I was clued in to this anthology by a mention in J.A. Cipriano’s newsletter, which is worth subscribing to (hey, the man sends you free reads, and they’re good!). Anyway, Cipriano and company are all dark urban fantasy authors who have written these stories specifically for this volume, so you won’t find them anywhere else. The book is available via the Kindle Unlimited program. In fact, every related book that I checked on is available that way, so I’m wondering if this thing was sponsored by Amazon or something. If so, why doesn’t it say so? Anyway, on to the review.
“The Bull Demon King” is Cipriano’s story, set in the Thrice-Cursed Mage universe. You don’t need to have read those books to appreciate the story, and it serves as a nice little introduction if you’re curious about the series (I’ve really enjoyed them). I think the story is set between the second and third books, but I won’t swear to that and it isn’t vital. We get to attend the Texas state fair with assassin mage Mac Brennan and his girlfriend Ricky, the local alpha werewolf. Of course, mayhem ensues, because that’s Mac’s lot in life — and what kind of story would we have otherwise?
Domino Finn contributes “The Black Door” which is noted as “A Black Magic Outlaw Story.” This story had me guessing right up until the end, which was delightful. The writing is wonderful, the world of an alternate magical Miami nightlife is very fully realized, and the central character, Cisco Suarez, is extremely well-drawn. I will be pointing my partner to Finn’s work, for sure (he loves the macabre), but I think it may be a little too dark for me.
On to Manhattan for our next piece, “Dance of the Dead,” which Sonya Bateman tells us is a “Deathspeaker Codex Short Story.” It takes place just after the events of the first novel in that series, according to the author’s note. Gideon Black drives bodies from crime scenes and the like to the morgue. Apparently, he’s not 100% human, and he’s just learned that he can speak to the dead. That’s very important to the plot. For some reason, this story didn’t grab me. I don’t relate well to stories that deal with the dead, like zombies and so on, so it’s probably a failure of imagination on my fault rather than anything wrong with Bateman’s story. If I find something she writes in another setting, I will give her another go.
Ambrose Ibsen offers up “Hard Row: A Demon-Hearted Story” for the collection. Lucian Colt works with other special enforcers to keep the threats from Beyond from encroaching on the mundane world of Detroit, and when he learns that there’s a shipment of kidnapped children being moved, he’s definitely down for tracking down the bad guys behind the trade. The fallen angel whose heart he carries is just glad to get a chance to throw down. The gimmick doesn’t really carry the story here. It feels like Colt is too overpowered in comparison to his allies as if they are a mismatched RPG party.
Okay, I’ll admit it: Al K. Line’s name just annoyed me. So I had to get past that to give “Angry Spark,” set in his Dark Magic Enforcer world, a fair reading. Then the use name of the main character, “Black Spark,” hit me wrong. The guy’s real name is Faz Pound, but obviously, magic men don’t go about giving their real names to all and sundry, hence the use name. Then I didn’t like the remarks about a corpulent character. So I finally just decided to leave off this story. Maybe someone else can give you a review of it.
Rob Cornell’s “Family Business,” which is apparently a prequel set in his Unturned series’ universe, is set in another alternate Detroit. Fortunately, nothing annoyed me about this one, so I was able to read it. It’s a wee bit hackneyed, but a bit sweet, too. It’s sort of like when you hear a song and you know how the melody is going to go because the chords and the melody progression already feel familiar. I might check out more of Cornell’s work, but it won’t be at the top of my to-read list.
On the other hand, “Valentine Blues” left me truly hungry for more of James A. Hunter’s work, and wanting to read more about Yancy Lazarus right now. This minute. Not soon, NOW. Lazarus is a traveling bluesman with some interesting talents who takes an interest in the very strange behavior of the young people in Valentine, Nebraska. You can find the most interesting things on the road! I will most definitely be reading Strange Magic: A Yancy Lazarus Novel, the first book in this series, SOON.
I know that I’ve read something about Craig Schaefer’s Daniel Faust series somewhere before, but I’ve never actually read any OF the series until “A Drive in the Country.” It’s set in and around Las Vegas. I have no idea where in the timeline of the series this particular story is set, but it’s well-written. It pulls you into the gritty, noir world of gangsters plus magic and makes you feel the dark. If that’s your thing, Schaefer’s your man.
New York is the setting for Pippa DaCosta’s “Chase the Dark,” set in the world of her Soul Eater series. I am highly intrigued, as I don’t believe I’ve ever run into an urban fantasy series that draws upon Egyptian mythology the way DaCosta is here. The name of the main character, though, Ace Dante? Even though it’s obviously an assumed name, it’s terrible. I hate it. I’m jarred every single time my eyes come across it on the page. It kept pulling me out of what was otherwise a really good story and is making me wonder whether or not I can handle reading Hidden Blade, the first book in the series.
Now that I’m finished with the book, I can’t help but notice a few things. There wasn’t a single main character that was female, and while it’s possible that Cisco Suarez is a person of color, his cultural background wasn’t made clear in Finn’s story. If any of the other protagonists were PoC, that wasn’t obvious (I’m not sure what to consider “Ace Dante.”) I’m pretty sure all these men were cisgender and heterosexual, as well. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that there’s a little more diversity in such a volume.
All in all, a decent collection of stories and a nice introduction to some new authors, but a disappointment in some important respects.