A Dream of Stone and Shadow, by Marjorie M. Liu

>> Monday, March 05, 2007

The fourth installment in Marjorie M. Liu's Dirk & Steele series, A Dream of Stone and Shadow comes in the Dark Dreamers anthology, together with the reissue of a Christine Feehan novella. It's just those two stories, and since the Liu is about half as long as the Feehan, and I don't like Feehan at all, I'm still feeling a little bit cheated.

It began with a knife in the heart. As usual.

There are those who do terrible things in this world, and those who simply watch. Charlie would do neither. Imprisoned, his only release is through his own destruction—or through Aggie Durand. Sweet as a kiss or a rescued child, she is the one dream he does not dare desire. As an agent of Dirk & Steele, she could be his salvation. Today, Charlie's dream is waking.
Oh, wow, this was certainly an interesting, different story. Liu gets extra points for being willing to take risks. I'm still not sure if I completely liked some of those risks, mind you, but I appreciate getting something that's not the same old, same old. A B.

Our heroine, Aggie Durand, is the one who works for Dirk & Steele. Aggie's particular gift is the ability to see the future... or rather, to see all the different possibilities and calculate the probabilities of each (that was a very fresh take on the psychic angle, I thought, and the way Liu wrote Aggie's thought processes was very cool). Anyway, Aggie has just finished her latest mission, one of a whole bunch of actions she's taken to take down a huge ring of child pornographers, when she perceives some kind of ghostly being who asks for her help in rescuing a little girl who (bingo!) is currently imprisoned by some child pornographers herself.

This ghostly being is no ghost, but the disembodied soul of a gargoyle, Charlie. He and his brothers have been taken prisoners by an evil witch, but unbeknownst to her, Charlie has found a way to venture out in soul, if not in body. He has discovered that if he dies and has some of his vital organs taken away, in the time that it takes for his body to regrow them and revive (gargoyles are very ressilient), his soul is free to wonder. So he keeps asking the witch to kill him and remove his heart, which she, being really, really evil (and loving to eat those yummy internal organs), is only too happy to do.

In one of his astral voyages, Charlie runs into a young girl being horribly abused. For a while, he does his best to help her endure the horrors by being with her in spirit, but when he manages to find out exactly where she is, he realizes he needs to find someone to help him rescue her. He needs a hero, someone brave and strong and who won't hesitate on laying his or her life on the line for little Emma, and after searching the minds of hundreds and hundreds of people, he finds what he needs in Aggie.

Do I even need to mention that this is a dark, dark story, where awful things happen, and to innocent, blameless people? The good guys don't arrive in the nick of time, and hell, the hero actually dies multiple times in the story!

But here's the thing: this is not a horribly deppressing story. And amazingly, the romance doesn't feel inappropriate, which considering what's going on around them, one might have good reason to fear it might. I loved seeing these two wounded, lonely, heroic people find each other, and even though the the events of the story take place in a very short span of time, it doesn't feel that hurried.

Most of Aggie and Charlie's relationship develops with him in his incorporeal state, so their knowledge of each other is pretty much complete. Each knows exactly who the other is, and they click perfectly. By the end of the book, I completely bought that they were in love and that Charlie's appearance was completely irrelevant to Aggie's feelings for him (let's just say he's not just a regular, good-looking human guy who can happen to turn to stone).

I really like what Liu has done so far in her series. Even in this paranormal glut, her books stand out.


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