01/01/2012. Contributed by Kelly Jensen
pub: Baen. 272 page paperback. Price: GBP 9.45 (UK), $11.25 (US). ISBN: 978-1-43913-456-6).
check out website: www.baen.com
The covers of urban fantasy novels often feature spunky heroines and their weapon of choice (fangs, claws, swords and guns) and probably attract the romantic minded reader at the same time they almost repel the more devout sword and sorcery fan. With their modern settings, vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, angels and a host of other supernatural beings, the books occupy a definite and growing niche, however, and urban fantasy, also known as paranormal romance, has become a wildly popular genre. I don’t mind a little romance, but I don’t read a lot of fantasy, urban, paranormal or otherwise. I like spaceships and aliens, which is why this anthology caught my attention. It’s edited by Mark L. Van Name, author of the ‘Jon And Lobo’ novels and editor of an anthology that celebrates an entirely different genre, transhumanism.
In ‘The Wild Side’, editor Mark Van Name has pulled together a collection of stories that demonstrate just how varied urban fantasy can be. At the same time, this anthology shows just why it’s popular: sex sells. The majority of these tales have an erotic edge and some of them revolve around a liaison in much the way a regular romance novel might. All of the stories explore the supernatural, though, and a lot of them were quite entertaining.
‘Songs Sung Red’ by Tanya Huff makes a good start to the anthology. It sets a high standard for the other stories to follow. Tanya Huff writes a variety of fiction, from magical kingdoms to space marines. In between, she more than dabbles in urban fantasy. Her ‘Blood’ books feature a human detective, Vicki Nelson, and her partnership with a vampire, Henry Fitzroy. In ‘Songs Sung Red’, we catch up with Vicki after she’s been ‘changed’ and had returned to Mike Celluci, her former partner and on-again, off-again love interest. Now a vampire, she is subject to darkly erotic urges and the song of a siren makes them even harder to resist. As always, there is a case to be solved and between the secrets, she and Mike do just that.
It’s hard to put a lot of history into a short story – where the characters come from, who they are and how they relate to one another - but Tanya Huff manages to do just that without overwhelming the reader with details they don’t need in order to appreciate this slice of life. The story stands well on its own and serves as an introduction or enticement to read the ‘Blood’ books.
Another story I really enjoyed was ‘For A Good Time, Call...’ by Toni L. P. Kelner. Perhaps best known for the ‘Laura Fleming’ novels, Kelner writes about a witch this time. Maura Allaway isn’t a very good witch. She’s not the evil sort, she just hasn’t discovered her particular affinity, which makes her fairly useless in the opinion of the other more talented witches in her family. As if that were not enough to contend with, she also tends to destroy telephones, mobile phones and computers. In this story, Maura discovers that what she thinks is a curse might actually be a talent and uses her odd affinity to good effect in defeating a succubus who is making disturbingly erotic prank calls.
I liked the upbeat feel of this story and the character of Maura herself. The story felt encapsulated, but I was left with the feeling I’d like to read more. I hope Toni Kelner decides to visit the Allaway witches again.
‘Of Sex And Zombies’ by Ticia Drake Isom is a riot. The wedding between Sylvie, a fairy, and Michael, a human, is over-run with zombies. The cops, one of which is a werewolf – because they make wonderful law enforcement officers, didn’t you know, arrive on the scene, but not quickly enough to prevent Michael from receiving a fatal zombie bite. The rest of the story is a rush to beat the clock, with the odd collection of humans and supernatural beings seeking a way to save Michael from a fate worse than death: becoming a zombie. Though the villain isn’t a surprise, I still enjoyed the story. Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination, right?
The last story in the anthology, ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ by Caitlin Kittredge is fantastic. The writing alone hooked me, as did the dispassionate voice of the main character. We don’t learn her name until the very end of the story, but her name more than beside the point. She begins as a shell of a person and slowly evolves as events unfold and only really becomes a proper being at the end anyway.
‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ is about Sam, a fallen angel who has vague memories and an even more vague purpose. Sam discovers she can’t quite deny all she was, however, and that despite having fallen, she still has the urge to save people. This is a rather simplistic summary, but sometimes it’s hard to so a story justice in a review. Best you read this one for yourselves. I’d not heard of Caitlin Kittredge before but after reading this story, I intend to try some of her novels, of which there are many to choose from.
There are two other noteworthy stories in ‘The Wild Side’. I liked Sarah Hoyt’s entry, ‘Unawares’, even if only because I’m always eager to read her fiction. Briefly, the story involves something like a vampire apocalypse and a very sexy angel.
I also enjoyed Mark Van Name’s ‘The Long Dark Night Of Diego Chan’. Again, I always enjoy reading his fiction and I hope he decides to visit Diego Chan in a full-length novel at some point after the next ‘Jon And Lobo’ book!
While Urban Fantasy isn’t my usual thing, I did enjoy my visit to ‘The Wild Side’. I discovered another couple of authors I’d like to read more of and was happy to read different stories from a couple of favourites.
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