Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

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Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

Chaos ChoreographyChaos Choreography

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #5

Mass Market Paperback, 345 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: March 24 – 25, 2016

Hey, wow, who’d have thunk it — a positive review of a Seanan McGuire novel from The Irresponsible Reader?!? Next thing, I’ll be telling you that the sky is blue, water is wet and J. J. Abrams likes lens flares. But what do you want from me? Seanan McGuire is a great author who consistently puts out fun reads. The only reason that she hasn’t taken over the world yet is that she doesn’t want to.

Oh, spoiler alert: I’m probably going to be giving very positive reviews to two other McGuire works in the next week or two.

So what can I say about this one? It’s probably the most enjoyable, most entertaining, most emotionally resonant, best all-around entry in the InCryptid series to date.

Verity and Dominic are living with her parents, which is going about as well as you could expect, and trying to get used to life outside of NYC when Verity gets a call from the reality show she came thiiiiiis close to winning before we met her in Discount Armageddon (well, her cover identity got a call, technically). They’re doing a best-of season, and need her to round out the cast.

Next thing they know, they’re working up a new cover for Dominic and heading for L. A. Where we meet Verity’s long-lost besties, a would-be frenemy (if anyone took her seriously), and a few cryptids.

We get the return of the lady Dragons — both the group we met in Discount as well as L.A.’s very own, plus a few others. The cryptid cultures of L. A. (and the West in general) developed in very interesting ways. Sadly, one of the things that seems to be pretty popular are snake cults — there’s one that seems to be pretty serious about things and are using human sacrifices to power a spell.

Which means that Verity has to do a little more than just dance, she has to find the cultists before it’s too late. She calls upon friends new and old, Dominic, even the Aeslin mice and a Price that we’ve heard of, just never met. Leading to a final confrontation that’s one for the ages — and nothing will be the same again for the Prices family. I’m not so sure that it’ll be the same again for anyone.

I’d happily read about any and all of the new cryptids we meed here again, and most of the humans, too (not the evil ones, just for the record). McGuire’s assembled a great bunch of characters for this one.

I love the fact that not only do we get to see the Aeslin mice developing new religious celebrations, but we see them in action — putting their tiny little lives on the line to save the day. I also like to see Verity coming to grips with the choices she’s been making the last few years, what that means for her, and what place dancing and the rest have in her life.

Major kudos to McGuire for getting me to give a rip — not much of one, but still — about dance competitions. I don’t get dance — I mean dancing, I get. I’m no good at it, but I get. But watching dance — any form – I just don’t see the appeal. But for a few pages here and there I was almost interested in Verity’s other career. That’s a pretty major accomplishment.

Now I’ve just got to settle in and wait a year for lil’ sister Antimony’s first novel. Is it 2017 yet?

—–

4 Stars

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

Pocket ApocalypsePocket Apocalypse

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #4


Mass Market Paperback, 341 pg.
DAW, 2015
Read: March 14 – 17, 2015

Airplanes: essentially buses that fly, and hence have the potential to drop out of the sky at any moment, spreading your insides — which will no doubt become your outsides sometime during the collision — across whatever you happen to have been flying over. Since we were flying mainly over ocean, I was sure the sharks would appreciate our sacrifice.

So where, pray tell, are Alex and Shelby flying off to? Her home country of Australia, to help out her family and the cryptozoologist group/alliance/whatnot they’re part of deal with the continent’s first outbreak of the werewolf virus. Unlike everyone else there, Alex has dealt with werewolves before, and he’s a Price — that has some benefit (although how much is debatable, as he soon learns). He’s also going to meet Shelby’s family for the first time. It’s pretty unclear which of these two items are the most hazardous to his health.

We’ve had a lot of exposure to the idea that the Price family isn’t like the Covenant — in motives or means. Now we’re introduced to the Thirty-Six Society, who aren’t as nasty as the Covenant is to cryptids; but nowhere near as interested in understanding and cooperating with them as the Prices are. Also, they’re not so sure that the Price’s are all that different than the Covenant (which is really odd to think about from the point-of-view of the reader). So, all told — they’re not to interested in a know-it-all Price coming in from the U. S. to tell them how to take care of a problem. Particularly when that Price is sleeping with one of their own, and perhaps leading her away from them.

I did tire a bit — more than a bit, to be honest — with the way that Alex and various members of the Tanner family had the same conversation over and over about his allegiances, intentions toward Shelby, and methods. I realize in Real Life™ that you do repeat yourself, but so much of these conversations were essentially “second verse, same as the first,” and got pretty darn tiring. It would’ve been better if Alex wasn’t quite as right as he was all the time, too.

But that’s the backdrop, really. The very real likelihood that Australia is going to be overrun with werewolves in the coming weeks is the main concern (although I’m not convinced the word count would reflect that). With so much exposure to Patricia Briggs and Carrie Vaughn (not to mention Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Kevin Hearne, and so on) it’s easy to forget that werewolves used to be a horror movie staple. Leave it to McGuire to remind me that werewolves are generally thought of as monsters. These werewolves are pretty monstrous, and what they do to their victims isn’t pretty.

We don’t see as many of the native cryptids as we get hints of them — the couple that we do see are pretty interesting, but I could’ve used more. As with any inCryptid novel, you have to talk about the Aeslin mice. If for no other reason than they’re fun. This is probably their best showcase yet — they’re more than comic relief here, they help out — in a way that Alex could never have predicted. Some of the raw-est emotion (and not just joy and rapture over a new religious observance) comes from these little guys. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever tire of these mice.

Occasionally, the humor feels forced — as if McGuire’s done a word-count since the last quip and shoves one in. This is typical for the series, and still occasionally works, oddly enough. But McGuire’s narrative flows better — and is funnier — when she allows the humor to flow naturally (as much as anything as crafted as one of her books is “natural”) and not imposed on the text.

This novel contains the word “denuded” more than I can recall ever seeing in a single work — there was one chapter, in fact, that nailed that record — but “denuded” showed up later, too. It doesn’t matter one way or the other, but it showed up so frequently (and so rarely anywhere else) that it couldn’t help but make an impression.

I don’t know why, but it took me forever to really “get into” this one. From page 1 it looked interesting and entertaining, but I kept putting it down after a half a chapter or so. When it did pick up, I didn’t take the time to jot it down because I didn’t want to stop reading, but I think it was a little after page 100. From that point on, I was into it the way I expected to from the get-go, and it kept my interest to the end. I think I like this more than the others (maybe Discount Armageddon was as good), and really look forward to the next one — it’ll be good to see Verity again.

—–

4 Stars

Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid, #3)Half-Off Ragnarok

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #3


Mass-Market Paperback, 356 pg.
DAW, 2014
Read: March 21 – 22, 2014

I — like a number of people, I expect — approached this one with a sense of trepidation and a laundry list of questions: No Verity? We’ve got to start over with some other guy? Why? What did we do wrong? Why is Seanan punishing us like this? How are we supposed to get along without the Aeslin mice? (good news and minor spoiler: Alex has his own colony of them — Seanan doesn’t hate us). After about 50-60 pages, I’d admitted that McGuire knew what she was doing (how could I doubt that?) and that Half-Off Ragnarok served as a good jumping-on point for the series, or good next entry for those who’d been following it already. Alex has a similar voice to Verity, but it is different — close enough that they could be siblings, though.

The story, particularly its central mystery, was just okay. But the setting and the characters elevated the whole thing. They sold me on what was going on, and once the narrative got flowing, I didn’t notice how not-stellar the story was (I’m not saying it was bad, it just didn’t knock me out). Having a cryptozoologist working in a zoo — and doing field research nearby, gave this a different feel from Verity’s nightclubs and sewers — like maybe there was something less haphazard about it this endeavor.

But more than anything else, the characters are what sell this story. There’s Alex’s Gorgon assistant, Dee; a little girl I won’t describe for your sakes here (you want to discover her eccentricity on your own); there’s Alex’s grandparents; his pet griffin, Crow; the aforementioned Aeslin mice; and the knock-out blonde Australian who works at the same zoo that he does. Best of all, his and Verity’s cousin, Sarah. She’s staying at their grandparent’s home for awhile to recover from what happened to her at the end of Midnight Blue-Light Special — well, hopefully recover, anyway. Sarah’s presence helps link the installments of the series together, helps us trust Alex more right away for the way her treats her.

A couple of notes about this world McGuire’s building here. Without getting into details, it was very nice to see that there are options other than the Prices and the Covenant for humans who are aware of the cryptozoological populations, it makes it all a little less David and Goliath. The other thing that’s highlighted here is just how different groups/species view the Prices. Which isn’t exactly all positive — there’s suspicion, distrust, antagonism, begrudging respect — along with more positive views. I got that impression during the Verity books, but it’s underlined here. This is a fun world, and it’s nice to see it fleshed out.

I like Alex, and would gladly read more of his adventures–at home or abroad. I would also like to check in on Verity again — and soon — as she was our entry point into this world, but it’s possible I like Alex more at the end of the day. Unlike Verity, he’s all in when it comes to this work, and doesn’t spend so much time wanting to do something else. Although, Verity’s conflict between her duty/interest in cryptozoology and love for dance is one of the things that makes her interesting. Never mind, my guess is that my favorite Price sibling is whichever one I’m reading/just finished reading. Just give me more of both of them.

—–

4 Stars