LoveSpell, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52710-3
Fantasy Romance, 2007
Shards of Crimson is an epilogue to the urban fantasy series Crimson City. After all, since the conclusion of the series with Liz Maverick’s Crimson Rogue, life still goes on and there are always stories to be told of the folks in Crimson City. While this anthology is a pretty comprehensive introduction to the series, I’d suggest you read the previous books first before you give this one a try.
Perhaps Marjorie M Liu is busy being a glamorous X-Men member and romance author, since she’s missing from the roster of returning authors for one more encore here. At any rate, this anthology represents the authors’ longer books very well. If you enjoy their books, you’ll enjoy their contributions here, I suspect, since that’s the case with me at least. The same problem that plagues the series plagues this anthology – there is a very discordant jarring of tone here that disrupts continuity since Ms Maverick and Ms Jewel write their tales as pretty sober urban fantasy, Ms Lee and Ms O’Shea labors under the impression that Crimson City is a campy Magic Vagina series. Needless to say, I enjoy the first two stories here and will be happy if nobody reminds me of the existence of the other two stories.
Liz Maverick kicks off the show with A Time to Howl, a most charming action-paced sexy tale that also helps to tie up some loose ends from her two Crimson City books and advance the story arc of a pair of secondary characters. Here, we have Tajo Maddox, the werewolf who first showed up in A Taste of Crimson, heading the Rogues of Crimson City. A bunch of vampires, humans, and werewolves who don’t truly belong to their people and therefore have banded together for survival and camaraderie, the Rogues are tired of being kicked around the place by everyone. When they take up what seems like a simple stake-out assignment only to realize that they are being set-up for the assassination of three werewolf princesses coming to marry the city’s three most powerful bachelor vampires for a political alliance, Tajo decides to take Princess Gianna Asprey as a hostage while the Rogues retreat to figure out what they should do next. Sparks fly between Tajo and Gia, but she’s a princess while he’s a mutt. Can anything come out of this?
Gia is a “bird in a gilded cage” character who always wants to experience what it means to be free, et cetera, but she is fortunately a smart heroine who doesn’t do really stupid things to achieve this. She brings out a most touching vulnerable and emotional side from hard-as-nails Tajo and the climax of this story moves me more than I expect it to. Ms Maverick manages to get the two characters together at the end in a way that makes sense without being too convenient. Even better, the romance feels believable (or as believable as it can be given its length) with the two characters proving clearly that they have more in common than mutual attraction. I’m not that particularly fond of the Marius and Jill subplot since by this point I’m all for Jill to move on with her life and Marius to be fair to his wife, but judging from how I’m really enjoying this author’s more recent books, I suspect that she can sell me that story if she puts her mind to it.
Oh, and kudos to Ms Maverick for using the word “mate” sparingly without making me want to use this book as a chew toy.
Carolyn Jewel’s DX really creeps close towards the “Mate! Mate! Mate!” territory but fortunately the story kicks enough ass to make it an enjoyable action-paced tale with a dash of romance thrown in. The title is an abbreviated code for “demon of unknown origin”. Ms Jewel returns to the world of humans and demons that she expanded to an impressive degree in A Darker Crimson with our heroine Helen “Hell” Marshall not-so-willingly taking on one last assignment with the city’s human law enforcers to track down a DX that is causing problems among the vampire and werewolf crime bosses in Crimson City. Hell’s partner Jaden Lightfeather is an attractive man and he makes this assignment more enjoyable for Hell. But is he really a friend or foe? Poor Hell is going to find out soon enough.
I find DX a better action fantasy tale than a romance, actually, because what Jaden and Hell have in this story is too much like those hackneyed “I see you! You are my mate! Woo-woo!” storylines. However, the scenes of gore and action are fantastic. I could do with Hell kicking more ass in this story but really, this is a very nicely set-up and paced story that has me at the edge of my seat. The romance could be better, but I have a blast with this one. I have some issues with Ms Jewel’s choreography of some of her scenes in this story though, since sometimes I can’t visualize what she is describing in this story. It is as if she sometimes moves a little too fast that she forgets that I may need a little more detail to see the things she visualizes in her mind when she writes this story. But that’s a minor thing – the story on the whole is a very readable and entertaining ba-ba-boom story.
Then we have the two charming ladies Jade Lee and Patti O’Shea who proceed to write about those Magic Vaginas, sex under most contrived situations, and other annoying “sexy paranormal” clichés. It is as if they and Ms Maverick are on two different planets when it comes to what they view Crimson City to be. Ms Lee’s School Bites could have been interesting as it is Boston Public meets Crimson City. But when schoolteacher Toni Freedman is bitten by a student who turns out to be a werewolf, this story takes the turn for the absurd. Continuity breaks when Ms Lee starts using the anti-werewolf toxin (which is featured first in DX in a sober context) as an excuse for Toni to turn into an out-of-control sex maniac who is desperate to give principal John Wayne Wong a blowjob. The story spirals downwards into silly sexual situations that feel more contrived than sexy. I don’t even want to mention Patti O’Shea’s Dark Awakening any more than necessary. Let me just say that it is a story of two demons fighting to possess the heroine’s Very Special Vagina that will make very nice things happen for the lucky creepy monster that deflowers her first and leave it at that.
Two fun stories, two stories that are ruined by silly sexual situations and too much emphasis on the heroine getting pumped by the hero. That makes this anthology a fifty-fifty thing, although the more entertaining stories tip this book above the average mark. The moral of the story here, I suppose, is that one has to choose the contributing authors to one’s brainchild series wisely. At the very least, get the authors to be on the same wavelength about the direction and tone of the series.