When I read that so many of my favorite gay romance authors would participating in this anthology and the all the stories would have urban fantasy themes, I could not wait to get my hands on it. I started reading the very first day that I was able to purchase it on Amazon. Overall, I thought the vast majority of the stories were very strong. I do want to note that I am not sure how I feel about quite a few stories being set in the worlds of books which are previously published. I understand that the reader may want to jump into the rest of the series if they like the taste of it here, but it also means that not all of the stories can stand on their own, because even if the plot is separate, so much character building has been done in the other books.
Rhys Ford – Dim Sum Asylum
For Detective Roku MacCormick, working Arcane Crimes is his passion. Now cleared of any wrongdoing for shooting his last partner, MacCormick is given back his badge… as well as a new case and partner. Trent Leonard isn’t exactly what he’d expected, but then nothing in San Francisco’s Chinatown ever is.
This story really did not do much for me.
It is a pretty standard urban fantasy setting, but I think because the characters left me cold I could not summon an interest in their adventures. I cannot find any specific thing that did not work for me, I just did not care, that’s why I am giving it a C grade.
Ginn Hale – Swift and the Black Dog
When Jack Swift killed a tyrant and won the revolution he became a national hero. But someone in the new government prefers dead heroes to living, swearing, cynical wizards. Caught between bullets, revenge and desire, Jack had better be swift indeed.
I think for me this story was the darkest and the best in the anthology. It is no secret that I love Ginn Hale’s work, but for me past performance is no guarantee of the future success even with my favorite writers, so I definitely did not approach this story as a guaranteed win. This novella explored the themes of what consequences winning the revolution can often be for its participants and for the society. The history of the country where I was born has led me to have a visceral dislike of militant revolutions, because the best intentions usually end with the deaths of millions. I *cringed* while reading the first pages of the novella because I did not feel any love or sympathy for the past actions of Jack and his friends. But Jack was such an interesting character. He seemed to be extremely self-aware and had no illusions about the “reign of terror” they engaged in to overthrow a tyrant, and he understood why people were so upset when the tyrant could not protect the other innocents against them. I have a suspicion that the author made Jack a bit harder on himself than he should have been, because I doubt that the tyrant was a fluffy bunny in disguise, but I liked him doing this more than if he would have been okay with his past. I am glad that his past actions haunted him. I was even happier that the author seemed to be very well versed in how so many revolutions often turned out (not just in the Soviet Union, really, there are examples all over the place) and made Jack remember the winners doing mass executions of the working people, whose only crime was to need work and actually work in the tyrant’s palace. I loved it.
And let’s not forget that Jack and his pals were seventeen year old kids; yes, they became terrorists, but they also had dreams and hopes of better lives for themselves and others. I really liked how the author showed that Jack and at least some of his friends did change and grow for the better during the decade that passed, even if some of them paid the ultimate price for that growth.
And what about the romance? I thought that the beginning of the romance was definitely there, I liked the guys together a lot, but I liked even more how the beginning of romance was connected with change for the better on the political landscape. I want to stay vague about this part.
And I have not even mentioned that Jack and his friends were wizards. The magic in Ginn Hale’s stories always manifests itself in very creative ways and this one is no exception.
Grade: A- (and only because I worry whether I missed some typos when I want to give the story highest grade and get nervous about it)
KJ Charles – A Queer Trade
Apprentice magician Crispin Tredarloe returns to London to find his master dead, and his papers sold. Papers with secrets that could spell death. Waste paper seller Ned Hall can’t resist Crispin’s pleading—and appealing—looks. But can the wasteman and the magician prevent a disaster and save Crispin’s skin?
I had a lot of fun reading this story, probably more fun than I had reading the last two longer works by this writer. Crispin learns a lot about himself throughout the book, Ned was a fascinating character whose profession one does not see too often in romances and they were very enjoyable together.
The magic was creepy and fun. Probably the most amusing part for me was that until the word *justiciary* was mentioned I failed to realize that I was reading a story set in Magpies world. One of the secondary characters makes a brief appearance too.
Nicole Kimberling – Magically Delicious
Occult attacks against NIAD agents aren’t remotely Keith Curry’s department. But when his lover, Gunther, is assaulted, Keith refuses to just sit back and fill out paperwork. He’s on the case—even if that means enraging powerful mages, crossing leprechaun picket lines, or braving dinner with Gunther’s goblin parents.
Have you read the Irregulars anthology published by Blind Eye Books? If not, I cannot recommend all four stories in there highly enough, and yes, Keith and Gunther were the main characters in one of the stories. I do not think you will be confused if you start with this novella though, it takes place almost a year after the events in “Irregulars” and Keith is given a bigger chance to shine. His insecurities are explored, it is quite funny, and I liked them together a lot.
Jordan Castillo Price – Everyone’s Afraid of Clowns
Psychic medium Victor Bayne can spot a ghost any day of the year, but Halloween holds some special surprises. His psych-groupie boyfriend Jacob coaxes him to the location of an old spirit sighting, but they can’t ghosthunt without enduring a cheesy “haunted house” that’s even more disturbing than they realize.
Here I had a different problem with the fact that this story being written about two characters in the established series. It is a good story, one where Vic gets a chance to confront a fear from his past and Jacob gets to show how cool he is and how well they fit together. I enjoyed it lot. However, I just cannot be sure whether I would have liked the characters and their chemistry as much if I knew nothing else about them prior to reading this one.
Am I making sense? I am just wondering if the first time reader who knows nothing about everything these two have gone through already would find their on-page connection as strong as I did, or if, as I was reading, I was adding in my head everything I already learned about them. Still, I am giving it a B grade.
Jordan L. Hawk – The Thirteenth Hex
Hexman Dominic Kopecky doesn’t understand why dashing crow familiar Rook wants his help investigating murder by patent hex. For one thing, Dominic isn’t a witch. For another, the case is already closed—and someone is willing to kill to keep it that way.
I am not really sure about this one. Reading about a crow shifter and his experiences was a lot of fun. The mystery was not too complicated, and I wanted to excuse “not too complicated” based on the page count, but as I say below I found Lou Harper’s story to be really impressive in the mystery department (detail wise), so I do not know. I am not very happy about the beginning of the love story either because IMO it essentially boiled down to a variation of the “chosen mate” trope. Still, it was enjoyable enough.
Charlie Cochet – The Soldati Prince
Riley Murrough goes from serving lattes to being chased by demons. If that wasn’t bad enough, he bears the mark of a shapeshifter king from a magical realm. Riley’s determined to get answers, but if the demons out for his blood don’t kill him, the urge to strangle the arrogant king might.
This story was such a disappointment for me, especially because it started so well. Riley is figuring out which prey to attack first – which, as we see very quickly, means choosing which leftover dessert he wants to eat before he closes the café for the night. And then he is running for his life from strange creatures (we learn later that they are demons) and then four tigers appear and start fighting those demons. The writing was very enjoyable and I expected the excitement and fun to continue. But after a while it turned into the most straightforward interpretation of “you are my destined mate” trope and became quite boring.
Lou Harper – One Hex Too Many
Veteran detective Mike Mulligan is an expert on violent crimes—of the occult variety. He might even be cursed. Detective Hugh Fox is eager to partner up and prove himself, but Mulligan is accustomed to flying solo. Can they trust each other enough to track a killer who’ll stop at nothing, not even summoning a demon?
What I liked most about this story was that the author managed to write a fairly complex mystery in such a short page count (no, I did not figure out the answer to the mystery). The detectives were shown doing my favorite part of their work – investigating things ?. Moreover, a significant part of their investigation was calling people and asking them questions about paperwork and things in it – it? always nice to see a touch of realism even if the story is about magic.
I also liked that the “falling in love” stuff was kept to a minimum while they were working. Actually, come to think about it, the “kiss they agree to pretend never happened” took place before the main investigation of the story started and while they were working they were concentrating on that. I always appreciate when the characters remember that they have work to do even if they are attracted to each other.
Andrea Speed – Josh of the Damned vs. the Bathroom of Doom
It’s a boring night at the Quik-Mart for Josh and his friend Doug. Until a vampire with a grudge—and the most adorable backup ever—crashes the store. Can Josh survive the Bathroom of Doom?
DNF. I really wanted to like another series written by Andrea Speed because she wrote “Infected” and I really love those books. Unfortunately this series did not work for me when I read the first two episodes from Riptide. I dutifully tried to read another entry in this anthology, but humor did not work, the main character did not work either, and I stopped very soon. Just not my cup of tea.
Astrid Amara – The Trouble With Hexes
P.I. Tim Keller has a problem. And the only person who can solve it is his ex-boyfriend, Vincent, whose job as a hexbreaker was the reason they broke up. It’s hard admitting he was wrong, especially when coughing up organs. But there’s a missing person to find, a hexmaker to hunt down, and a romance to repair before Tim breathes his last.
This was one of the most romantic stories in the anthology for me. Although it is a standalone novella, this story made me feel as if I had known Tim and Vincent for a long time. In a world where characters in m/m books often forget that they have jobs and professional responsibilities, it was so refreshing to read about two men who, despite being deeply in love with each other, broke up because Tim could not handle the demands Vincent’s job put on him and his health. Of course I could see why Vincent, who is essentially a magical healer, would not stop helping sick and often dying people to get rid of hexes, but I also get how Tim just could not deal with what Vincent’s job demanded from him. There is nothing better to make you believe in the realities of magical healing than to see the consequences of a deadly hex on yourself. When Tim comes to see Vincent again, he is very ill and if they do not act fast he might die pretty soon. I could feel the love and regret between these two. And neither of them wanted to get his heart broken again, but love was still there and of course it ends well. I anticipate rereading this story more than once.