BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Collection of 4 novellas: 1 Sci Fi Romance (Psy-Changeling #12.5), 2 Urban Fantasies (Kate Daniels World #6.5 and SPI Files #0.5), 1 Fantasy Romance (new Barbarians world). 3 are from ongoing series, and all but one work as standalones.
PROS: Short anthology of longer novellas means more time for story, characters, fulfilling conclusion.; 3 of the stories have a lot of action scenes.; All 4 authors are ones that I’ve enjoyed in the past (Milla Vane also writes as Meljean Brook); If you like your SFF with a lot of Romance, you have it in 3 of the stories.
CONS: Not sure that the Kate Daniels World story would be easy to get into if you aren’t already caught up on the series. There is a lot of sexual violence in the Vane story. Had to walk away from it for a few days. The lead off story, Secrets at Midnight, was sweet, but not much action compared to the other three-if you are not a Romance fan, then this is probably not for you.
BOTTOM LINE: Overall I would recommend this collection to anyone who has an interest in SFF with Romance, especially if you are a fan of the authors and series. These are stories that I will read again.
“Secrets at Midnight” (Psy-Changeling #12.5) by Nalini Singh
This might fall after the 12th book, and I am still in the early books of this series, but other than a few asides this story feels removed from the overall series arc, which is not an issue at all for anyone new to the series or, like me, just starting. I am already loosely aware of the world of the series. One downside is that newcomers won’t get a lot of worldbuilding in this story. The world of Singh’s series is a big draw for me: futuristic sci fi setting with humans, Changelings (can shift into different animals) and Psy (telepaths). The basics are rehashed but that’s about it.
“Secrets” is more of a psychological story, but not one that made me think the leads needed to be in therapy for the next decade. It is also a Changeling centric story, dealing with past trauma and mental blocks. This is a series that has mating bonds, so there is insta-love (or at least very strong, possessive insta-lust).
The story worked for me, but it wasn’t as action-packed as other stories I’ve read by Singh. It was a gentle lead in to the other stories which are very action-oriented.
“Magic Steals” by Ilona Andrews
I am a mega fan of the Kate Daniels series. I just thought you should know as that fact peppers most of my feelings about this story. It has two of my favorite supporting characters, Jim and Dali, with a focus again (like “Magic Dreams”) on Dali. I really liked how Dali and her magic took center stage. Also, the romance between Jim & Dali has always been adorable.
We’ve seen Dali as a magic user before. She is not a fighter. She shifts into a giant white tiger, but she is nearsighted, has an aversion to blood, and is a vegetarian. There were hints in “Magic Dreams” about her family’s special abilities and here we finally get to see Dali’s magic in action, as well as her importance in the Indonesian community in magic-ravaged Atlanta.
Dali is very smart, and I’ve always liked how she uses her brain to win battles. She also has a lot of insecurities. Jim is the alpha of the Cat Clan and she worries that she does not have the fighting ability needed to be his mate. Seeing them really work together utilizing both of their strengths was a treat.
If you aren’t familiar with the Kate Daniels world, though, I’m not sure if it would work for you. It’s also a continuation of another novella, in a way, so if you come into it blind you will likely be scratching your head at times. There is some amount of backstory, and the worldbuilding by Andrews is always phenomenal.
This was my favorite story in the collection.
“Lucky Charm”s by Lisa Shearin
“Charms” is the one story in this short anthology without romance. It is also a prequel novella for Shearin’s new Urban Fantasy series, so it is just right for new readers.
It’s Makenna’s first day on the job. She is a seer, able to see through glamours and magic. She and her grumpy partner team up with a couple of elves and their werewolf driver as they try to track down a wayward, trouble-making leprechaun prince and his bachelor party. There are a lot of strip clubs involved.
You get a sense of the organization that Makenna has joined as well as their role in keeping the peace among supernatural creatures, the various factions and courts. Not a lot of info-dumping, but then I’ve read enough Urban Fantasy that follows these tropes that this world was really easy to get into.
I thought it was really funny, and lighter than any of the other stories. I’ve had the first book in the series on my shelf and now I need to get to it, because this story made me want more. There were some tense moments and some foreshadowing. It’s not too dark, except for when our lead meets the goblin villain who can influence desire. That is always a problematic “power” (I’ve read many a story with the magical roofie power, some good, some not) but it was not taken so far to where I had to put the book down. It remains a danger for the heroine in the series, of course, and something that I will remember.
“The Beast of Blackmoor” by Milla Vane (aka Meljean Brook)
I’ve loved Meljean Brook’s other series for many reasons, but mostly because she is fantastic at worldbuilding. While the story is a departure from her other books, and more easily separated by the alter-ego, the seeds planted about this world were very strong. A world that reminded me of Conan and Red Sonja, but still was its own thing. There are gods and goddesses, demons, a world torn apart by war and barely recovering. It is also still in danger.
It’s also a world full of sexual violence and that was difficult to reconcile with the feel of the other stories in this collection. In this case, the male lead is a rape victim and the female lead is the daughter of a victim. The villain is a rapist and I found myself having to step away from this one for awhile.
I didn’t read any reviews prior to reading this collection. For the most part, when I know I want to read a book, this is a sound strategy for me. In this case, had I had a warning about the darker tone of this story, then, while still upsetting (as it should be), I would have been a bit more prepared. It was a shock going from the lightest story in the collection to the darkest. Although, when I think about it more, the relief that the “magical roofie” power wasn’t taken further mixed with the sexual violence in this world might have been what put me over the top.
I did go back to the story, and I’m glad I did. There are a lot of issues of control. For example, our male lead, Kavik, defiled a goddess’ temple and has been promised punishment in the form of a woman in red. Mala, our female lead, is on a quest from the same goddess to tame the beast of Blackmoor. Guess who that is. Given his past, Kavik sees the “taming” as taking away all that he has left. For Mala, it’s about trust, not control or obedience. That part, the slow building of trust as the root of their relationship, was whatsf made the story for me.
Also, there are a lot of fight scenes and I am always down with that.
The female lead was very good. Mala was completely in charge of her sexuality, her fighting prowess, and her deep-rooted beliefs.
The language is very earnest and the sword/sheath metaphor for sex is used often. It was in parts expected, in parts tongue in cheek. I would read more in this world, and there is a setup for an epic battle to come.
Vane also wrote a short story set in this world, “Silent Night” that was posted on the That’s What I’m Talking About blog. There’s no romance, but a character mentioned in “Beast” has an encounter with some of the more dangerous creatures in this world while on her own quest.