Anthology · Urban Fantasy

Brief Cases – Jim Butcher

4 stars

Happy release day for Brief Cases, the first book in the Dresden Files to be released in what feels like eons. Brief Cases is just what I needed to tide me over until Peace Talks, which should hopefully release next year. (I’m basing this off of what Butcher told the audience at his panel at Emerald City ComiCon earlier this year.)

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Cover from Goodreads

 

An all-new Dresden Files story headlines this urban fantasy short story collection starring the Windy City’s favorite wizard.

The world of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is rife with intrigue–and creatures of all supernatural stripes. And you’ll make their intimate acquaintance as Harry delves into the dark side of truth, justice, and the American way in this must-have short story collection.

From the Wild West to the bleachers at Wrigley Field, humans, zombies, incubi, and even fey royalty appear, ready to blur the line between friend and foe. In the never-before-published “Zoo Day,” Harry treads new ground as a dad, while fan-favorite characters Molly Carpenter, his onetime apprentice, White Council Warden Anastasia Luccio, and even Bigfoot stalk through the pages of more classic tales.

With twelve stories in all, Brief Cases offers both longtime fans and first-time readers tantalizing glimpses into Harry’s funny, gritty, and unforgettable realm, whetting their appetites for more to come from the wizard with a heart of gold.

The collection includes:

*  “Curses”, from THE NAKED CITY, edited by Ellen Datlow
*  “AAAA Wizardry”, from the Dresden Files RPG
*  “Even Hand”, from DARK AND STORMY KNIGHTS, edited by P. N. Elrod
*  “B is for Bigfoot”, from UNDER MY HAT: TALES FROM THE CAULDRON, edited by Jonathan Strahan. Republished in WORKING FOR BIGFOOT
*  “I was a Teenage Bigfoot”, from BLOOD LITE 3: AFTERTASTE, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. Republished in WORKING FOR BIGFOOT.
*  “Bigfoot on Campus”, from HEX APPEAL, edited by P. N. Elrod. Republished in WORKING FOR BIGFOOT.
*  “Bombshells”, from DANGEROUS WOMEN, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
*  “Jury Duty”, from UNBOUND, edited by Shawn Speakman
*  “Cold Case”, from SHADOWED SOULS, edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie Hughes
*  “Day One”, from UNFETTERED II, edited by Shawn Speakman
*  “A Fistful of Warlocks”, from STRAIGHT OUTTA TOMBSTONE, edited by David Boop
*  “Zoo Day” – brand-new novella, original to this collection

I love that Butcher explores other characters lives and problems through his short stories, in ways that he can’t in the main books. Butters’ first mission is a perfect example of something that really wouldn’t fit into the main books but gives us a wonderful look into Butters’ mind and fears and what motivates him. I find this kind of worldbuilding so fascinating.

I was also delighted to see the three Bigfoot stories collected here as well. I adore Harry’s take on Bigfoot and really enjoyed them when I hunted them down previously.

Molly’s stories always kind of break my heart, but “Cold Case” really takes the cake.

The star of Brief Cases is the final novelette, featuring Harry, Maggie and Mouse at the zoo. It’s a sweet story that gives us a layered view of a situation, and reminds us that we’re all fighting our own battles at any given time, even in something so casual as a visit to the zoo.

Brief Cases is an absolute must-buy if you’re a fan of the Dresden Files.

Thank you to Ace, Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

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Anthology · Fantasy

The Tangled Lands – Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S. Buckell

4 Stars

The Tangled Lands is made up of four distinct short stories, tied together by a common land and a common problem. Calling The Tangled Lands a novel is a bit misleading and left me somewhat disappointed in the end result.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

From award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell comes a fantasy novel told in four parts about a land crippled by the use of magic, and a tyrant who is trying to rebuild an empire—unless the people find a way to resist.

Khaim, The Blue City, is the last remaining city in a crumbled empire that overly relied upon magic until it became toxic. It is run by a tyrant known as The Jolly Mayor and his devious right hand, the last archmage in the world. Together they try to collect all the magic for themselves so they can control the citizens of the city. But when their decadence reaches new heights and begins to destroy the environment, the people stage an uprising to stop them.

In four interrelated parts, The Tangled Lands is an evocative and epic story of resistance and heroic sacrifice in the twisted remains surrounding the last great city of Khaim. Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell have created a fantasy for our times about a decadent and rotting empire facing environmental collapse from within—and yet hope emerges from unlikely places with women warriors and alchemical solutions.

The four stories are loosely tied together by place and problem, but not character. Each story has distinct characters, and while each story was very good, the overall novel doesn’t seem to have accomplished much. At the end of the book, I was a little let down. Each story contained loss and victories, but those losses and victories didn’t seem to add up to a cumulative effect.

My issue with the structure aside, the stories were well written and fit together thematically and in style.

The idea of an environmental effect from the use of magic is an interesting metaphor for energy usage in the world today. The use of magic creates bramble infestations in the world, and bramble is a nasty, murderous plant that kills those that it touches. Small magics hinder larger magics because the effect is compounded. This is a thoughtful and powerful comparison to using energy that doesn’t come from “clean” sources. The more we use “unclean” energy, the more damage we do to our environment and eventually what we’re left with will be deadly and have a devastating effect on our world.

The Tangled Lands hits shelves February 27, 2018.

I received an eARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Anthology · Fantasy · Science Fiction

Robots Vs. Fairies – Navah Wolfe & Dominik Parisien

4.5 stars

Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe edited and collected one of my favorite anthologies to date, The Starlit Wood so when I saw they were releasing another anthology together I just couldn’t wait – especially once I saw the title: Robots vs Fairies. I thought to myself, “Oh, this is gonna be goood!” and oh, was I right. Many of the stories are poignant and thoughtful. Many of them left me with things to sit and mentally chew on, as all the best do.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Read on for brief reviews of individual stories. Or, go pick up a copy for yourself! Robots Vs. Fairies hit shelves January 9.

“Build me a Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire

Ahhhh this was such a great story to start off this anthology with! Fairies AND robots all mashed into one fantastic read. Seanan’s writing definitely shines in Build Me A Wonderland. Tightly written, I don’t feel like I need more of the story – I got exactly the right amount. A really strong beginning to this anthology.

“Quality Time” by Ken Liu

In “Quality Time” Ken Liu takes the time to explore the pitfalls of Silicon Valley’s philosophy that technology can solve anything. How does solving one problem create other problems? Can you take a solution too far? I enjoyed Liu’s exploration of these questions and the world he built.

“Murmured Under the Moon” by Tim Pratt

I really liked the concept of this story, but had a real problem with the dialog. It came across as stilted and amateurish, which is surprising from an author as published as Pratt. I love stories of libraries, and enjoyed Pratt’s story, aside from the strange dialog.

“The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto” by Annalee Newitz

An interesting exploration of moderate vs extreme points of view on social injustice, through the lens of robotics and Pinnocchio. Thought provoking.

“Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey

Dark and bloody, as I understand is typical of Gailey’s writing. The ending, while disturbing was satisfying. “Be careful what you wish for” goes both ways.

“Ironheart” by Jonathan Maberry

At its heart, Ironheart is heartbreaking take on how badly we fail our veterans in the U.S. Mix in some robotic magic and you’ve got a moving story with heart. There were definitely tears in my eyes.

“Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard

Yes, yes and yes. What a story. Play Regina Spektor’s “Love Song” on repeat while you read this one.

“Sound and Fury” Mary Robinette Kowal

A fun space adventure containing one giant robot and much eyerolling. The eyerolling was not on my part. I really enjoyed the exhausted snark of the crew.

“The Bookcase Expedition” by Jeffrey Ford

I enjoyed it, but Ford himself admits it’s not really a fairy story in his author’s note following the story. I struggled to keep my attention on this one.

“Work Shadow/Shadow Work” by Madeline Ashby

I really enjoyed this one. When robots are sufficiently advanced to be called AI, what separates them from humans – do they have souls? Does it matter?

“Second to the Left, and Straight on” by Jim C. Hines

As you might be able to tell, Hines’ story is a take on the classic Peter Pan story, but in wonderful Hines fashion he twists the familiar tale into something new. A heartwrenching, stunning story.

“The Buried Giants” by Lavie Tidhar

This one was a bit weird. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I got Truman Show vibes from parts of it.

“Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time” by John Scalzi

Hilarious! I literally laughed out loud at the end. That’s all I need to say.

“Ostentation of Peacocks” by Delilah S. Dawson/Lila Bowen

Somehow, I’ve never imagined a fairy western before, but after reading this, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them, but now I want more.

“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong

Heartbreaking and kind of disturbing in a gorgeous way. Celebrity replica robots but not one the way you expect.

“Adriftica” by Maria Dahvana Headley

A retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream mashed up with rock and roll. A really fun retelling.

“To A Cloven Pine” by Max Gladstone

A chaotic, robotic reimagination of The Tempest that is going to haunt me for days. Magical, even though Max is on Team Robot.

“A Fall Counts Anywhere” by Catherynne M. Valente

Literally Robots vs Fairies in a bloody deathmatch! The introduction to this story was too long, and capslock can be hard to read for such long chunks. Unfortunately, Valente managed to make even a deathmatch boring. A really weak ending to an otherwise fantastic anthology.

I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Anthology · Fantasy

The Emerald Circus – Jane Yolen

4.5 Stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

The Emerald Circus is a delightful collection of short stories and poems from Jane Yolen. She has been called the Hans Christian Anderson of America and I can see why.

In this collection, Yolen retells familiar stories in ways that still managed to surprise me. She masterfully jumps from style to style and lends cunning imagination to familiar stories. Alice in Wonderland and Arthurian legend are the stars of more than one short story each in The Emerald Circus, but each take is fresh and new. More than once I thought I knew where the story was going, only to be completely surprised in the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Emerald Circus, though I’d have liked Yolen’s notes about each story to accompany the stories, rather than be in their own section at the end.

The Emerald Circus was published November 24, 2017.

Anthology · Fantasy

The Overneath – Peter S Beagle

2 stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

The Overneath is the latest work from Peter S Beagle, famous for writing The Last Unicorn and is a collection of short stories – most, if not all, were previously printed elsewhere.

I love anthologies and short stories – it’s a love that came upon me suddenly a few years ago. Before 2012 I had no time for short stories. I felt that they were just teases of something more and was often disappointed that they weren’t longer or accomplished more. Then, in 2012 I found myself with a long commute by bus and discovered that short stories were perfect for my commute. I could finish one or two stories in a single day’s commute and realized with great delight just how complete a short story can be. Short stories can be masterful works of craft, honed and tightened to fit into a neat little package.

Unfortunately, The Overneath isn’t full of masterful little stories. In his own introductions to the stories Beagle all but apologizes for the sorry state of some of them. These shorts felt like leftovers repackaged for those too much in a hurry to look closely at the label.

Some of the individual stories were lovely little gems in amongst some that were frankly nonsensical.

The Overneath hit shelves November 17, 2017.

Anthology · Urban Fantasy

Urban Enemies – Joseph Nasisse

4 Stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Urban Enemies is an anthology containing 17 short stories from a slew of big-name authors in the Urban Fantasy genre.

The authors contributing to this collection had a fine line to walk. Each of their stories is set within their own larger universes, so they’re tasked with writing a story that will 1 – not alienate readers new to their universe (and maybe even convince them to pick it up?) and 2 – satisfy readers already familiar with their characters and storylines. I felt like most of the authors pulled this off. I will note, that I was somewhat disappointed that not all the stories were actually about villains – some were just anti-heroes.

I’m not going to do a story-by-story rating, as I might if these stories were standalone because it wouldn’t be fair. I’m already biased to prefer the stories from authors’ whose series I read – Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin Hearne – over the authors who write series I haven’t even heard of.

Of the authors I’m already familiar with, I really enjoyed Kevin Hearne and Seanan McGuire’s contributions. Both were satisfying and added dimension to their universes. I was disappointed with Jim Butcher’s contribution – not because it was a bad story but because it’s a reprint. Not a new story, it’s been printed in earlier anthologies.

About half of the authors I wasn’t familiar with I was intrigued enough by their villain or worldbuilding that I plan to check out at least the first novel in the series. In particular the stories by Craig Shaeffer, Caitlin Kitteridge and the editor Joseph Nassise. Other stories were either major turnoffs or just not my thing.

Overall though, I enjoyed the collection. I didn’t read anything particularly standout in either direction as good or bad (it’s hard to like stories about unlikable characters.) If you’re a fan of any of these series, check this collection out. If not, these stories may not be the easiest entry point into these universes, but you might find one you like (or like to hate.)

Anthology · Horror

Dark Cities – Christopher Golden

Zero Stars

TW: bestiality, rape

Dark Cities is a horror anthology edited by Christopher Golden around the theme of “cities.” 

I have to seriously question the thought process of Christopher Golden in choosing to put The Dogs as the first story in this anthology. I question why it was even included in the anthology, but if it were to be included, it should not have been the first story. Yes, this is a horror anthology, but that story alone made me put the book down and walk away. It took me over a week to talk myself into picking it up again to skip to the short stories from authors I already know I like/trust. Why? Because The Dogs features a very graphic bestiality/rape scene. I was suspicious of the story as soon as the Main Character was revealed to be a sort-of sex worker. I should have stopped reading then. The first story in an anthology sets the tone, and the tone The Dogs set was unpalatable.

I skipped forward. The short story Dear Diary was good. Amber Benson’s entry was interesting but very short. Seanan McGuire’s story was creepy and sad. I did not read the other stories in this anthology, especially Golden’s own, because I couldn’t trust that the other authors wouldn’t cross lines I am uncomfortable with, and in putting The Dogs first, Golden showed me that I can’t trust him. This may be a shame. I may be missing out on some excellent short stories by other authors in this collection. I’ll never know.

This review was originally published on Goodreads on July 12, 2017.