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Saturday, April 26, 2014

ANTHOLOGY: "Games Creatures Play"

Plot Type:  Fantasy Fiction     
Publishe:  Ace (4/2014)                   

     In their introduction, Harris and Kelner say this about games: "They bring out the best in us, the worst in us, the thing-we-never-expected in us….Human beings just naturally like to test their limits, both mental and physical….It's not much of a stretch to imagine that supernaturals like to do the same…or that otherworldly elements can enter the field of play." Each story in this anthology includes some type of game and at least one supernatural creature. All of the stories are brand new (with 2014 copyrights). As always, click on the pink links throughout the review for more information.

The quality varies, but most stories 
are clever and inventive. 
I have marked my choices of the 
best and worst with these 
up/down arrow symbols.  

                              THE STORIES                              

Charlaine Harris: "In the Blue Hereafter" (a SOOKIE STACKHOUSE story)
Who can
resist a
Sookie story?
SETTING:  Present-day Bon Temps, Louisiana
CREATURES:  three psychics and a witch
GAME:  women's fast-pitch softball

QUOTATION: "This was the most unlikely place in America for Manfred to be. For the past three nights in a row, he had dreamed of his grandmother, Xylda Bernardo. She had insisted he come here on this day, at this hour, and she wouldn't take no for answer."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Manfred Bernardo is a psychic who teams up with Sookie as he tries to figure out why his dead grandmother has ordered him to travel to a girls' softball tournament in Bon Temps. 

     Manfred is a psychic who first turned up in Harris's HARPER CONNELLY series as a friend of the title character. Manfred is also one of the lead characters in Harris's new series, MIDNIGHT, TEXAS. CLick HERE to read my review of that series. 

     Click HERE to read my review of the SOOKIE STACKHOUSE series. Click HERE to read my review of the HARPER CONNELLY series.

William Kent Krueger: "Hide and Seek" 
SETTING:  an isolated mansion on a rocky coast
GAME hide-and-seek

QUOTATION: "Roast beef. That was for the little boys who survived the game. The bigger boys were promised something else, delicious in an entirely different way."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Runaway boys are coerced by a trio of crazy siblings into playing life-or-death games of hide-and-seek.

Jan Burke: "Stepping into the Dead Zone" 
SETTING:  Grant Elementary School in small-town America, 1962
CREATURES:  faeries
GAME dodgeball

QUOTATION: "He struggled as one who wishes to wake, to wake, to wake…but was held down by sleepiness. He felt himself to be a captive who could just make out a faraway shore where he would be free, but who had not the least hope of reaching it."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Two boys enroll in a new school, learn the truth about their lives, and play a mean game of dodgeball.

Joe R. Lansdale: "Dead on the Bones" 
Nice twist
on a classic
SETTING:  American Deep South during the Great Depression of the 1930s
CREATURES a conjure man (aka hoodoo practitioner) and a dead man's reanimated spirit
GAME boxing

QUOTATION: "Conjure Man was tall and thin and his skin was night-sky black. He wore a black hat, black shirt, pants, and coat, and black cowboy boots. It was as if him and that old black truck had peeled themselves out of the dark."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: A young boy takes matters into his own hands when he helps his dead father wreak vengeance on the people who wronged him.

Caitlin Kittredge: "The Devil Went Down to Boston" 
SETTING:  South Boston, beginning in the 1990s and ending in the present
CREATURES:  the Devil and the Folk
GAME a shell game

QUOTATION: "The Devil didn't have eyes. Where they should be was darkness, sucking holes that pulled in all the light around him, that would pull you right down like a riptide on a Cape Cod beach."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Three siblings grow up rough in Southie, maturing into very different types of adults: a substance-abusing thug, a decorated veteran, and a gutsy young woman who will do anything just to survive.      

Brendan DuBois: "On the Playing Fields of Blood" 
Predictable take
 Proud Warrior
Race Trope
SETTING:  Northern White Mountains of New Hampshire in the early 1800s and in the present day
CREATURES:  Native American ghosts
GAME lacrosse

QUOTATION: "The mist was rising up and wider….She knew deep in her bones that the mist didn't belong….And if the mist didn't belong, neither did they."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Four college students on a hiking trip pay the ultimate price for the sins of their ancestors.

Dana Cameron: "The God's Games" 
SETTING:  the Olympic Games: Ancient Greece, early 4th century BCE
CREATURES:  two shape shifters: a werewolf warrior and a raven oracle
GAME pankration (a blend of boxing and wrestling with few rules)

QUOTATION: "I straightened myself, dusted twigs and herbs and spiderwebs from my shirt. There was nothing on earth holieror crazierthan one of our oracles."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: A werewolf must complete a complex task foreseen by two oracles: win the pankration, stop a murder, expose the perpetrator, and stay away from a beautiful woman—all without shifting into his animal form.

Scott Sigler: "The Case of the Haunted Safeway" 
SETTING:  a Safeway supermarket in the San Francisco Bay Area
CREATURES:  ghosts
GAME baseball

QUOTATION: "I ain't partial to this part of the country, but the money was regular, and too damn good to pass up….So, that's how a truck-driving, gun-owning, country-music-loving Republican family came to live in the world's most liberal place."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: In this dead-on parody of Dog the Bounty Hunter, Hunter Hunterson and his monster-stompin' family (his "hair-sprayed vision of loveliness," jewel-bedecked wife, Betty Lou and their three kids) set out to rid a supermarket of two destructive, baseball-playing ghosts.      

Ellen Kushner: "Prise De Fer" 
SETTING:  an exclusive girls' school in France in the early 1960s
CREATURE:  ghost
GAME:  fencing

QUOTATION: "For a moment, I felt that we were in a play, actors on a stage late, late at night in the salon of the old chateau of Saint-Hilaire, back when it had been the chateau's reception room, its long mirrors reflecting candlelight for the elegantly clad, and not the questionable forms of young women struggling with their parries and ripostes."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: The spirit of a swordsman from an earlier time tries to convince a lonely young girl—an expert fencer—to help him avenge his death.

Brandon Sanderson: "Dreamer"     
The mindless
violence was
a turn-off
for me.
SETTING:  Midtown Manhattan
CREATURES:  body-jumping poltergeists      
GAME:  capture the flag

QUOTATION: "I charged for a body, no purpose behind my choice beyond pure instinct. I latched on, a lion on the gazelle, ripping and battering against the consciousness there, forcing it down. It didn't want to let me in, but I needed that warmth."

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: A gang of body jumpers terrorizes Manhattan, fighting to a no-holds-barred finish despite the huge amount of horrific collateral damage they inflict on innocent human bystanders.

Mercedes Lackey: "False Knight on the Road" 
SETTING:  the mountains of Appalachia, 1950s—deep in moonshine country
CREATURE:  the Devil—or is he?
GAME:  drag race

QUOTATION: "Now there were finally thoughts running through Billy's head….That this was no time to be palavering' with a stranger in the middle of the road. That the smartest thing he could do would be to throw the Fairlane into reverse, hightail it back down the way he'd just come, and take another section-line road to the hardtop. But Billy's mouth wasn't nearly as smart as his brain." 

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: A young, fast-driving moonshine runner gets carried away by his own arrogance and lets himself be goaded into a wager that results in the scariest ride of his life.  

Seanan McGuire: "Jammed" (an Antimony Price story from the INCRYPTID SERIES)
A must-read
if you are
this series
SETTING:  a Roller Derby match in Portland, Oregon CREATURES:  various supernatural beings (aka cryptids)—both big and small, good and evil
GAME:  roller skating

     "I shoved my phone into my pocket, shouting, 'Mom! I'm going to go fight a monster I haven't identified yet!'
     'Don't get decapitated, dear,' she called back.
     I shook my head. 'Parental oversight,' I muttered, stepping outside." 

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Antimony and her cryptid friends use their awesome Roller Derby prowess to locate and punish a murderous monster.

Click HERE to read my review of the INCRYPTID series.

Adam-Troy Castro: "Hide and Shriek" 
Witty, but
suffers from
wordy overkill
SETTINGS:  the realm of the gods and their hiding places on Earth
CREATURES:  three monstrous Elder Gods
GAME:  hide-and-seek

QUOTATION: "For all their immortal lives, {Eternal Despair} always had come up with the best games, games involving prophecies and cataclysms and torrents of gleaming ichor that always ended with entire populations of little things being laid to ruin in the most entertaining manner possible..." 

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Three powerful and narcissistic immortal gods fight off boredom by playing a game that might end with the destruction of all mankind.

Laura Lippman: "Ice" 
O.K. story, 
but the "twist"
is a bit
confusing in the
SETTING:  Baltimore, early-to-mid 1970s
CREATURE:  ghost
GAME:  skating and sliding on an ice-covered pond

QUOTATION: "So the ice said Ummmmmmmmmm and then cracked beneath Atheena's feet, the sound as sharp as Mrs. Burke's pointer slapping across a desk…." 

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Two girls have similarly horrific experiences, but with very different endings.  

Toni L.P. Kelner: "Bell, Book, and Candlepin" (For another story about the Allaway Kith, read "For a Good Time, Call…" in The Wild Side anthology.)

SETTING:  Candlepin Castle Bowling Alley in Salem, Massachusetts
CREATURES:  a werewolf and a witch who is a member of the Allaway Kith
GAME:  candlepin bowling

QUOTATION: "He and I were the only arcane types working at the Castle, and as far as we knew, the only ones at Cassidy College. We'd sniffed each other out during freshman orientation—literally, in Jake's case—and had been buds ever since."   

ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Two young supernaturals confound a curse, prevent a murder, and take their first step toward a romantic relationship.

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