID SERIES: Verity Price and her cousin Sarah) 
Kelley Armstrong (OTHERWORLD SERIES: Elena Michaels and her kids)
Memorable quotation: Verity's description of her childhood: "Growing up in a private compound in the Oregon woodswith 'private compound' being the polite way of saying 'inside a big box of survivalist granola, complete with nuts, flakes, and the occasional Incubus'had equipped me with the survival skills to handle basically anything the forests of North America could throw at me."
a tailypo

Plot: The story proceeds along two lines. First, Verity and Sarah are in Albany to visit a pet show because they have received a tip that someone is trapping cryptids (specifically tailypo) in the local forest. Meanwhile, Elena, Kate, and Logan have come to the same place on a school field trip. They all meet up in the woods just in time to catch the poacher. 

Critique: This is primarily Verity's story, with Elena and her twins as helpful assistants. There is no sharing of mythologies because Elena and Verity interact as if they are two ordinary humans who just happen to rescue some strange animals from a bad guy. It would have been much more fun if Verity had seen the werewolves shift.

"Sweet, Blissful Certainty"

Steven Savile (Glass Town: Cadmus Damiola) 
Craig Schaefer (DANIEL FAUST SERIES: Daniel Faust)
Memorable quotation: In one of the lighter moments, Daniel treats Cadmus to a midnight stroll through the Strip: "Damiola stared up, wild-eyed, in the canyon of blazing light. it was all so garishly bright, a world of neon that probably looked closer to Hell than any of the old masters' renditions did. He grabbed at Faust's sleeve and pointed up at a dizzyingly impossible structure ahead of them with his other hand. ' a pyramid.'"

Plot: Daniel needs help from Eddie Sunday, a local necromancer to contact a long-dead magician named Cadmus Damiola so that he can show Daniel how to build an Opticron, a magical artifact that offers glimpses of the future. The only problem is that Damiola didn't die, which causes all kinds of dangerous, demonic complications when Eddie tries to bring him back.

Critique: Daniel is the central character of the story, with Damiola playing almost a sidekick role (except for the scene in which he and his doppelgangers do their time travel trick). The two mythologies brush up against one another, but neither character truly interacts with the other's world in any meaningful way. I have not read either of the source works, but I had no trouble picking up on the characters' personalities, so all in all, it was an enjoyable read.

"Pig Roast"
Joseph Nassise (TEMPLAR CHRONICLES: Knight Commander Cade Williams and his Templar Echo team) 
Sam Witt (PITCHFORK COUNTY: Night Marshal Joe Hark)
Memorable quotation: Joe and the Knights stop at the rusted-out trailer that is home to a possible lead, only to find him gone. Cade asks Joe where the man might have gone. "Joe jabbed a finger at a cluster of pink-tinged chunks half-buried in the filth 'You big-city folks would probably want a DNA test, buy my gut tells me that my guy is right there. Or at least what's left of him.'"

Plot: The Templar team travels to Pitchfork County, Missouri, to retrieve a magical artifactthe Eye of Horusfrom a biker gang that calls itself the Devil's Swinea name that turns out to be very literal in nature. This is a violent tale that climaxes with a swinish battle swamped in mud, gore, and lots of pig excrement (to use a polite term for it). 

Critique: Although the tale is quite violent, its dark drama is tightened by escalating danger and lightened by dark humor, and the two worlds of the main protagonists combine nicely. I haven't read either of the series, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the story.

"Takes All Kinds"

Carrie Vaughn (KITTY NORVILLE SERIES: Kitty and Ben)
Memorable quotation: A moment of humor when Kitty asks Angel if there is a place where they can get some coffee and talk things out, and Angel replies, "'Good thing you didn't want a beer. Sounds like a bad joke. A zombie and a werewolf walk into a bar...' She stopped at Kitty's look and cleared her throat, 'How 'bout you just follow me.'"

Plot: Kitty and Ben are on their way to a supernatural convention in New Orleans when they get lost on some back roads and come across a car fire that is meant to cover up a murder. When the coroner's van comes for the body, Angel is the one zipping up the body bag. Briefly, the two women suspect each other for the crime, but they soon team up and solve the case. 

This story is the best in the book. In fact, I'd love to see more adventures starring Kitty and Angelwith or without Ben. At the beginning, when Kitty and Angel first pick up each other's strange scents, they have one of those classic Clint Eastwood-esque movie momentsstaring and glaring (and sniffing) suspiciously from opposite sides of the crime scene. I was imagining Ennio Morricone's movie music playing ominously in the background. Great work with combining the two worlds, especially the mutual freak-outs when Angel sucks down some "protein gel" (aka brains) and Kitty strips down and then shifts into her werewolf form.

"The Lessons of Room 19"
Weston Ochse (SEAL TEAM 666 SERIES: Jack Walker) 
David Wellington (LAURA CAXTON SERIES: Laura and Patience, leader of the witchbillies)
Memorable quotation: Laura has a tough time prying Jack away from the ghostskin that is pretending to be his dead girlfriend, Jen: "You say you're okay, Jack. You say I can go home. Because you know once I walk out that door, you can head right that ghostskin...You're wondering how I knew that...Can't you guess? I'm addicted to ghostskin, too. Just like you."

Plot: Laura gets an anonymous phone call threatening to put her back in prison unless she rescues Jack from a hexed motel. Her friend, Patience, is a seer who tells her where Jack is and that she must get him out before sundown or both of them are lost. Jack has purchased a ghostskin from a rogue warlock and has lost himself in a grief-stricken dialogue with his 
dead girlfriend, fueled by a case of whiskey. All the while Jack stays with the ghostskin, it is sucking away his energy, and by the time Laura finds him, he is a physical and emotional wreck. But Jack is a SEAL, so he can't leave the other people in the hexed motel behind, and Laura can't leave Jack because she doesn't want to go back to prison. 

The biggest shocker is that even though Laura does some minor rescue work, she is the secondary player in this storythe sidekick who stays behind while the big, bad SEAL goes after the bad guy. In her series, Laura never teams up with anybody, and she is always in charge, so this is a very different experience for her and for the reader. Unfortunately, that aspect really weakened the story for me. I've read all of Laura's books, and none of Jack's, but I got the gist of who and what he is, which made the story somewhat enjoyable. Except for their shared ghostskin addiction, there isn't any combining of their two worlds.

"Blood for Blood"

Charlaine Harris (SOOKIE STACKHOUSE SERIES: Dahlia Lynley-Chivers
Christopher Golden (SHADOW SAGA: Peter Octavian)
Opening sentences: "The screaming got old by the second day. On the first day, Peter Octavian was too battered to do anything more than wish the screamer would shut up."

Plot: Sorcerer Peter and vampire Dahlia (the screamer) are behind bars in stone cells in the dungeon of the Fae King Niall. Both tried to sneak into the Fae realm (through different portals) to try to capture the same person: a half-demon, half-Fae man named Ripley. Ripley's blood is valuable to both Dahlia's vampires and Peter's sorcerers, but for very different reasons. Working together, the two conspire to escape with their captive. Will they succeed? If so, who gets the blood? 

Critique: This story was moving along quite well untilall of a sudden—it just fizzled out and came to an abrupt end. Although the ending leaves Dahlia in a relatively good place, there is no real resolution for Peter and his friends. Also, the two worlds are so different that meshing them proves to be rather awkward. Not one of my favorites.

"Spite House"
C.E. Murphy (THE WALKER PAPERS: Joanne Walker) 
Kat Richardson (GREYWALKER SERIES: Harper Blaine)
Memorable quotation: After Joanne and Harper take a look at one another and introduce themselves, Joanne says, "Wait, what? You're a female supernatural PI in Seattle who's nearly as tall as I am and I've never heard of you before? That's not even possible."

Plot: Both Joanne and Harper have answered an ad promising to pay $10,000 to the first person to solve the supernatural mystery of a haunted house. The women soon discover that they have been chosen as stand-ins for a pair of twin sisters who drowned in an icy lake decades ago and have hated one another ever since, each blaming the other for their deaths and each accusing the other of vicious lies. Joanne and Harper come up with a risky, over-the-top plan to mediate the sisters' feud, but as their two mythologies mesh, clarity is soon lost.

Between the shaman magic and the greywalker magic, this story gets very woo-woo, and not in a good way. The attempt to mesh the two mythologies doesn't quite work.

Click HERE to go to the official website of Murphy's WALKER PAPERS

"Crossed Wires"

Jeff Somers (USTARI CYCLE: Lem Vonnegan and Pitr Mags) 
Stephen Blackmoore (CITY OF THE LOST SERIES: Eric Carter )
Memorable quotation: Lem thinks about whether to take on a new case for a sketchy client: "I ball my feet inside my shoes and feel the paper-thin spot on the sole that will soon be a hole, letting in tiny rocks and puddles of water. I consider my personal fortune of seven dollars, with which I will have to feed myself and Pitr Mags, a man who makes hot dogs disappear in one bite and then spends five minutes licking his fingers in sad remembrance of the meal that was...I calculate how many hot dogs a hundred bucks will buy Mags. I nod. 'Fine.'"

Plot: Coming from opposite sides of the problem, Lem and Eric separately use their magic to prevent a rogue female mage from using blood magic to enter Lem's world. The woman was expelled from Eric's world, but has managed to wedge herself between the two worlds. The action switches back and forth between Eric and Lem, but you have to pay attention from the very beginning to determine who is doing what magical trick.

Although I have read both series, this story didn't work for me because it felt choppy and disjointed. Lem and Eric don't even meet until three-quarters of the way into the story. After a brief conference, they then go off to work separately on the problem and never meet again. The whole thing felt awkward to me.

"Weaponized Hell"
Larry Correia (MONSTER HUNTER SERIES: Special Agent Franks) 
Jonathan Maberry (JOE LEDGER SERIES: Capt. Joe Ledger)
Memorable quotation: Joe Ledger muses about his inner Killer: "They say war is hell. Sure. It absolutely is. Even if you like combat. Even when the sound of gunfire is your lullabywhich, for the record, it isn't to me. But there is a part of memy shrink and I call him the Killerwho shares my head and my soul with my other aspects, the Modern Man and the Cop; and the Killer loves it. In times like this he is fully alive. And maybe so am I."

Plot: Two of urban fantasy's toughest-of-the-tough guys meet up in the Iraqi Desert to put a stop to ISIL's attempt to set up an assembly-line program that turns captured human virgin girls into fanged-and-clawed, bloodthirsty demons.

Although the slicing and dicing in the climactic battle scene gets a bit repetitious (there are only so many ways to kill a demon), this is a nice melding of mythologies, and the protagonists are terrific heroes: two brave, combat-hardened macho-men who love a good fighteven when the enemy is a horde of demons.

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