>> Wednesday, August 31, 2011
TITLE: Wild & Steamy anthology
AUTHORS: Meljean Brook, Jill Myles and Carolyn Crane
One of my favourite reads last year was Meljean Brook's Here There Be Monsters, the short story that kicked off the Iron Seas series. I adored it. I never wanted it to end and felt it was the perfect short story. When I found out Brook had self-published another story in the series, in an anthology with two other authors, it took me about half a second to power up my Kindle and click buy.
The Blushing Bounder, by Meljean Brook
A Tale of the Iron Seas - While the search for a killer puts Constable Newberry's life in danger, he faces a danger of another kind: to his heart, by the woman forced to marry him. What will it take for this prudish bounder to convince his wife to stay?The Blushing Bounder is a prequel to The Iron Duke, and features Mina's Constable, Edward Newberry. Constable Newberry and his newlywed wife are both recently come from America, where many Brits escaped to when the Horde invaded. America remained free from the Horde's invasion and developed into a place with mores akin to those in a Trad Regency, whereas the Horde's domination radically changed the social structures in England.
Back in America, Constable Newberry and Temperance became friends, even though she was much more highly-born than he. Temperance became sick with consumption, and decided to use her inheritance to pay for a sanatorium where to spend her last years. But before she could do this, her supposed friend forced her into a compromising situation and she ended up married to the horrid man and living in London, condemned to spend the last years of her life in a grimy place where people don't blink at having gruesome appliances grafted onto themselves.
But obviously, not all is as it seems...
It pains me to say so, loving this series so much, but The Blushing Bounder wasn't as great at it could...no, should have been. In fact, I finished it feeling slightly disappointed.
It was a setup I really liked, ripe from some fantastic emotional development and the sort of tingling chemistry I've becomed used to with Meljean Brook. What I got was quite a short story (about 50 pages, if we assume some 250 words per page) with really intriguing world-building, but with a plot which felt like it hadn't been properly fleshed out. It all felt very sketchy, and things just happened, without us being actually shown the character's change in attitude.
A couple of examples: first, Temperance's feelings for her husband. She goes from thinking of him as horrid to realising she loves him. I do get it that she always did love him, and just resented his actions, but it all felt too abrupt, it would have been much more satisfying if things had been slightly more gradual.
Second, the resolution to Temperance's health issues. This might be a bit of a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you don't want to know. In the end, the momentous decision to finally get Temperance infected with the bugs felt a bit too easy. Yes, she and Edward had been under a mistaken impression about the consequences of doing so (that was quite funny, actually) and now knew the truth, but in this and previous books, I got the feeling there's a lot more to the Bounders' distaste for Horde technology. Witness Temperance instinctive revulsion when she notices the sewing enhancements grafted to Miss Locksmith's limbs. But that lifelong prejudice is abandoned in a second. It's "oh, you don't turn into a zombie? Brilliant, let's do this!"
As for Edward, there's just too little of his point of view. His feelings would have been even more interesting than Temperance's. He's done something unethical out of desperation to save his beloved's life, and he feels guilty, even though he'd do it again in a flash. Sounds fantastic, but we see almost nothing of it. What we see is really well done, especially the bits we see from the POV of Temperance, who is not seeing what's right under her nose, but I needed more. Also, why the crypticness and the lack of communication with his wife? In Here There Be Monsters there also was a misunderstanding about the hero's intentions, but it felt natural then. I could find absolutely no reason why Edward could not explain to Temperance why he'd done what he'd done.
All this sketchiness made me not really feel the romance. I liked the characters more than fine, but I just didn't know them very well. That's the most disappointing thing of all: what I like most about Meljean Brook's work is that she really goes deep with her characterisation. Her characters are complex and subtle and you get to know them inside out. Edward and Temperance.... weren't and we didn't.
I would love to have seen what the author could have done if she'd made the story a bit longer and (much as I liked seeing Mina again) if she'd cut the pointless detective bit, which added nothing to the story and just took up space that should have been devoted to the main characters.
MY GRADE: A B-.
Vixen, by Jill Myles
Miko's denied her were-fox nature for far too long and turned her back on her vixen heritage. But when she meets two very sexy cat-shifters, she has to decide if she truly wants to give up on her frisky side, or embrace it. Because the were-fox in her doesn't want to choose between both men... it wants them both.No additional summary needed from me, this describes the story well enough.
This was my first time reading Jill Myles, and there were enough good things here that I might give her another try in a longer format. I liked the idea of the struggle Miko's facing between her animal nature and what she wants as a human (although really, given the sexual freedom she was exposed to as she was growing up, how come she never even thought of the possibility of polyamory?). The writing flows well, Myles does nice sexual tension and the two heroes were suitably sexy and completely smitten by Miko.
That said, the story didn't really work all that well, and felt underdeveloped. It's only slightly longer than The Blushing Bounder and although the worldbuilding is simpler and there's less stuff going on, I still would have needed a bit more before I could believe these people were really as into each other as they're supposed to be. The men might know each other really well, but Miko doesn't really know them and they don't know her. Thankfully, Myles doesn't have them declaring undying love for each other, but I didn't feel they were ready to commit to a proper relationship, either.
Also, Miko jumps with both feet into TSTL territory, and she does so TWICE in this very short story. That annoyed me.
MY GRADE: A C+.
Kitten-Tiger and the Monk, by Carolyn Crane
A Disillusionists Novella - Sophia Sidway, Midcity's most dangerous memory revisionist, seeks out the mysterious Monk in the wasteland beneath the Tangle turnpike, hoping for redemption…but it turns out that the Monk is not all that pious, and the turnpike is no turnpike at all.Urban fantasy is not really my thing, but the concept of this series is one that piqued my interest anyway with the previous, full-length books. It was good to read this as a sample.
Sophia has the power of messing with people's minds, removing recent memories and replacing them with something else. This makes extremely dangerous. She's made use of her power often in the last few years, and she's sick of herself. That's why she's in search of the Monk, a man who has a power just as scary as her own. He can "reset" people, and Sophia wants him to do exactly that to her.
To contact The Monk, however, Sophia is sent to Robert, the last man she wants to see. Years earlier they were in love and she betrayed him in order to protect her family. But she wants rid of her power bad enough to face the guilt and the fact that she still has feelings for Robert.
I find myself in the same place as the previous times I've read urban fantasy. I admired quite a few things about the story: the worldbuilding is intrincate (but not bewildering, even though I haven't read Crane before) and the setting atmospheric, the characters are well-drawn (it helps that this story is quite a bit longer than the previous two), the romance was believable and angsty. It still didn't really draw me in. I finished this story having liked it well enough, but not particularly tempted to read the series, and I don't really know why.
MY GRADE: A B-.