Huntress by Christine Warren, Marjorie M. Liu, Caitlin Kittredge, Jenna Maclaine

Huntress
Christine Warren

This was an anthology I picked up at the friend of the library bookstore a while ago and am finally getting off the TBR. It has an author who writes in a way I like (Marjorie Liu), and another who I’ve meant to try (Caitlin Kittredge). The other two authors are new names to me so this was a good way to find out about them.

  • Devils Bargain by Christine Warren – Half-demon, half-human bounty hunter, Lillith Corbin has just one more task to do for the devil Samael – bring him the book the Praedicti Arcanum, which someone stole from him, in three days. Then their deal will be done and her soul will be saved. What she thinks is a simple job becomes complicated when she encounters Aaron Bullard in the middle of stealing back the book, and he tries to stop her.
This was a very straightforward paranormal romance and overall I’d give it an average grade. There was a lot about the story that felt predictable and the focus seemed to be about the hero and heroine getting together with their role in saving the world from apocalypse a means to do so. The part I liked best was the world building – demons and magic are accepted in everyday life, and the way magic and the demonworld worked interested me. What I disliked was the hero and heroine falling in lust at first sight. There was thin reasoning behind having sex and telling instead of showing.
  • Robber Bride by Marjorie M. Liu – Maggie Greene is her community’s tinkerer and fixer. She owns a junk yard in a world that was ravaged by a virus that killed 70% of the population 20 years ago. One day a strange pale man in a motorcycle arrives, and because Maggie has an odd gift she manages to bargain for her life. But that’s not the end of it. The man comes back with friends and steals people from her community, and she thinks they have Trace, an old woman and friend. With a mysterious raven that followed Trace and now follows Maggie, Maggie sets off to follow the band on motorcycles.
This story had a more urban fantasy feel although there is a definite romantic subplot. The writing was excellent, there’s a gorgeous sense of place and lyrical but uncomplicated writing, and I really enjoyed the fairy tale hints – a necklace of teeth, a journey, people who are not as they seem. I finished this one feeling satisfied and happy. Just this story is worth keeping the book. I’m beginning to feel like I would really like if there was a collection of Liu’s short stories, because I tend to enjoy them.
  • Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go (a tale of Black London) by Caitlin Kittredge – Jack Winter is a mage who does odd jobs for people in between gigs with his band. While he was in Scotland with his band he’s approached by a femme fatale with a job – to help her get to the Black so she can kill a demon. Jack is immediately leery, but is not really given a choice in the matter.
The main characters in this urban fantasy story are both very hard and jaded by their past. Jack is a brash and kind of skeevy, and Ava was a bombshell who exploits her sexuality to entrap him. This made them rather unlikeable so I found myself unattached to what was happening to them. I also I haven’t read the Black London books, of which Jack is a character. I think this story is probably easier to understand if you’ve read those books; although I could figure out Jack’s backstory, there are some places where I felt lost by the conversation. The language here was liberally peppered by Britishisms, but I wondered if they were overdone (does anyone use that much slang?). I would say this is a very gritty one with dark characters, dark places, and monsters that are reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, but perhaps too gritty for my tastes.
  • Sin Slayer by Jenna Maclaine – Cin Craven and The Righteous, a group of vampire warriors, are tasked to take down Jack the Ripper, a demon who is terrorizing vampires in London. When they get there, Cin’s husband Michael is possessed by the demon and Cin must figure out a way to save him.
The author does a good job in getting the reader up to speed on Cin’s backstory and what The Righteous are, which I appreciated because I haven’t read any Cin Craven novels. There are a two already established relationships in the 4 members of The Righteous, and the sexuality between both couples at the beginning felt gratuitous, but perhaps not to those familiar with the books. After the story was moving along, the focus is on capturing Jack the Ripper, and the twist is that he takes over Michael, which Cin is very concerned about. I thought the relationship between Cin and Michael was illustrated well during his possession and Cin’s pained response to it. Overall a decent story.

Overall: There’s a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the selection of stories presented in Huntress, and this is a combination that I think is a mixed bag that may work only for fans of both genres. I’m more of an UF reader than a PR one, so with the exception of Robber Bride, the stories in this anthology didn’t really resonate with me. I think this is worth picking up for those who are fans of the authors and related series in the anthology, but outside of that, the stories ranged from “meh” to “very good” and I would only call Robber Bride required reading.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

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The Fire King by Marjorie Liu

This book was sent to me by Dorchester publishing.

The Premise: The heroine of this story is Soria, a woman with an extraordinary ability to pick up languages. It’s always been the case since she was a child, and people call her a prodigy. They don’t realize that it’s magic, and that the mere presence of a fluent speaker is all she needs. It was a useful gift when she was with the Dirk and Steele agency, but after the loss of her right arm, Soria had a falling out with them and left. Unexpectedly, the agency makes another appearance in her life: they want her to go to China, and speak to Karr, a mysterious shape-shifter who speaks no known language.

This is a Dirk and Steele novel (#9?), but you don’t have to read this series in order to enjoy the book. I had only read book 1 before this.

Read an Excerpt

My Thoughts:
The first part of the book had me hooked on the characters and wanting to learn their back story. First: a heroine who recently lost her arm?! From what I could tell it happened about a year before this story starts, and Soria’s still recovering from it (feeling it’s ghost, being aware of people’s reactions).  I was burning with curiosity about what happened and why Soria blames herself for it. Tantalizing hints were dropped like breadcrumbs, but it wasn’t enough to figure out the whole story. I had to wait until Soria told it.

Likewise Karr’s story is mysterious as well. How in the world is he alive after three thousand years in a tomb? Then, what is he? At first I thought he was feared because he was so strong and killed a few people when he woke up, but that wasn’t the only reason. The cover of the book is a little deceptive – it has a lion on it. I thought he was a lion shapeshifter. Nope, not quite.

The book has a bit of a romantic suspense quality to it mixed with the paranormal elements. Both protagonists are cautious about each other (Friend or foe? Are my instincts right?), but they also have to deal with complex plots surrounding Karr and what people want with him. The romance was about equal to the suspense and action. It progresses at a natural rate, and by the time the two say their “I love yous” it’s a given. I thought that although Karr is over 3000 the age difference didn’t count because he’d been “dead” most of the time. The romance was nicely paced.  Although it did a lot of things I expected, I did like how communication is explored in their relationship.
I’d read the first Dirk and Steele (Tiger Eye) before I had this blog, and in that book, the agency was family-like. In The Fire King, it no longer feels that way. Dirk and Steele suddenly seem more shady and Roland is tight-lipped, nursing his own agenda. It’s hard to tell who the good guys are and there are surprises about who is after Karr.  Then of course there are the very enigmatic side characters (I think that they may be reoccurring ones, but not sure). Mercenaries Serena, Robert and Ku Ku (Gogo Yubari’s twin) make appearances. As does a character who appeared in Tiger Eye.

The plot was complex enough for me to like it. There were some not quite black or white parts to the characters and some surprises. By the end of the book things made sense, but I had to think it over a bit, which isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, I felt like I’d wake up in the middle of the night saying “a-ha a plot hole!”, because I had a nagging feeling at the end of the book, but it’s been a few days and that didn’t happen yet. There very minor things like how Soria could make braids with one hand or how Karr and Soria’s mental connection worked, but not enough to really bug me while I read. I guess the biggest problem I had was that the protagonists kept getting helped out by others. I would have like to see more of them working together to get out of jams, because I liked seeing them interact.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the setting – in northern China and Mongolia. The non-American setting, where the reader is really aware of life in another country, not just aware the book is set there and nothing else, is refreshing. I particularly enjoyed reading about the ger of the Bhatukhan people (I wanted to sleep in one!)

Overall:
I like the writing style, the setting, the characters. The romance progressed at a nice pace, and although it goes through some familiar phases, their bond of communication was intriguing. I had only minor quibbles on the plot (see above). I don’t read as much paranormal romance as I do urban fantasy, so my reading in this genre is limited, but I thought this one was well-done.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

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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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Holidays Are Hell by Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Marjorie M. Liu, and Vicki Pettersson

Holidays Are Hell
Kim Harrison

I reviewed the first of these anthologies, Dates from Hell over here. This is the second one which is in the same vein as the first – urban fantasy, some paranormal romance going on, with an added holiday theme.

For the most part I liked this anthology better than the first one. I think it was all on the "good!" side except for one story.

"Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" by Kim Harrison. In Dates from Hell we got a story about Ivy set before she meets Rachel, and in this story, we get a story about a young teen-aged Rachel before she ever joins Inderland Security. I thought this was well done because you don't have to have read the Rachel Morgan books to understand the world (much less confusing than the story in Dates from Hell), plus there are a lot of new things to learn for those who read those series. We learn about Rachel's family dynamics, and about Rachel's reasons for joining IS. I was also surprised to see how different Rachel is physically in this short story than what I was used to seeing in the series, but her stubbornness and trying to do things seemingly beyond her abilities seems very familiar.

"Run, Run, Rudolf" by Lynsay Sands. If you look at the link to the first anthology, and check out the "Claire Switch Project", this is a continuation of that short story. A couple of scientists gets zapped by a "destabilizer ray" that allows them to shapeshift if they concentrate really hard. I thought that story was goofy and I think this continuation is equally so. The scientists from the first story rebuild the ray in their basement and the same mad scientist from before (John Heathcliffe) zaps Jill with it. The characters sound like caricatures, and because Jill's keeps losing concentration during shapeshifting, she keeps conveniently being naked in public and flashing the man she's interested in (at least three times!). I rolled my eyes a lot. I have checked out reviews from this book and surprisingly this was many people's favorite story so I don't know.. I may be crazy or something when I say this was my least favorite of the bunch and it did not fit in with the rest of them.

"Six" by Marjorie M. Liu. I think this one is a stand alone, unconnected to an outside series, and it manages to have great world-building, action, characters, and plot in a short space. Six is a elite Chinese agent trying to track down terrorists when she stumbles upon the paranormal – vampires – not the western myth I'm used to reading about, but the Chinese version – Jiang Shi. This was a refreshing twist. When I was a kid and camping for the first time, a Singaporean boy scared me to death telling me about the Jiang Shi. I couldn't sleep all night imaging them hopping over to kill me! Seriously – cold sweats. Anyway, Six also meets a man named Joseph who fights these vampires, and who has some special abilities and they start working together. Possibly my favorite of the bunch because I liked the setting – urban China. Liu has several romance novels out but I really like her urban fantasy. I also enjoyed her short story in the Wild Thing anthology – that one was about a woman with living tattoos over her body which protect her but will eventually kill her, and that's going to be a series called Hunter Kiss.

"The Harvest" by Vicki Pettersson – Another one based in the world where a series is set. This is the story of Zoe Archer – the mother of the protagonist in the Signs of the Zodiac series, Joanna Archer. I thought this was a great side story to go with the series which fills us in on the motivation of Zoe's mother as well as learning about her personality and how she was able to do what she did. But, if you haven't read this series, I'm not sure how lost you would be reading this story. It's possible the answer is – quite lost. Though there are several hints that explain the world, the Zodiac world is very complex so it's hard for me to say how confused someone would be. Definitely a must-read for a Zodiac series fan though.

P.S. This one shall be tagged with my butt shot cover tag. I'm not a fan of the shoes on this cover but ok, it's holiday-related. Also – I noticed that this cover is so similar to another Kim Harrison cover – For a Few Demons More the mass market paperback (same pose – woman in dress walking with knife on the left side of the cover). Odd.

My TBR is around 120. Eek?

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