REVIEW: Night Shift by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearin, Milla Vane
Recently I finished Night Shift, an anthology by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearin and Milla Vane (aka Meljean Brook). Here are mini-reviews of all four novellas:
Secrets at Midnight by Nalini Singh
The Psy/Changeling series has been going on so long that it sometimes treads what is now familiar ground, but this story was fresh and enjoyable. It’s about Bastien, Mercy’s brother, the panther changeling who manages DarkRiver’s finances, and Kirby, who is….well, to say more about who and what Kirby is would constitute a spoiler, since Kirby herself doesn’t know, and Bastien is confused and confounded by her changeable scent.
Kirby and Bastien meet through a mutual acquaintance and Bastien recognizes her as his mate, though he’s had a devil of a time tracking her scent. They begin courting and make a good couple. Kirby’s backstory is sad and she’s not used to so much affection and concern, but she doesn’t rebuff it.
The way Bastien helps Kirby figure out and cope with the truth about herself is romantic and affecting. I generally don’t like it when the hero knows the heroine better than she knows herself, but I have to admit that in this story it made sense. There is a great scene that takes place when Kirby arrives in DarkRiver territory for the first time. I won’t spoil it but it’s so playful and fun and right that it’s heartwarming.
Grinch that I am, I could have done with less baby Naya, but on the other hand, Mercy makes a great appearance. For the most part, the focus was squarely on the romance, which is how I like it. Kirby was loveable and Bastien devoted to her. I enjoyed reading about them both. B.
Magic Steals by Ilona Andrews
This was a story about Jim and Dali from Curran’s pack. Dali and Jim’s date for dinner at Dali’s home, and Dali’s fears that she doesn’t measure up and the pack won’t accept her as a fit mate for Jim, are interrupted when Dali is asked to investigate a nefarious spell cast on an older woman who like Dali is a member of Atlanta’s Indonesian-American community.
Since I’ve only read the first book in the Kate Daniels series, I wasn’t familiar with Dali, who narrated, but I really enjoyed her as a character and her POV. Jim was more of an enigma to me, as I only remembered him vaguely from Magic Bites and we don’t get his viewpoint here, but I got to know him better through this story and what I know of him from it I like a lot.
There was a reference to Dali saving Jim in the past that made me wish I’d read the other books first, but even without having done so, I liked this novella a lot. The villain’s spell involved jenglots, among other things. I was previously unfamiliar with this myth, but it felt well integrated into the novella to me.
I really liked the chemistry between Dali and Jim, each of whom had strengths and insecurities when it came to their relationship. There was also a mystery to solve: Who had cast the spell? Though I guessed the identity of the villain I still enjoyed the way battling this person brought Jim and Dali together and helped each of them overcome his or her fears. B/B+.
Lucky Charms by Lisa Shearin
This novella gets off to an engaging start:
It was four in the morning. I was in a stolen bakery delivery truck that’d been nearly totaled by three gargoyles. In the truck with me were two hungover elves, a pair of stoned leprechauns with the munchies, a naked Russian werewolf and a hot partner, who was actually more of a bodyguard, in a race against a goblin dark mage to retrieve a leprechaun prince with a tracking chip embedded in his left ass cheek.
Then we backtrack six hours. It’s Makenna “Mac” Fraser’s first day as a new hire. She’ll be working as a seer for SPI (Supernatural Protection and Investigations), a New York security firm. After some set up we learn SPI is on the hunt for a leprechaun prince and his four friends, who have disappeared for a bachelor party. If captured, the prince will have to grant his captor three wishes, and these could destroy the New York financial world. Mac and her fellow agents including the reluctant, competent and attractive Ian Byrne are sent to retrieve the little green men. This proves more dangerous than Mac expected.
This novella reads like what it is—a prequel to Shearin’s SPI Files urban fantasy series. It’s there to introduce us to the characters and the setting, and while it does that very well, it’s not as successful as a standalone novella, partly because as soon as we flash six hours back, there’s a lot of exposition up front, and partly because the stakes aren’t high enough.
Mac is a country girl new to the big city, likable enough and possessing a good sense of humor, but her character doesn’t leap off the page. I didn’t care about her fate until late in the novella, and the other characters also don’t make a good case for why I should give a damn if leprechaun wishes destroy the financial world. There’s some chemistry between Mac and Ian but if there’s a romance in future books, it doesn’t get off the ground here. What we have is straight up urban fantasy with good worldbuilding, and by the end, a compelling conflict that should make for a more entertaining follow-up. Still, I probably won’t read this novella again. C.
The Beast of Blackmoor by Milla Vane
This is Meljean Brook alter ego Milla Vane’s “barbarian” story. It’s set in a Conan the Barbarian style fantasy world. Early in the book, the hero, Kavik, then a teenager, pisses in a goddess’s offering bowl and her priestess vows that he will be brought to his knees by a woman in a red cape. Years later Kavik meets that woman, and she is the girl whose presence has recurred in his dreams, now on a mission from her goddess to tame him.
Kavik, who fights the evil but seemingly invincible Lord Barin, is convinced that Mala’s taming task means putting a slave collar on Kavik, and he fights Mala’s tenderness to him so as not to fall prey to her, hurting Mala in the process. When Kavik realizes what he’s done, will it be too late?
This story is so beautifully written, but I also felt that Mala’s values were at times too 21st century for a supposedly barbaric world. The characters wore fur and ate lizards, and I prefer my settings more urbane than that, but there was such emotional power in their conflict that I was won over anyway.
Mala’s determination to be kind to Kavik was endearing, and she was a character of faith in a story that wasn’t an inspy—yay for that. Kavik was less interesting to me. I wanted his falling in love to be more drawn out (some of it was relegated to brief flashbacks), but I liked and enjoyed this quite a bit. B-.
My overall grade for the Night Shift anthology is also a B-.
I can’t wait for the next Kate Daniels book! I really had hoped that Dali and Jim would get their own full book like Andrea and Raphael.
The previous story where Dali saves Jim is another novella, and it’s not in one of the full Kate Daniels books. That being said, Dali is a great character. You don’t often see Asian characters that are not Chinese or Japanese. Dali is introduced in Magic Strikes, I think – which is my favorite book. The Midnight games scenes remind me of the battle school scenes in Ender’s Game.
@Tae: I need to get back to the Kate Daniels series. I disliked book one (Magic Bites I think– it’s easy to get those titles confused) but I keep hearing such great things about this series.
I agree Dali is a wonderful character–actually I like her much better than Kate in the first book. And yes, heroines of Indonesian descent aren’t easy to find. I also like Jim a lot and if this couple ever gets a full length book, that would be great. This was my favorite of the four novellas though I also really liked the Singh and the Vane/Brook.
@Janine: You have to read Kate Daniels, you have to :). The authors usually recommend skipping the first book too. I started with the third one, fell in love but I start series not from the beginning often enough and then I went back. I love Dali and Jim, bought this anthology only to read this novella, which is what I did. Besides many things they do well, I love how diverse characters just there in their books – and Dali and Jim are such great example.
@Sirius: Yes, I agree. I hope you give the Singh and the Vane a shot; I enjoyed both. Though the Singh is part of a longstanding series, it’s relatively easy to read as a stand alone. Despite my issues with the Vane (Brook), I feel it is really worth checking out for its unusual setting, terrific worldbuilding and beautiful writing.
Huge Meljean Brook fan who watched a lot of B Conan type movies as a kid (Beastmaster anyone?) so was super excited when I heard she was going to be writing barbarian stories. The only thing holding me back from buying though is the fact that 1 author is unknown to me and the other two simply don’t work for me. I’ve never been able to get into any Ilona Andrews books– I’ve read the first book in two different series and I just don’t connect. And with Sigh, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like her writing style. It’s a bit too purplish and overdramatic for my taste (which bums me out b/c I love her world-building). So current dilemma is should I shell out over $7 for one short story?
@Janine: At the advice of Mandi from SmexyBooks, I skipped right over Kate Daniels Book 1. Just went on to book 2. While there are a couple of references to the previous book, I had absolutely NO problem picking up the story. And then glomming all seven books in two weeks. I just finished listening to all of them (the narrator is fabulous).
It’s a series that I cannot recommend enough! You should try it, Janine!
@JewelCourt: For what it’s worth, according to my kindle the Milla Vane novella takes up 33% of the anthology and is 125 pages long. So it might be worth springing for given your Brook + Conan fandom. But if not, have you tried to see if your library has it?
@Kati: I know! And I’ve enjoyed much of Andrews’ writing — this novella, the first three Edge books, and Burn for Me. I was lukewarm on the last Edge book but Magic Bites is the only one I actively disliked. My problem is that I didn’t think much of Kate or Curran in book 1, so now I have to get over my opinions of them. I will try.
I loved this anthology! I liked the Andrew’s novella so wanted to read more….then remembered I DNF’d Magic Bites. Perhaps I’ll pick up book 2 based on the comments on this post.
@Joy B: As one who didn’t like Magic Bites either and also liked this novella, my suggestions are On the Edge or Burn for Me. Both books I had a great time reading.
I liked the Nalini Singh story. The best part of the novellas in the Psy/Changeling series is that they concentrate on the romance.
It helped that Sascha, Lucas, and now baby Naya are favorites of mine ;)
@library addict: Yes. I actually enjoyed Secrets at Midnight more than Shield of Winter or Archangel’s Shadows because it was more romance-focused.
I’m a grinch too. I could’ve done without baby Naya in the Singh story as well. :P
I bought it for the Ilona Andrews story (excellent!). I actually liked the Lisa Shearin one second best. Enough that I went out and bought the first book in the series and now have the second book waiting for me on my kindle. I think they’re fun, action-y reads, and I like those.
@Becky: Cool. By the end of the Lisa Shearin novella it did look like the series could be a fun one, since the personal stakes for Mac rose late in the story. I’m glad to hear that’s the case.
Did you read the other novellas? If so, what did you think of them? I’m especially curious about what readers thought of the Milla Vane barbarian story since it was so different.
@Janine: Yeah, the other two novellas were good. I’ve never really gotten hooked on the Psy/Changeling series, maybe because I’ve only read the short stories and novellas, so I don’t have the firm emotional commitment? I could also be because I’m a little worn out on insta-mates. However, I did like the story in this one, it was a different take on why the insta-mates had conflict “finding” each other.
I liked the Milla Vane story, but I agree with your point that the morals seemed a bit 21st century for a barbarian story. It threw me out of the story a couple of times, but the world building was very interesting.
@Becky: Agreed re. the Nalini Singh. And yes, the worldbuilding in the Vane story was interesting and impressive. I would read more in that world, even though I have a preference for settings that are more urbane.