Dark and Stormy Knights anthology

Anthologies are basically perfect reading when you KNOW you’re going to be interrupted by relatives. With that thought in mind, I picked this one up while on vacation in Sedona and read it in between all the madness of the Christmas season. (Yes, I know it’s been a few months since Christmas.. still working on that review backlog).

Dark and Stormy Knights
edited by P.N. Elrod

Dark and Stormy Nights is an anthology of 9 urban fantasy stories with the theme of “knights” who do some questionable things for the right reasons. So basically urban fantasy heroes doing what they usually do, which is work in the grey area. I liked that the theme is so wide open, and that the anthology had a bunch of authors I have read and liked. Here’s a breakdown of what we get, followed by my brief (non-spoiler) impressions of each:

  • A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews (also found in a 2-novella ebook here)
  • Even Hand by Jim Butcher
  • The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher
  • Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine
  • Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod
  • Beknighted by Deidre Knight
  • Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson
  • Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow
  • God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn

A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels, a member of the Atlanta Mercenary Guild is offered a bodyguard job when two of her peers back out. This is a prequel the Kate Daniels series, which means it doesn’t require you to know anything, but fans of that series will enjoy learning the back story on how Kate met Saiman, a minor but unique character. I always understood that Saiman creeped Kate out from the beginning, and why that is is explained here.  Lives up to what I expect from Ilona Andrews, currently my favorite writing duo. Link to an excerpt

Even Hand by Jim Butcher – A powerful man agrees to protect a woman and child against a supernatural pursuer. This is set in the Harry Dresden universe, except the narrator is John Marcone. I haven’t read any of the Harry Dresden books, but I gather this narrator is not Dresden’s ally. He’s not a good guy, but he does have his own set of rules, and it was refreshing to hear a story from a character on the other side and who is sharp in a scary way. This was another strong story in the anthology and really hit the sweet spot in character development – I just loved the ambiguity in this one.

The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher – This is a story about a weary hunter named Ryder Ward who kills Beacons – people who (through no fault of their own) attract monsters called Terraphages into our world from another dimension. The latest Beacon is a young girl with a single mother and Ryder feels wretched about his choices. This sounds like an original story though the Terraphages sound like the Synestryn of Butcher’s Sentinel Wars series. Although Shannon K. Butcher is known for her paranormal romance, this didn’t go there (although it did feel like there was the set up for it). There was something about these characters that I didn’t warm to – I think they just felt very standard issue: single mother in a small town, adorable child, tortured hunter, but I felt like there was a spark for something more there if this was a longer story.

Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine – This is another story that didn’t feel set in a bigger universe, but I really enjoyed the world building which was nice and comprehensive in such a small space. It’s about Lisel, a centuries-old woman warrior who has managed to survive and become the last living Dragonslayer, and she’s just been informed that her successor has been chosen (by the pope, as these things are). A young girl knocks on her door the next day. I loved this one for the characterization and dialogue. The grumpy old-school Dragonslayer (“Get your ass inside”) viewing the new guard with exasperation (“glowing with youth and vitality and health and a smart-ass attitude”) but having to train her anyway and maybe gets proved wrong was a fun concept. One of my favorites.

Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod – The Internet tells me that Dark Lady is part of the Vampire Files universe because its narrator, Jack Fleming is the star of that series. This didn’t bother me, all I needed to know was that Jack was a vampire, owns a nightclub, and on occasion helps out people, and this was explained in the first three sentences. This was a very noir-style story with a damsel in distress, a mob boss, missing money, and thugs galore, set in 1930’s Chicago. What I liked about this one was that there were surprises and a puzzle which is unexpected for the story length. Link to an excerpt

Beknighted by Deidre Knight – An artist named Anna gains a patron in order to pay for “living gold” which she needs to unlock a man from another world through her artwork, but there’s something that makes Anna question her patron’s motives for backing the project. This was another story that had more of a paranormal romance tint to the writing than an urban fantasy one. I found the concept of the living gold, Artist Guild and patrons in the context of artists actually “unlocking” things within their paintings interesting in theory, but the execution was confusing. It could be a reading comprehension fail on my part, but I just had trouble connecting some of the dots.

Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson – Skamar is a woman made flesh by the focus of her creator, and her job is to protect a certain teen girl. This means investigating the abductions of girls around her age, working with a human, and dealing with human emotions. This is just as gritty and violent and a little bit heart rending as the rest of the Signs of the Zodiac series, and it focuses on side characters, but I think it would be a little difficult to follow the concept of the Zodiac, tulpas, and who Zoe Archer is unless you’ve read other books in this world. One of the darker stories in this collection.

Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow – A suburban wife comes to Rookwood, asking him to kill her husband, who is already dead. This is another short story of the pulpy vampire detective variety, except a more modern-day version and a damsel in distress who is a lot faster on the uptake than she might be given credit for. I liked the plot of this one, but I wish the story would have been from Mrs. King’s point of view instead of focusing on Rookwood’s interpretation of events.

God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn – Cormac is called to deal with a killer that has gutted some cattle. It is clearly a werewolf losing the battle against bloodlust, and it won’t be long before it moves to human prey. This is another story set in a bigger universe (Kitty Norville), but Cormac is a secondary character and on a side trip so you don’t need to have knowledge of the series to understand what is going on here. The concept of hunting a werewolf was straightforward, but God’s Creatures adds a human element and ambiguity to the whole enterprise that I liked. Link to an excerpt

Overall: As urban fantasy anthologies go, this is probably one of the strongest ones I’ve read. The reason for that is there seemed to be a concerted effort (for the most part) not to lose the reader with world building details they wouldn’t know. I think we’ve all read stories set in a world related to an author’s series and been lost before. It seemed like most of these were written from the point of view of a side character, or set the story before their series begins, or are original stories not related to some bigger world. This made things more accessible, which was refreshing to see. Also keeping things cohesive: no romance and stories that all kept with a theme of doing deeds for the “greater good” that don’t always leave our heroes looking entirely pure. A very solid lineup.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Temporary worlds book reviews – “although there are a few stories that didn’t work for me, I feel as if the good content outweighs the bad in this anthology”
Calicoreaction  – Worth the Cash: “On the whole, it’s a very solid anthology with stories that stand on their own two feet even if they’re set in established universes”

Author Interview: Lili St. Crow

I decided to do something I’ve never done before in this blog. An author interview. ooOooo!! Very exciting! 😀

I just reviewed Lili St. Crow’s new book, Strange Angels (link to  wordpress / LJ)  and I sent her some questions about the series and some general questions about being an author. She reveals some interesting information about the rest of the series, plus talks about being an author who uses plenty of profanity (hehe), and I think it gives people an idea of what to expect from this series. Thank you for answering my questions Lili.

Read on for more.

Strange Angels questions:

Please tell us something about Strange Angels. How would you describe this book?

It’s like Supernatural meets Buffy, plus Appalachian folk magic and Eastern European folklore, plus a soupcon of Vampire Hunter D. Dru Anderson, our heroine, has been traveling around with her dad, killing things that go bump in the night. When her dad shows up as a zombie, suddenly she’s on her own–and all the secrets her parents never told her start crowding in. The things she and her dad hunted start hunting back.

The scene with Dru at the beginning of the book with the zombie had a lot of suspense and I had to reassure myself that she’ll be ok because there would be no book otherwise. It reminded me of good horror movies where you’re freaking out along with the person on the screen. Are you a big zombie horror movie fan and if so do you have any favorites?

I’m not a huge zombie buff. I’ve seen Romero’s movies, sure, and I watched Shawn of the Dead and Planet Terror like everyone else. My favorite horror movies tend to include more vampires than zombies, because I’m fascinated by the polymorphous aspect of the vampire myth.

The scene with Dru and the zombie was in the very first bit of the book I had done, and when I was asked to do some YA I sent that along, so the editor would kind of see what they were dealing with. To be honest I expected there to be trouble over it, because it is such a troubling scene. But that is the kind of writer I am, and I wanted it up-front. I wanted to say, this is what we’re dealing with here, there is real risk and real danger. Without real danger to the character, horror just isn’t…well, frightening.

The werewulfen and zombies and other creatures in this book are familiar yet different. For example the zombies turn to dust after being “killed”. What’s your favorite otherworldly creature and why?

There are so many otherworldy creatures! I don’t know if I can pick a favorite; they are a feast for a writer. Certainly the creature I’m most fascinated with is the vampire. The permutations and changes of the vampire as each generation starts playing with bloodsucking as a metaphor are something I find fascinating. People’s vampires tell you a lot about them, a lot about how they view the world and what they’re scared of.

I noticed that for Strange Angels, you use the name Lili St. Crow and I’ve seen you as Lilith Saintcrow on other titles. Is this to distinguish your young adult books from adult ones?

Yes. I’m a fairly prolific writer, and we wanted to be clear that these books weren’t part of my adult oeuvre, so to speak.

How did deciding to write a young adult series come about? Was it just a natural progression – the next story you wanted to tell happened to be young adult, or was it more planned – you wanted to try your hand at it? And how different is it writing adult versus young adult?

I actually never thought I would be writing in the young adult. My work has plenty of profanity and plenty of troublesome themes that I thought would mean I’d never get close to writing anything for younger readers. But…I was asked if I had anything that might do for a young adult book, and I had the first few chapters of Strange Angels lying around. It was something I was very interested in, because I could tell the rest of the story was there, but I hadn’t had time to work on it yet.

So I sent those first few chapters off and started working on it full-time, and next thing I knew we had a contract for a series. And I was terrified. I’d never written young adult before, and part of the process was me calling the editor and saying, “You’ve read what I write, right? You know I put the F-word in things, right? You know characters are going to die, right?” And she was fine with that. That was why they’d asked me, as a matter of fact.

So I was still terrified, but I decided to just barge in and do it. Nothing ever gets done if you’re too afraid to make a move. Besides, I feel very strongly that if I show up consistently to take dictation, the Muse won’t let me down. My job is to be available for the words, and the words will take care of the rest.

For fans of Strange Angels – any influences? Are there authors or books you’d recommend for young adult readers?

Of course the first few episodes of Supernatural and the first two seasons of Buffy were huge influences, as well as Vampire Hunter D and Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John books and short stories. And Dru and her father listened to a lot of classic rock, so I’m rediscovering classic rock stations now, and music I listened to in my childhood since it was the only thing the whole family could agree on. The music is a huge part of my creative process.

When I was younger, I read omnivorously. I particularly enjoyed Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, LJ Smith, Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, early Mercedes Lackey, and of course all the Algernon Blackwood, Robert Aikman, and Tanith Lee I could get my hands on. That’s not a bad lineup of authors, I think.

Strange Angels is the start of a series – do you have an idea how many books this series will be?

Right now there’s three in the series, with the possibility of another two books later. That’s about as far as it would be possible to tell Dru’s story.

Any hints you want to give us about what to expect in the second book? When will it be out and what will it be called? 🙂

The book will be out in November ’09, and it’s called Betrayals. We have two first kisses, lots of fight scenes, burning buildings, a car chase, and treachery. In other words, I had a lot of fun.

General questions

It seems to me that you are a prolific writer – the Dante Valentine series of five books all came out within two years and then you started the Jill Kismet series and I’ve seen books from you at other publishers (The Demon’s Librarian which I want to read, and Steelflower..amongst others). You must be very busy! Tell us something about your day to day schedule.

My day is pretty boring. Get up, make breakfast for the kids, tend to correspondence and the weblog. Make lunch, settle down to writing between the other minutiae of childrearing and keeping the house from sinking into chaos. Make dinner, clean up, go back to writing. Put kids in bed, then write until about midnight. Go to bed around 1AM. Get up in the morning and do it again.

See? Boring. Most days I don’t even leave the house.

I really liked Selene and Nikolai when they were first introduced in the Dante Valentine series and then reading the serialized novel “Selene” online. Are you planning to continue their story from where “Selene” leaves off?

Eventually, yes. I know what happens next. The problem is time–I literally have no time for discretionary projects at the moment.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for asking me! That about covers it. Thank you very much.

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Strange Angels
Lili St. Crow

Note: this review is based on an ARC I received from the publisher

Premise: Dru Anderson knows all about scary creatures like werewulfen, suckers, gator-spirits, chupacabras, ghosts, and zombies and she’s helped her dad track and kill a few. It’s a rough life but Dru has been doing this since her grandmother died and her dad came to take her with him. They’ve moved from one town to the next while tracking down the next supernatural target. Now Dru is sixteen and the latest town is Foley, South Dakota. They’ve been here for a very short time, still unpacked (though they never unpack anymore), when one night Dru’s dad goes out after something doesn’t come back the next morning. Dru knows something horrible has happened – her gifts warn her in her dreams and it isn’t long before she’s forced into battling creatures by herself. An unexpected ally appears in a schoolmate – goth boy Graves has taken an interest in Dru and offers his help despite not knowing anything about the trouble she’s in. Both of them are alone in the world until that point, but things get further complicated when Christophe shows up talking about the Kouroi and telling Dru she’s more special than she thinks.

Excerpt of Strange Angels

My Thoughts: This is the first young adult book by Lili St. Crow. She’s also written adult books like the Dante Valentine series, the Jill Kismet series and others.

I’ve read a couple of books into the Dante Valentine series and Dante to me is a really tough kind of character and once I read some of her past I understood where her demons were coming from. I think it’s Lili St. Crow’s speciality to create strong women characters because Dru also has some elements of this toughness in her. She’s also realistic. Dru has been through a lot and her coping with her father’s death was dealt with in a reasonable way. Dru has to fall apart a little bit, and that’s when Graves finds her. She’s in shock, but she rallies because her life is in danger, and part of her coping mechanism is hearing her father’s voice pushing her on to survive. I prefer having a main character like this, especially since she’s our narrator.

Graves too is not without his depths. To Dru he first he came off as naive, but as she gets to know him she learns he’s smarter and more resilient than she’d expected. I’m always happy (um, possibly biased) to see half-asian characters in books so he’s already a positive addition to the book there, but his sense of humor in scary situations also endeared me to him. I hope in the next book we can learn a bit more about his back story (and Dru’s).

Lots of action is going on as Dru and Graves run into supernatural creatures I was not familiar with along with some familiar ones (werewolves, vampires, zombies) with their own special twist. The zombie scene was particularly nerve wracking and brought to mind those horror movies where you have to watch through your hands! But maybe I’m the only chicken who does that.

It’s a sensory read – for example, weather is one of the things I found very well described. It’s winter in the Dakotas, and the descriptions of the cold and the snow and ice in a small town were prevalent throughout the book. Boy, am I glad it’s spring now because St. Crow’s descriptions took me to a place with bad winter storms and a hushed world covered in white.

Overall: If you want a recommendation for a young adult urban fantasy, I’d put this on the list. It has a serious, believable teen as a protagonist and the creatures that roam around in this book are really creepy.  It’s refreshing to read an urban fantasy aimed at teens that doesn’t have a high school cliche as a main character  because I don’t recall knowing anyone really like that.  Dru on the other hand is tough, but she’s also vulnerable and scared and thinks that she’s just a kid, and she is believable. This is the start to a very promising series.

Strange Angels is available May 14th.

Betrayals (book 2) is available November 17th (this date I’m not 100% sure of)

Reviews elsewhere:

Selene by Lilith Saintcrow / Mercy Thompson news

Yup, yet another post today. Quick one – has anyone been following the online series by Lilith Saintcrow – "Selene"? It got finished. I've been reading it on google reader. Weird thing was that the epilogue didn't show up on the reader but is online. I read it all and each chapter is long, so you are getting a lot for FREE here. And I liked it. Urban fantasy and dark definitely. Selene has had a very hard and desperate life, partly because of her "curse" as a tantraiiken, and so is subject to her body's constant craving for sex to get power. I liked the ending too, even though it isn't fully complete (looks like the story will continue), I felt rather satisfied with it. Lilith Saintcrow's newsletter says:

"By 9AM (PST) today, the Epilogue to Selene goes live. You can now read the entire book (except the prequel in the Hotter than Hell anthology) from start to finish. This is the beginning of Selene and Nikolai's story, and no doubt a few of you are going to think it hasn't really ended.

You're right, it hasn't. There's one more Selene book, but we're going to have to wait for that. In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed seeing how the Deadly Nichtvren Duo met–and I hope some of their relationship in the Valentine books is clearer!

Feel free to drop by the fan forum, where there's a special corner set up just for Selene. I do read the forum as much as I can, so it's a good way to let me know how you liked the book."

In other news, did you know that

1) The Mercy Thompson series is being put into graphic novel format (this is semi old news), but the new news is that the first 11 pages is online.

2) Again Mercy Thompson – was picked up by 50 Canon Entertainment. Is there a series or a movie in the works? I hope so!  (via Dear Author)

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I got this in the inbox this afternoon – Lilith Saintcrow is putting up a serialized book for free online. For now the prologue and the first chapter are available. New chapters will be posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

"Selene" is the story of Selene and Nicholai, which continues the short story "Brother's Keeper" which was in the Hotter than Hell anthology I just read. The review for that one is here – vox | livejournal. These are characters that show up briefly in the Dante Valentine series. Here is the teaser from the website:


"Life isn’t easy for a sexwitch. Even your own body betrays you. It’s bad enough that Selene is part slave to Nikolai, the Prime Power of Saint City, but she’s got her brother Danny and she’s got her job at the college. In the postwar wreckage of an uncertain world, it’s pretty much all she’s ever allowed herself to want.

Then Danny ends up murdered, and Selene finds herself a pawn in a dangerous game. Indentured to a bloodsucking Nichtvren and helpless, told to stop trying to uncover the identity of her brother’s killer, Selene has nowhere to turn. If she’s a good girl, Nikolai will leave her a little bit of freedom. He’ll take care of her, and she’ll be safe–if she obeys.

But Selene hasn’t survived this long by being obedient to her cursed powers, or to the men who buy her time. Her brother was all she had, and now she’s ready to borrow, beg, lie, steal or kill–whatever it takes to avenge him.

And if Nikolai gets in the way, Selene will use every tool in her arsenal to make him regret it…"


And here is something cool from Shelfari. I also found out about this through an email this afternoon. Lori Handeland is an author I've read before (my reviews here – vox | livejournal), and through Shelfari, they are offering 1000 (yup, one thousand!!) Advanced Reader Copies of her new book Any Given Doomsday.

Looks interesting. The email says: The book follows “Elizabeth Phoenix, a former cop with extraordinary psychic powers, who is hot on the trail of a ruthless murderer — and her life is about to change forever.”

Here is where to go to sign up for the free book.

And here is the link to sign up for a free copy of "In the Beginning" , a prequel to the Phoenix Chronicles.


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Hotter than Hell by Keri Arthur, L.A. Banks, Susan Krinard, Marjorie M. Liu, Kim Harrison

I really need to catch up on my reviews – I actually read this book last month but didn't have the time to review it with all the "real life" stuff going on.

The one thing that gets me with this book is how different it seems from the rest of the "In Hell" anthologies that came before it. It really strikes me that Hotter than Hell is more paranormal romance than it is urban fantasy, because the premise in all the stories is sex with a paranormal twist. Pretty much all of these stories have a relationship with sex included, which makes it more romance than not, which isn't the case as much in the other books (which makes them more "urban fantasy"). What do people think – do I make sense? Agree/disagree with this?

Other "In Hell" books I've reviewed:

Holidays are Hell (Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Marjorie M. Liu, Vicki Pettersson)  – vox link | livejournal link

Dates from Hell (Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Kelley Armstrong, Lori Handeland) – vox link | livejournal link

Prom Nights From Hell (Kim Harrison, Meg Cabot, Michele Jaffe, Stephenie Meyer, Lauren Myracle) – the young adult version of these books – vox link | livejournal link

I am really critical of a book when I just do not believe the relationship – if it seems too contrived or the reason for the two loving each other seems unbelievable and the author just explains it with "love at first sight" and I can't see what one character sees in another, I can't buy into it. If you tell me how attractive either character is, it still does nothing for me. So? You know how many good looking people there are in the world? Attributing good characters to a person just because they are good looking, that's not common sense (I should hope). So tell me, why is this one so special to that one? Do they at least share something more substantial than a cheesy sexual attraction? Otherwise, it makes the story really boring. That is why I feel somewhat disappointed in a lot of the stories in this anthology. In most of them I found too much of the sexual attraction, not enough to make me believe in the relationship. I think that to some extent choosing to make the stories require sex and then making them short was shooting everyone in the foot – there simply is very little space to have a story, have crazy sex, and also make me see a believable relationship developing, a relationship where I can buy into a HEA. Not enough room for it all, and something lost out.

All the stories that managed to keep the three things balanced (plot, sex, believable relationship) – those where the stronger stories in the anthology. Those that relied on cliches which resulted in me not really believing the relationship, were the weaker stories. I'm sorry to say that for me, there were more weaker stories than strong ones. I think that most of the ones that had sex but didn't try to make the story have a fully formed romantic relationship occur within the short story were stronger – Tanya Huff's "Music Hath Charms", Lilith Saintcrow's "Brother's Keeper" (which still has a flaw – it threw the reader in without much information about the world. I recognized characters in her Dante Valentine series though), and "Dirty Magic" by Kim Harrison (also shares a world with her Hollows series, but this one didn't feel confusing). The best romantic one I think was "Moonlight Becomes You" by Linda Winstead Jones because the heroine was funny in a cute way, though I didn't see much from the hero's personality. "Minotaur In Stone" by Marjorie M. Liu was also good because of the lyrical writing, but there is something a bit off with the relationship there, I guess I found it hard to believe the heroine would go so far for someone she just met, but then she's isolated and so is he. That could be their bond, but I felt it could have been more cemented than it was.

deety at urbanfantasy.wordpress.com reviewed this book with a breakdown of the stories, and I found myself agreeing with most of what she had to say.

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Working for the Devil and Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow (mini review)












There's a review of Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow (I love that name), over at Smart Bitches, Trashy books. The books deal with a futuristic world where the protagonist is a necromancer who calls the dead to ask them questions, or brings people back if they aren't over the gate yet. A review I mostly agree with (Dante is angry and explodes over things I don't really think are that big a deal), except I thought that the relationship between Dante and Japhramel was believable (it grew subtley, I noticed it, but I think many people didn't find it obvious enough? I don't like the over-obvious "I LOVE YOUUUU, you are my SOULMATE even though I just met you and know nothing about you" storyline, and didn't think this was that).

The angry Dante thing was better in the second book – Dead Man Rising. There is more backstory of her past which explains some of it she's had a tough life. Actually I was beginning to feel wrung out over reading about her past and how many loved ones she's had die. In Dead Man Rising Danny seems to have grown a little bit, although her very headstrong attitude remains. Anyway, I liked the world quite a bit in these books (necromancers, schools for people with gifts, going over to hell and talking to the devil? how could you not), although there is quite a bit of angst going on. I reviewed them on PBS here (book 1) and here (book 2, don't read if you dont want to be spoiled over the end of book 1)… too lazy to review it again on vox.

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