I started reading this anthology right after reading Laurie’s fantastic ATBF column on urban fantasy. It even got me out of lurkerdom on the AAR boards to comment. I spent a good deal of time contemplating why I like urban fantasy so much, because it’s one of the few genres in which I have auto-buy authors. I’m not going to go into my thought-train (which, rather disturbingly, seemed to draw heavily on my fourth year literature and psychoanalysis class) but I will tell you what I liked about the stories in Holidays are Hell and what didn’t work.
One of the biggest problems with anthologies like this one – featuring authors in the middle of popular series – is the assumption by both authors and publisher that readers are already familiar with their worlds. This can lead to two problems. The first is a story that doesn’t stand alone and only serves to further plots already in motion in the series. The second is sloppy world building with too much explanation and too little story, or half explanations that leave the reader more confused than entertained. Luckily only one of these stories fall into these traps. The other three are solid examples of the short story genre.
Run Run Rudolph by Lynsay Sands
Run Run Rudolph by Lynsay Sands (Subtle) I was introduced to Lynsay Sands in the Bite anthology, which features the prequel to this story, featuring a machine that can transform people’s molecular structure, allowing them to assume the shape of anything they want. Jill, sister to Kyle, our previous hero, is babysitting her new niece when she is accidentally zapped, forcing her into the same predicament as her brother. But she’s not going to let it stop her from playing Mrs. Claus to Nick’s Santa. Not when she’s fantasized about this guy next door for months. Not when she pulled strings and favors to get this part in the annual Santa Claus parade just to spend more time with him. Unfortunately, it turns out the accident isn’t really accident, and someone is very interested in Jill’s new abilities.
This story didn’t really have the trademark humor I’ve come to enjoy from Sands, and I would have liked more emphasis on the relationship and less on the suspense plot, but it remains a solid example of why this author’s short stories work.
Grade: B Sensuality: Subtle
Six by Marjorie M. Liu
Six by Marjorie M. Liu Six is part of China’s first all female elite terrorism fighting squad. Trained as a weapon since childhood, she knows nothing but her own strength and honor. She’s not afraid, not of anything. Until Joseph shows up and introduces her to things she’d never even imagined, both evil and good, and shakes up her well-ordered life. Though she’s never trusted anyone outside of her squad before, Six finds herself drawn to Joseph.
Against the backdrop of Chinese New Year celebrations, the two fight for their lives, and each other. I’ve really enjoyed Liu’s Dirk and Steele series, but one of the things that I’ve struggled with is the pace. They are so fast, and things happen so quickly that I often feel breathless and left behind. It’s exhilarating, but can compromise the depth of emotion and my attachment to the characters. However, in Six, though the action is still very much there, the pace is steadier and I felt I had time to get to know the characters and trust in their relationship. The only drawback for me is the same one I have for all Liu’s stories: the depth felt a little sacrificed for plot. However, with a bittersweet ending, this is among my favorites of Liu’s works.
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
The Harvest by Vicki Pettersson
Unfortunately, this last story in the anthology was the weakest.
Zoe has sacrificed everything for her children and grandchildren. She gave up immortality, her supernatural abilities, and her role in life to protect them and keep them alive to fulfill their own destinies. So she’s not going to give up now, even if it means going to her most beloved enemy Warren to ask for help. Of course, given their history, and Zoe’s perceived betrayal, Warren might not be so inclined to help Zoe recover her kidnapped granddaughter from the Shadows. And now that she’s mortal, he’s going to be even less inclined to let her help with the rescue.
Pettersson is the only author I had not read previously, which will, of course, color my reading of her story. Objectively, however, the other stories were self-contained while Pettersson fell into the trap of half-explanations and contrived info dump. I have the impression that the characters in this short story play significant roles in her novels, and fans of her series may find this story much more satisfying than I did. Regrettably, I spent a good deal of the story confused about the world, and only picked up the gist about half way through – too late to truly enjoy the story. Once I did, however, I was intrigued by the villain of the piece, a fascinating character, and the most interesting of the story. Though the ending is uplifting, it is not traditionally romance.
Grade: C+ Sensuality: Subtle
Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel by Kim Harrison
Two things have defined Rachel’s life so far. The first is her debilitating illness that, though in remission, still leaves her weak. The second is her burning desire to follow her dad’s footsteps into the IS, the paranormal policing organization. But the first directly affects the latter, and no one in her family believes she’s strong enough. To prove them wrong, she performs a very advanced spell, trying to raise the ghost of her father, the one person she knows would support her in this endeavor. The results are a surprise for everyone.
Harrison is a clever, clever writer. By introducing a character from the past in the form of the ghost, she is able to explain the important points of her world without the awkward info dump. Further, she doesn’t overload the reader, but only brings out the parts that are relevant to the story. Fans of her Rachel Morgan series will pick up some of the back story, but a familiarity with the story is by no means necessary to enjoy this surprisingly sweet story (for an anthology with hell in the title!). This is a lovely ghost story, though not a traditional romance. Nonetheless, it remains an emotional and very satisfying story.
Grade: A- Sensuality: Subtle
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