Friday, August 15, 2014

On the Prowl. Anthology by Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance and Sunny

Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs

This short story is the prequel to the Alpha & Omega series that I have read. I found it quite useful to bring a little more detail to the background of the Alpha & Omega series while, at the same time, striking the ideal balance of not actually being essential to reading that series. It doesn’t add more to Anna’s history than I already knew but does provide a greater context to how her abusive past happened (especially given the inviolate nature of Omegas in the series) and how she and Charles met.

Even though I have read this series and the Mercy Thompson Series I also think this book did an excellent job of being both a stand-alone novel and giving us enough information about the world to be both workable and intriguing. Whether you had or hadn’t read the series, it was still a good story with elements for both readers.

While I’m not a big fan of the whole Alpha-male-werewolf-rawr trope but I think this story did a good job of looking at some of the consequences of this – how easy it would be for these “dominant” wolves to be abusive and for their victims to fear them all due to the ease of abuse written into their culture. Sure there’s a heavily element of the abusive werewolves doing-it-wrong, but at the same time it’s clear why their victims wouldn’t see much difference and would be wary of dominants.

We do have a lot of insta-love and insta-sexiness going on with Charles’s woo-woo mating bond kicking in. This causes a lot of over sexiness, a lot of domineering sexiness and, frankly, a lot of really unpleasant sexual pressure that is only exacerbated by Anna being a rape victim

We have some POC in this story – Charles is a Native American and drops in a fair amount of his culture and origins. Kara, Anne’s best friend, is Black – but it’s a shame she doesn’t get more presence here or in later books, serving only to be worried and protective of Anna (in a rather powerful way) without much more to her.

Anna sets the tone for future books in this series – while she’s hurting, abused and fearful, she’s also intelligent, brave and resourceful when called for – she’s abused but it’s made clear that doesn’t make her weak.

Unfortunately, this book does revolve around one of the tropes that is central to these series – mental illness is worse than death. Older werewolves in this world are often prone to insanity. This is considered terrifying, very dangerous and, ultimately, these werewolves have to be “put down”. Making mental illness a source of danger (a common, destructive and rarely true trope), a fate worse than death and something incapable of treatment or management.

This story has issues but it’s the one I liked most in the book – and the one I think struck the best balance with the series it was part of

Inhuman by Eileen Wilks

This is a short story set in the same world as the World of the Lupi series that I have read. It is, however, an excellent standalone story – in fact, while it’s set in the same world and the same events that are in the main series shape this one, it’s so separate from the main series that I missed that it was a part of it – in the beginning at least. It’s possible this perception is because I have read the main books and don’t realise how much I’ve assumed or absorbed to make this one work but it was very detached. The events like the magic wave flowing over the world and the increasing magic were mentioned in the beginning and nicely easily understood concepts to establish this world setting without having to get into the detail from the main series

If anything, the World of the Lupi series is too dependent on this book. Nathan and Kai, the protagonists of this story, return to play a major role in Night Season which makes that book feel very rickety unless you have read this short story to explain who Nathan and Kai are.

I think more development of Kai’s abilities and more definition of it would have been helpful – it was a little vague. I think the story itself was also more of an introduction to Kai and Nathan than a plot in and of itself. It does a great job of establishing who they are, how they fit into the world and how they get pulled into whatever shenanigans they will be pulled into – but it doesn’t actually tell much story. There’s a monster, they wait, the monster attacks them. Ok that’s overly simplistic and there’s a lot around the edges – but the edges is more about introduction of the characters and throwing in a hefty amount of “rawr sexy”.

Like the series it’s part of, there’s also a lot of appropriation of real world oppression against the woo-woo groups. We have direct links made to the holocaust and a lot of anti-magic laws that mirror laws and language against oppressed groups

There are a number of POC – Nathan is ambiguously POC (he’s a non-human who resembles a POC), but Kai is Native American with overt references to her Native American heritage but without the usual woo-woo fetishism or connecting her mystical abilities to her Native heritage (also aided by the number of non-Native American magic users in the setting). Some of the background characters are also POC.

This story is decent but even more than Alpha & Omega it’s clearly a set up for the book series.

Buying Trouble by Karen Chance

I haven’t read any series this story may be part of or anything written by Karen Chance so this may colour my perceptions given my opinion on the last two books. This book is clearly part of a wider whole but, unlike the previous two, we also had to swallow that whole. The world setting here is huge and we have 3 types of elves, we have dragons, we have light and dark fae, we have monsters, we have wizard houses, we have dubiously moral auction. We have a protagonist with a  large back story, unique and unusual powers and a different heritage that begs for exploration and development

To be honest, I should have been completely and utterly lost and I wasn’t, so that speaks volumes of it being well written because there’s a lot packed in in so little space. I’m also impressed that, on the whole, the action kept moving into his story – we started running and spent most of the book running – it didn’t make for much in depth story because of the fighting and running throughout, but the pacing kept up and didn’t resort to infodumping the vastness.

Like Inhuman I also have the sense that the story is here to set up the situation, it’s more of an intro into something larger – but I don’t think it hooked me. It’s broad – I can see a vast amount of woo-woo here, but it’s not all that deep. All the things are thrown at us without really the time or space to examine any one of them or really get a good feel for any of the characters.  And I don’t think the addition of horny glow-elves helped.

I did love the Gamelan though, speaking harsh truths and destroying comforting lies (and especially the “it’s no fun when they already know their life sucks”).

Mona Lisa Betwining by Sunny

I liked this story the least of all the ones in the book. It was overly sex focused, we had far more attention placed on Mona Lisa‘s lust for the men, whether she had sex with the men, whether she wanted sex with the men and, ultimately, her having sex with the men. Sex scenes in short stories are always fraught because they take a lot of word count to write and when you don’t have all that many words to work with, they can take over

This story also pulled a lot on things that had happened in the series before which was a problem for me because I hadn’t read the series – I felt a little lost and a lot like I was picking up the second book in the series. There was a lot of recapping which did help me keep up with the book on a basic level, but was also pretty annoying in its info-dumpyness. This is blatant stand-alone stuffing – so much so that even a reader who had read the rest of the series would be irritated by the repetitive recap. There were also a lot of characters all of which were introduced and described and most of them weren’t relevant

I just had a feeling I was starting a book half way through, like I was supposed to know this world, these people, what had happened before. We even started with the protagonist grieving for someone who was apparently important but now, of course, was dead. The worst part of all this is the whole book constantly referenced events that were clearly much more interesting than what was happening now

Between the zomg-hotness and the recapping there wasn’t actually a lot of story. There were some elements of world building, but it was incomplete (nor can it really be complete in a short story, I think). The impact and revelations of the book seemed to rely a lot more on knowledge of the world setting to actually sell them as something major. The whole thing just felt more like a scene from a longer book than a story in and of itself – which may work in a collection of short stories by the same author, but not in an anthology where you’re going to get readers who are unfamiliar with your world.

This story has no minorities

Overall I think this anthology may have tripped over one of the basics of an anthology – that there are readers who are not familiar with their series reading this book. All of these stories have a sense of something greater – either being in the middle of a long story or introducing a new story – the introduction ones worked, the others… not so much

There were a fair number of POC in the first two stories, but the latter two were sadly erased. There were a lot of strong women throughout, though Mona Lisa Betwinning was made all the more lacking next to the others because of this. None of these stories had a single LGBT character despite a large number of characters between them

It was a decent anthology, but I’d say only worth reading if you already are or are planning to read the series they’re connected to.