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”

The Eternal Kiss by various authors, edited by Trisha Telep

I actually tend to like anthologies because it gives me a chance to “try out” or find new authors I may not have tried out on my own. Usually there are always hits and misses, but what I liked about The Eternal Kiss was that although it is a young adult anthology and it’s about vampires it doesn’t make the mistake of only being about teenage romance, and it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of vampires. I picked this ARC up at BEA.

I did something a little different here – I wrote up my review as I read the book, just jotting a couple of sentences on each short story. Very brief reviews follow (my two favorite stories were the ones by Karen Mahoney and by Sarah Brennan):

1) Falling to Ash by Karen Mahoney – Vampire girl (Moth) comes home to find her sire wants her to get the ashes of a recently staked vampire. Really like this one, this author has been on my radar on LJ, but I hadn’t connected the the LJ user with “Karen Mahoney” (sometimes things get past me), until I had already read and liked this.  This is the introduction to a series about Moth, so now looking forward to it.

2) Shelter Island by Melissa de la Cruz – 15 year old Hannah has a mysterious visitor at night. I couldn’t connect with this one. I think the characters, particularly the female protagonist were a not substantial enough in the amount of pages this story was for me to grasp them.

3) Sword Point by Maria V. Snyder – Girl fencer discovers that the prestigious fencing school she goes to is more than it seems – interesting at first but then I started to lose interest halfway when the relationship part occurs. The action at the end felt very perfunctory.

4) The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – A bitten girl tries to stay human, but then learns her ex-boyfriend and a neighbor girl have run away to Coldtown, the vampire section of town. A dark story about the glamorizing of vampirism. Liked it, nice and chilling.

5) Undead is Very Hot Right Now by Sarah Brennan – A nineteen year old who has been a vampire for a year joins a boy band. Hilarious. I laughed aloud so much reading this one. Another author I plan to look for in the bookstore.

6) Kat by Kelley Armstrong – A teen is awoken by her vampire guardian and try to escape would-be captors in the middle of the night – Interesting. Ending makes me want to read more, maybe the start of a series?

7) The Thirteenth Step by Libba Bray – Teen gets a job at a halfway house which may not be all that it seems. I think my own experiences cloud the way I read this story. It bothered me that the protagonist become like the addict sister she considered selfish.

8 ) All Hallows by Rachel Caine – Vampire boyfriend of the narrator gets into trouble and she goes in to save him. Readers may need to have read other Morganville books. This is a short story in that world that seems to fit in the timeline after the first 4 or 5 books.

9) Wet Teeth by Cecil Castellucci A vampire begins to feel alive for the first time in a long time after meeting a strange girl in the park. This one seems to focus on the ending, and left me a bit wanting for the rest of the story, but seems to be in the right vein for horror.

10) Other Boys by Cassandra Clare- A girl begins to get interested in the new boy in school, who says he’s a vampire. This one had elements of nice old school horror.

11) Passing by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié – A girl has to pass the final class in her vampire hunter academy – only one student will get a special elixar. A bit too complex of a back story to cram into a short story space.

12) Ambition by Lili St. Crow –  Smart but poor schoolgirl meets boy at club. Girl falls out with rich best friend. Boy may be supernatural. Dreamy, sort of hazy relationship that may be dangerous à la Heavenly Creatures. I keep re-reading the last three lines, wanting questions answered.

13) All Wounds by Dina James – Girl discovers her grandmother and the bad boy in detention aren’t exactly who she thought they were, and neither is she. Looks like the start of a new series so there’s a lot of plot set-up, but not much time for more than brief character sketches.

The Eternal Kiss will be released July 27th.

Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine

This is the fourth book of the young adult series about a town run by vampires and the humans who live there. Claire Danvers is a science genius who, along with her friends, finds herself an unwilling participant in an ongoing game between Morganville's founder, the vampire Amelie and Amelie's enemies.

If you have read any of the books in this series, you know that Rachel Caine is fond of throwing cliffhangers into the story. The last book was no different with the unexpected arrival of new vampires to the town of Morganville, lead by Bishop, an ancient, evil vampire who also happens to be Amelie's father. This book spends a lot of time describing what this new twist means to the town, while Claire contines on with her day to day activities like school and working for Amelie on a secret project. Claire's housemates – her boyfriend Shane, goth barrista Eve, and vampire musician Michael all start to feel strain on their relationships caused by the arrival of Bishop and his entourage. One of the biggest strains is the costume ball that is being held to honor Bishop, where every vampire has invited a human date.

Overall: I really feel like Caine does a good job in keeping the scenery changing and the story moving along, but while there are a lot of small scenes between Claire and other characters that occur throughout Claire's day, when I think about the book as a whole I would say only one major thing really happened, and most of the book was a slow set up to that event. In the end I didn't feel very satisfied, and felt like nothing was really resolved, so this book ended up feeling like a filler book within the series, and was there to set the scene for a more significant installment. I found myself putting the book down a lot and checking to see how many pages were left despite the deft scene changes to keep interest.

Claire keeps in character with her sometimes innocent trust of the vampires, but conversely still manages to be one of the smarter characters when it comes to realizing if shes in danger and acting quickly. She seems like the typical teen in her wanting more freedoms from her parents (more apparent in this book where her parents get thrown into the mix) – I could relate to her frustration with dealing with her parents who may not know the whole story, especially with Morganville. The most fascinating parts of this book for me where the scenes with the mercurial vampire Myrnin, and seeing some more facets to other characters (like Oliver, Amelie, and cop Richard Morrell), but I found Eve, Michael and Shane a bit dull in this book. Throughout this series I've found Claire's housemate's responsibility and her boyfriend's willpower in resisting doing anything beyond kissing a bit unbelievable, but I guess this book paints good rolemodels for teen readers there. I think I'll keep reading to see what happens next.

My reviews for:

Book 2 – The Dead Girls Dance (vox / livejournal)

Book 3 – Midnight Alley (vox / livejournal)

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Midnight Alley (book 3 of the Morganville Vampires) by Rachel Caine

This is book 3 of the young adult series about vampires in the college town of Morganville by Rachel Caine (author of the urban fantasy series of Weather Warden books).

This series keeps the focus on four friends who live together in Morganville at the Glass House, but the youngest one – Claire Danvers is the main protagonist. Claire is a college student who, because of her intelligence started college early, and she soon discovers that Morganville is a unique place – it's run by vampires. While most people who were raised in Morganville know this secret, temporary visitors, like many of the college students, do not. Claire stumbles on the secret in book 1, and soon finds herself embroiled in the intruige and politics that stem from humans coexisting with the supernatural. Everyone has a secret – all her roommates have pasts that have been affected by the vampires, and Claire is soon tangled up with their problems as well as those of the vampires.

Book 1 deals with Claire moving into town, discovering the secret and meeting her roommates Michael, Shane, and Eve. In book 2, vampire slayers come to town and chaos ensues. In book 3 some more secrets are revealed and Claire gets more and more involved with the mysterious vampires. It's pretty difficult to talk about it without spoilers, but again much of the tension stems from humans resisting the vampires and vampire against vampire politics and secrets. Claire gets quite involved because of a relationship with the oldest vampire in town and founder of Morganville. This relationship makes Claire the target of people with hidden agendas and causes tension with her roommates. A lot of what drew me into the book was the constant danger that Claire is in. I found her to be an intelligent person who was also pretty naive. She often is really emphatic and nice – to people who maybe she shouldn't be nice to. There were a few instances in this book where I think she begins to realize that while she sees something like humanity and flashes of sympathy from the vampires, in reality her life and the lives of many humans is meaningless and expendable to them. I'm curious to see how the author is going to resolve this problem – whether these creatures deserve a "happy" ending for the series. I am not sure what will happen – if Claire and her friends survive, I doubt the it will be without cost. Claire's reactions to things sometimes seemed inconsistent (like she is unmarred by what she has gone through and is way too forgiving or sometimes doing things that seem dumb after being told over that she's smart), but I've been able to ignore this for the story.

For those of you familiar with Caine's books, you may realize that this author enjoys cliffhanger endings. I noticed this trend in not only the Morganville books, but also in the Weather Warden series. There's always a "to be continued" aspect. Once I got used to it I haven't been bothered by this, and I found that book 1 (Glass Houses) had the most edge of your seat ending, though book 2 and 3 do make you want to get the next book. Some readers may find the episodic nature of the books aggravating.

My review of book 2 is here.

Excerpt of book 1, Glass Houses

Excerpt of book 2, The Dead Girls Dance

Excerpt of book 3, Midnight Alley

Book 4 – Feast of Fools, comes out June this year.

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The Dead Girls’ Dance (Morganville Vampires, book 2) by Rachel Caine

This is Rachel Caine's (author of the Weather Warden books) young adult series. It's in the third person but follows the story of Claire, a young college student going to school at what turns out to be a town run by vampires. Claire lives with 3 other teens (Shane, Michael and Eve) in a unusual house. The three others are all older than Claire and grew up in Morganville, and they all know more about the town and it's history than Claire does, but everyone seems to have some secrets and history with the vamps. As time goes on, power plays amongst the vampires (themselves very interesting and complex characters), end up involving these friends who want to be free of vampire control. Book 1 dealt with Claire's move to Morganville, meeting the other teens and learning about the vampires, and book 2 continues with some trouble that they run into when vampire-slayers come to town.

Caine explains a lot of things that I'd question. For example the "Vampires running a whole town? How does that work?" question: not everyone living in Morganville even realize there are vampires there, and through some sort of magic, people forget about the vampires by the time they leave Morganville. The police and mayor are largely controlled by the vampires, but there are rules between human and vamp – who is under protection, who is fair game, what's allowed and what's not. It's a very interesting premise and the story is never dull, one surprise follows another and there is a lot of action going on. I did notice that the author likes to end her books with cliffhangers, so the series is addictive, but if you hate cliffhangers, make sure you have book 2 around if you start reading book 1. Book 2 ends with a much smaller surprise. Meanwhile the heroine is smart and thoughtful while sounding like a teenager. I'm glad this is not another "teen girl with bubblegum brains falling for a vampire" story. The book has surprising depth, and even bad guys seem to have another side (my favorite example of this in The Dead Girls' Dance is at the title dance). There are three books out so far and a forth one coming out in June 08.

Rachel Caine's Morganville page

Excerpt of Book 1 – Glass Houses

Excerpt of Book 2 – The Dead Girl's Dance

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