Desert Isle Keeper
Night Shift is a collection of three alternate reality/paranormal romances and one fantasy romance, all by established genre authors. The first three stories were solid visits to worlds those authors have written about in other books, which contributes to the generally-strong worldbuilding in the collection. The fourth, my favorite, was by Meljean Brooks under a pseudonym but is not set in one of her ongoing series worlds. It’s a bit of a misfit in the anthology (different subgenre, a hot rather than warm rating, a much darker tone) but it’s the one that stuck with me and elevates this anthology to one worth keeping on the shelf.
Secrets at Midnight by Nalini Singh
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
A perfectly acceptable but not terribly memorable foray into the Psy-Changeling universe populated by were-animals, humans, and an emotionless race with supernatural powers. Bastien the changeling leopard finds his mate in Kirby – a seemingly human woman – but something is ‘off’ about her scent. They figure out what it is. Since her secret turns out to be an issue in another book in the series, and because and a lot of other elements of Kirby have been done before (her profession as a kindergarten teacher, her ‘shy but bold with the hero’ personality, her foster-care background), no new ground is broken here. Bastien is a bit of a wish-fulfillment blank slate hero, gorgeous, wealthy, and bringing an adoring and welcoming family/pack. On the whole, it’s generic, but if you love the Psy-Changeling universe as much as I do, it’s always fun to visit and see what more ordinary characters are up to.
Magic Steals by Ilona Andrews
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
I hadn’t ventured into the Kate Daniels world before, and the setting is interesting. A magical apocalypse has left Earth fluctuating wildly between magical surges, in which no technology functions, and times when magic recedes and ‘normal’ life can mostly resume. Dali Harimau, a weretiger, has magical powers rooted in her Indonesian heritage, and a massive crush on Clan Cat’s number two, jaguar shifter Jim Shrapshire. The two team up to solve an attempted murder, and Dali discovers she’s stronger than she thinks. I liked Dali a lot, especially how the authors incorporate her Indonesian heritage without seeming to fetishize her. Jim is amusing as a hero clearly attracted to Dali, to Dali’s complete obliviousness.
Ilona Andrews is a husband-and-wife writing team, and in some passages, the male author comes through in a way that’s unrealistic for a first-person female narrator. In the opening paragraph, Dali describes in detail her own appearance in lingerie in a way that smacks of ‘male gaze’. Some of the humor sequences don’t quite click, and the complexity of the villain of the piece is under-explored. Still, I’m intrigued enough to give more Andrews a try.
Lucky Charms by Lisa Shearin
Grade: B- Sensuality: Warm
Makenna Fraser has the ability to see through any supernatural disguise, which makes her a useful new hire for Supernatural Protection and Investigations as they try to keep the presence of magical creatures a secret in otherwise-normal New York City. Unfortunately her new partner, Ian Byrne, doesn’t seem pleased to be working with her as they try to track down a rogue leprechaun bachelor party. While I love the idea of supernatural beings running amok under the radar in New York, this idea was better executed in Men in Black. The obviousness of some supernatural elements weighed against the desire for secrecy left me confused, and some elements of the story are left frustratingly unresolved, presumably for future books. While the author over-writes some of the humor (if ‘rogue leprechaun bachelor party’ doesn’t tip you off, this is not a subtle story) there are still moments that made me laugh out loud.
The Beast of Blackmoor by Milla Vane
Grade: A Sensuality: Hot
Milla Vane is a pseudonym for Meljean Brook. This pure-fantasy story is quite different from the happy and even slapstick stories which precede it, being dark and highly erotic. It’s a spin on the ‘sword and sorcery’ adventure fantasy genre, and one I enjoyed very much. Kavik’s land – and his person – were ravaged by the conquering Lord Barin, and the angry boy incurred the wrath of a goddess by disrespecting her temple (okay, he peed on the offering plate). When the same goddess’s champion, Mala, comes to fulfill her quest to ‘tame’ the beast, Kavik has to show her he’d rather die than endure this final punishment of returning to life as a sexually abused prisoner. Mala, however, is convinced her mission must mean something else, and as a gesture of trust offers Kavik sexual control over her. Yes, this story is hot. But Kavik and Mala’s chemistry is supported by their teamwork as they fight demons and monsters and work to free Kavik’s homeland. I liked Mala as a heroine, for her faith, her discipline, and her warrior’s spirit. Kavik is literally a tortured hero, but with a core of honor that his suffering hasn’t destroyed. They’re a great pair.
This is a fully-realized dark setting, and it was so disappointing to learn that of all the stories in this anthology, this one is a one-off – especially because there are hints of characters who could be future protagonists and a villain who’d cause conflict. I would happily read more stories in this setting.