Giving this book a rating is not easy.
Alpha and Omega – four and a half stars, rounded because Goodreads is for some reason technologically incapable of halves up to five. I picked this book up solely for Patricia Briggs, although I find it a little odd that a Briggs story is part of this collection; the other three contributors seem to be firmly in the PNR category, and Briggs … isn't. At least, the Mercy Thompson books aren't, despite what their covers look like; it's a hard sell when someone, particularly a male someone, has difficulty looking past the tramp-stamped Mercy doppelgängers that scream "hot werewolf sex". Not, of course, as loudly as the cover of On the Prowl screams it (midriff-baring leopard skin-!) … But they really are urban fantasy… a protestation that loses a little ground with an anthology like this. Ms. Briggs, I thought, what fresh hell is this? Are the Alpha & Omega novels, which I have not located all of yet, PNR? Say it ain't so …
It ain't so. This is a great introduction to the characters and the world – and strictly PG-rated, at that. It could easily have gone deep into PNR territory; it has a lot of the elements. But this is a well thought out world with rules the magic must follow, and the aspects of the story a lesser writer would have turned into mindless hot werewolf sex were treated seriously, mindful of the characters' personalities and histories and futures. Patricia Briggs writes with the mindset of "This is the character as she as been formed, warts and all, as three-dimensional and life-like as I can convey her. This happens to her, and then this. What is she thinking? What is she feeling? How does she react?" What some of these other authors set down on paper remind me of a little girl banging her dolls together to try to approximate what she think grown-ups do together. The author has a little more comprehension, but the level of relationship and character development conveyed is about on par, and while both processes might be fun for the perpetrator, neither is nearly as rewarding to an observer. And that, my children, is why Patricia Briggs writes urban fantasy, not PNR: her writing presents a realistic world into which fantasy elements are realistically introduced and through which her characters make their way in a believable manner. One fifty-cent word to cover it all: verisimilitude. Briggs achieves it. PNR, very very often, does not. Her work is not, I repeat not PNR. It is good urban fantasy. Very good.
Inhuman by Eileen Wilks – Three and a half, rounded up because I was pleasantly surprised to four. I like the writing, I like the characters and the use of mythology and the concept of the mage-winds. And the I-suppose-inevitable sex scene was comparatively tasteful, and the conclusion of it actually got a little snort of laughter out of me. On purpose, even. I'm interested.
Buying Trouble by Karen Chance – Ditto: four stars. This was not what I expected. I liked it. I didn't love it, but all of the otherwise gag-worthy elements (glowy elves and much-put-upon heroines and such) are dealt with in such a way that my interest was held and I was entertained, and never tempted to actually gag. In all, it was enough fun that I'll take a … I can't say "take a chance", can I? I'll give further Karen Chance books a try.
Mona Lisa Betwining by Sunny – Halfway through, I was planning on giving it one star. Less if Goodreads were technologically capable. Upon not being able to finish: there are negative stars. In the real world, it wouldn't be symbolized by a star so much as a sucking black hole. The other novellas in the collection did a nice job of serving as introductions to the worlds they take place in, and to the characters the writers want the reader to come spend more time with. "Betwining" (which – huh?) did not do such a nice job. I'd never heard of Sunny or this character-I-refuse-to-name-because-it's-absurd, or the Monere (wait – Oh, of course there's a random accent grave: Monère), and I spent a fair amount of the story at least slightly baffled, fighting against the terrible writing and the poor exposition. It didn't take long to start skimming. Then I reached the line about the male lead's nipples standing up like little soldiers … Appalled, I flipped a few pages further, and what I read next was worse (no, I'm not writing it, I'm still queasy), and – closed the book and dropped it on the floor. And wanted to wash my hands.
“Pardon me. I’ve got to go poke out my mind’s eye.” --Frasier Crane
Sorry, Ms. Briggs. I love you, but I can't rate this higher. If the bad apple had been in the middle and I'd left the book with a better taste in my mouth, I might be able to be more generous. But not even Anna and Charles could make up for the horrors of Monère.
It's interesting, actually; the book starts off with a great novella, goes on to a very good one, to a good one, to a dreadful one. Also, and possibly related, in the first story there is very little sex; in the second, only a little more; more still in the third; and, finally … Cleanup on aisle four, please.
I rant more about the good, the pretty good, and the ugly on my blog.