At 532 pages and with 24 expert writers there are many nights of enjoyment to be found here. As editor Trisha Telep remarks in the introduction, the anthology contains “a magical collection of succubi, selkies, mermaids, werewolves, angels, ghosts, sorceresses, goddesses, gargoyles, fae princes and djinn, to name just a few.” To cap off my review, I have collected all of my daily reviews here for ease of access.Editor Trisha Telep also produced last years The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance and has two new projects in the works - the forthcoming young adult collection The Eternal Kiss: 12 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire (July 27, 2009) and The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 2 (September 2009 ).
Running Press Book Publishers
Published: March 2009
ISBN #: 9780762436514
Format: Trade paperback
“The Temptation of Robin Green” by Carrie Vaughn
This Carrie Vaughn story is a strong opening for the collection. Robin is a young military officer with a degree in biology recruited as a research assistant to work in a top secret government laboratory. The lab is stocked with all manner of supernatural creatures including vampires, werewolves, mermaids, unicorns and more. Robin works the night shift feeding and caring for the collection. A new acquisition has just arrived - a selkie.
“Succubus Seduction” by Cheyenne McCray
The Queen of the Unseelie Court has commanded the succubus Lilin to take and bring her the soul of Archer, a handsome succesful architect. Three times she attempts the necessary seduction and fails, losing her immortality as a penalty of the Queens wrath. Stripped of her powers and ultimately her memory she goes to Archer because she has no place else to go. He becomes her protector and they fall in love.
At first this story struck me as predictable until we discover a secret about Archer’s true nature. Even then the Lilin/Archer falling into love storyline seemed unremarkable until a final twist nicely shows how remarkable indeed their relationship is and the price they are willing to pay for their love. Well played!
"Paranormal Romance Blues" by Kelley Armstrong
Tiffany and Melanie are two twenty-something half –demons from Armstrong’s Otherworld universe. They are out for a night on the town and Tiffany wants to check out the local vampire bar for the ‘real deal’ hoping to hook up for a little paranormal romance. Melanie on the other hand is a little jaded having had a string of loser boyfriends and is not quite as enthusiastic, but nevertheless curious.
A simple trip to the Vamp Tramp club turns into an adventure for the girls when they encounter an FBI agent on the hunt, a hot vampire and a serial killer. The dialogue and banter between the girls is sharp and takes playful stabs at paranormal tropes. Melanie is wonderfully bitchy with some great lines and presence.
Amazing how much can be packed into 20 pages. Even Cassandra, the vampire council member from the series puts in a guest appearance as part of the sting operation to catch the bad guy. And yes Melanie gets her man. Humorous and light-hearted, I quite liked this one.
“John Doe” by Anna Windsor
Dutch is a doctor working the night shift on her 30th birthday at a New York psychiatric facility when the police bring in an unidentified half-naked man for evaluation. From the first moment she is strangely attracted to the man and recognizes a symbol carved into his flesh – just like the one on her mother’s body at her death when Dutch was a young girl.
Dutch and the man are attacked by a demon and the man transforms into an angel-like being. Together they defeat the powerful creature. Dutch learns about her heritage, she is half angel, the man Shant is of a race that protects them. Her birthday represented her coming of age and brought her to the attention of the demons and Protectors alike. Dutch and Shant share an incredible night of passion and then he disappears from her life having explained that Protectors are not allowed to love their angels. Dutch is assigned a new Protector.
Months pass and Dutch cannot be dissuaded from pursuing her love for Shant seeking him out, and ultimately allowing him to make the choice of giving up his world for hers. The choice is inevitable.
This is a nicely told tale with several wonderfully descriptive scenes, in particular the one in which Shant flys Dutch home after the attack. John Doe is the most sentimental and unabashed romance in the collection so far.
“Taking Hold” by Anya Bast
Taking Hold is a story of forbidden love. Mac and Lily are searching a wintry mountainside for a missing Pack teenager named Casey. Mac is a werewolf and the pack loner and tracker and Lily is a human and a nurse. Their search becomes a harrowing experience as Lily almost dies from a fall through ice into a frozen lake and they both almost perish at the hands of ruthless human hunters who have been chasing the young Casey for sport in order to lure Mac to the scene.
Lily and Mac recognize their mutual attraction and bond over their shared experience, an ideal pairing as two outsiders from their respective communities. Some nice character development given the brevity of the story. Despite the laws of the land that frown upon mixed species relationships, they throw caution to the wind.
No surprises or twists but a nicely told romance story.
“How to Date a Superhero” by Jean Johnson
Foresight as the name suggests can see the future. Her partner Steelhand can turn his skin to steel. Foresight is having a fit of jealousy that Steelhand shows no interest in her romantically but seems to favour Farshot. Defenders and protectors of the city, the local chapter of the Ascendant League of supeheroes meets for their nightly assignments. Foresight uses her abilities to help plan their evening patrols predicting trouble spots. Only tonight she has a vision of her and Steelhand in the throes of passion. Is it a true vision? Can it be changed? Does she want it to change?
Some nice interplay between the various League characters made How to Date a Superhero a cute relationship story with some nice world-building touches, but it felt unfinished to me, the ending unsatisfying. While there was a promise of romance, no action was taken (strange for action heroes wouldn’t you say?). Inclusion of this story in the anthology seems a bit of an odd choice. I don’t really think of superheroes as paranormals, although I am sure the argument can be made.
Daniel by C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp
Karen is a process server, who is attacked by a very powerful vampire who materializes in a parking lot. Quick thinking allows her to stab him with her keys and scream, calling public attention to herself and forcing him to mist away. But not before he recognizes the scent of her vampire friend Daniel. Daniel comforts her that night, vowing his protection, despite his obvious fear of the stronger vampire. Their shared peril elevates their previous platonic relationship into a night of passion and promise.
Despite Daniel’s warnings, Karen returns to work the next day but is again confronted by the vengeful vampire just as Daniel and another rival female vampire appear as well. Together they defeat the duo in a dramatic battle ending in the fiery destruction of the other vampires. Daniel almost attacks Karen at the height of his bloodlust and disappears.
It is refreshing to see a story where the main character lives in the real world and must explain each of the situations to the police. No sweeping the events under the carpet. Of course the lack of bodies means Karen is able to construct plausible explanations. Months later Daniel returns to say a final goodbye to Karen, unwillingly to further endanger her life but in a corny but heartfelt declaration, Karen tells Daniel – "I'd rather have a day with you, than a lifetime without. If time is so precious, do we even dare waste a second?" Ahh true love. I quite liked this one.
“Light Through Fog” by Holly Lisle
This is a hauntingly brilliant story about second chances. Sam and Sarah are married, with two wonderful kids. They are soul mates and each other’s childhood sweetheart until Sam is killed in a car accident. Sarah is devastated and bereft. In a moment of peace after the funeral Sarah retreats to a tiny island on their property where they had built a whimsical adult tree house together. Sarah plans to spread Sam’s ashes – a promise they had made to one another. As a fog rolls in she hears a voice and then a figure emerges from the mist – Sam. Whether dreaming, or going crazy or not Sarah embraces a last opportunity for a goodbye she never had the chance to say. Only she discovers Sam is there to cast her ashes. To him it is she that is dead. Two intimately connected survivors drawn together from alternate realities.
There are plenty of additional surprises and deeply moving scenes in this marvelous tale as we glimpse their few precious encounters. Only on the island can they manifest and connect infrequently. Light Through Fog follows their lives to their conclusion when all becomes clear. My favourite so far - this one really hit the romance mark.
“The Tuesday Enchantress” by Mary Jo Putney
Charlie and Maggie are Guardians, human protectors of mankind with magical abilities. Charlie is a healer and Maggie an Enchantress. Encountering one another by chance in a coffee shop, Charlie is immediately attracted to Maggie apart from her Enchantress charm. Approaching her, Maggie is standoffish, wary of all advances by men because she is unable to distinguish true interest from magically induced interest because of her Enchantress powers. A robbery at the coffee shop results in Charlie’s friend being shot causing Charlie and Maggie to work together to save his life.
The chemistry between Charlie and Maggie is nicely portrayed and the shift in their responses to one another nicely done as circumstances allow them to learn more of each other. I quite enjoyed their HEA.
"Trinity Blue" by Eve Silver
A Prologue introduces us to Daemon as he holds his dying wife in his arms. He has arrived too late to prevent an attack on their 1830’s homestead. Offering her immortality she refuses recognizing his true nature for the first time, horrified.
Rising, he held his arms wide, calling home the trinity. Again the shadows moved and three raced towards him, sleek in the night. They wound about him and through him, less than substance, more than shadow. He let his pain feed them, his rage and agony. Together, they burst into clear blue flames that spread and grew until every body, every drop of blood in the clearing was burned away in an icy inferno of smokeless blue fire.
Fast forward to the present and we find Jen hiring Daemon as a handy man as she recuperates from a knee injury. Jen harbours a secret, an ability to sense danger and darkness. She senses none of this about Daemon. Daemon is careful around Jen, living for the moment, finding nothing supernatural about the woman he finds himself increasingly attracted to; but he is reluctant to involve himself with a mortal knowing that discovering his true nature would end any chance for happiness.
Weeks in each other’s company cements their attraction and they fall into each other’s arms. But the unexplained grisly murder of a woman nearby has Daemon discovering the presence of a demon that he confronts thinking to protect Jen. Jen’s powers blossom into her full sorcerer heritage and also sensing the evil she tracks it to its source. Daemon’s true nature is revealed to Jen in the confrontation that ensues and he is devastated that he will lose Jen as he did his wife. But then again this is paranormal romance isn’t it.
A lovely story with a smile on your face ending.
“Grace of Small Magics” by Ilona Andrews
Grace of Small Magics is a very dark tale. Grace has always known she was different and that her family has minor magical ability. Only now she finds herself flying to meet the head of Clan Dreoch to fulfil her families’ obligation as servants, a request that cannot be refused else deadly consequences. Resentful, angry and terrified, Grace is thrust into the middle of a mage clan war, with only her mundane human experience as back up.
She must use her limited defensive magic to assist Nassar the clan leader, in a brutal team on team battle, to decide the winner of the dispute. Ilona Andrews rich, trademark magical world-building is solidly at work here. In preparation for the combat, Grace works with Nassar to prepare their strategy, and in so doing creates an unexpected bond that surprises both of them. Through force of personality Grace influences Nassar and restores her own families’ clan status. She goes into the final confrontation willingly and as a full partner.
With well executed action and deft character development, I liked this story as an urban fantasy and yes there is a romantic element too, but it didn’t quite click for me as paranormal romance. Loved the story just as it is, although it seems like an odd duck in this collection.
“Once a Demon” by Dina James
Kyle is an ancient and powerful vampire with a harsh reputation as the Betrayer. Katrina his former human companion and now the immortal queen to Nikolai of the Destrati vampire clan, uses her friendship to draw out the solitary Kyle. Seeking to uncover the source of his unhappiness and reclusive nature, she persuades him to recount the story of his lost love.
The story he weaves that evening is both captivating and heart-breaking, a centuries old tale of love lost by cruel murder at the hand of his father and his minions. Katrina learns of Kyle’s true nature – originally a Lord of Demons to Lucifer himself whom he betrayed for his human beloved and was cast from Hell. Katrina is appalled by Kyle’s loss but also fearful with her new knowledge of whom and what he is. Unable to throttle her curiosity, she asks Kyle to take her to the churchyard where his beloved is buried where in a final dramatic scene; he once again confronts an agent of his father and learns the horrifying fate of his lovers’ soul.
Once a Demon concludes with a nicely ambiguous ending, very suitable for the stories theme. A very dark romantic story.
“Night Vision” by Maria V. Snyder
Night Vision features one of the most unusual paranormal characters I read in some time. Sophia is a Light Bender. The darker it is the better she sees. Bright light literally blinds her. Because of this unusual ability she lives alone in isolation, safe from the private and government agencies that would have her become an ‘asset’ or assassin.
Sophia stumbles upon the kidnapping of a federal agent while out riding her off-road motorcycle in a remote area. With no skills other than her night vision ability she rescues Mitch. Discovering the gang is running a slavery ring of supernatural’s like her, and that they have Mitch’s sister captive, Sophia lends her support to the rugged federal agent.
Saving lives and committing herself to a purpose draws Sophia out of her self-imposed withdrawal from the world. Night Vision delivers an excellent action thriller story combined with a blossoming romance. Something a little bit different from the rest of the collection. Heavier on the action and lighter on the romance, with a nice finale.
"Pele’s Tears" by Catherine Mulvaney
Pele’s Tears is a story of second chances. Noelani hires PI Dillon to ascertain if her grandmother’s death was a suicide or an accident. Until Noelani met Dillon she had no idea that he was the unrequited teenage love she knew as Marshall.
Noelani’s grandmother had been making an offering to the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele at the time of her death. Afterwards Noelani had found that a photograph of her grandfather taken days before his death at Pearl Harbour had changed from a solo image of him to one that also contained her grandmother.
Together Dillon and Noelani unearth the truth of the second chance offered to her grandmother by the goddess to spend her last days with her husband that she had missed those many years ago. Noelani and Dillon also rediscover that their love remains strong and unchanged despite their long separation.
Some nice magical touches, and a wonderful legend, but the story suffers from the predictability of the reader knowing this is a time travel story from the get go while the main characters stumble about trying to understand the clues. This one just didn't grab me emotionally.
Pack by Jeaniene Frost
Marlee is on a camping trip in Yellowstone National Park, hiking alone when she is attacked and bitten by wolves. Fully expecting to be die, Marlee is suddenly rescued by a naked man, but not before hearing what sounds like speech from one of the wolves.
Awaking in a rustic cabin, Marlee is introduced to Daniel the Pack enforcer and eventually to the local werewolf community. Her choices are limited, she has knowledge of the existence of werewolves now so she must join the pack or be killed.
Pack is a powerful story that explores Marlee’s emotional journey as she confronts the loss of her old life, family and friends and confronts her new reality – life as a werewolf and member of the Pack. All of this is complicated by her growing attraction to Daniel. While the concept of finding one’s mate is a frequently used trope in paranormal romance this is a particularly deft handling of the theme.
"When Gargoyles Fly" by Lori Devoti
Kami, a sculptor, discovers that the gargoyle atop the building she has snuck out to examine is real when she tumbles from the building and as is rescued by Mord. In this sometimes confusing and overly complicated plot, Kami falls in love with Mord who saves her numerous times from a sorcerer bent on killing her. She has the ability to bring the stone gargoyles to life. Apparently they have been frozen in stone and time along with the evil chimera’s in a mutual pact. Her abilities could tip the balance by releasing only the gargoyles. Despite Mord’s equally strong feelings, he abandons Kami in a misplaced sense of protectiveness, but eventually succumbs to his love and reunites with Kami after torturous months of grief and separation on Kami’s part.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to identify with or find the main characters responses or actions believable. Some nice sense of wonder scenes however, where Kami accepts the existence of gargoyles in the world.
“The Lighthouse Keeper and His Wife” by Sara Mackenzie
The Lighthouse Keeper and His Wife is another tale of second chances. After dying attempting the rescue of a steamer off the shore of the lighthouse he shared with his wife, Ezekial (Zek) is given a second chance at life by sorceress if he agrees to her terms. He must help her defeat the monster (Neptune) that destroyed the ship and over 200 souls in the 1860’s. Zek in turn bargains for the chance to be reunited with his wife who has been reborn and living in the present. Izzy has had dreams of Zek.
Dream becomes reality when Zek appears before Izzy and a passionate night ensues. Later they visit the same lighthouse from his original time and he transports her back to the past to relive events and perhaps change the original outcome. I quite liked the portrayal of their romance separated by time. My only reservation is one of logic which pulled me from the story with the HEA. If they were revisiting events, what happened to the original wife that was left behind from when he died the first time? If anyone reads the story and figures it out, let me know. (I know I over-think these things.)
“Blood Song” by Lynda Hilburn
Blood Song introduces us to Grace, a musician/singer with the ability to heal using the power of music, Grace is attacked by a feral vampire on her walk home but rescued by the vampire Ethan who develops a fascination for the beautiful and intriguing Grace. Ethan leaves Grace at her home with her memories of the event suppressed.
Ethan begins to rediscover lost facets of his humanity the more he thinks about Grace, seeking her out and trying to understand the changes and feelings he is experiencing. Graces character and ability is fascinating and the nature of the “blood song” and its’ effects original. I have s soft spot for stories with musical themes and I quite liked this too brief story. I wanted to see more of their romance.
“The Princess and the Peas” by Alyssa Day
Until I read this story (the 19th), I hadn’t realized what had been missing from the collection – a humour piece. As you can see from the opening line it is very much of the fairy tale variety – in fact along the lines of The Princess Bride style humour, only not quite as twisted.
Put together a spoiled princess and her snarky servant/best friend, a fae prince, a hunky guardsman and a big treaty conference at the kings’ castle attended by too many elves and you have the necessary ingredients for some situation comedy. Everyone gets their HEA and we get a few laughs. Light on the romance but a fun read.
“At Second Bite” by Michelle Rowen
The opening line in At Second Bite is indeed an opening line. Julia is approached at a singles bar by the handsome Evan who quickly admits that he is a vampire and that she is his reincarnated soul mate for whom he has been searching for 300 years. Yeah right. Julie hightails it out of the bar only to be confronted by Evans’ older roguish brother Henry who confirms Evans story. Only Henry wants her dead. And explains why – in detail.
There is plenty of Rowen’s trademark snappy dialogue in this tale of mistaken identity and soul mates. The outcome for each brother is unexpected (especially the bit about the pit bull terrier) and Julia gets her HEA. A light-hearted, slightly silly tale. What would you do if someone walked up to you and said they were a vampire?
“Blue Crush” by Rachel Caine
This is a Weather Warden story featuring lovers Joanna and David. Vacationing in Florida getting a little R&R they encounter some beach bullies in a funny scene which reminds you it’s best not to piss off a weather warden. Joanna takes care of business while David looks on in amusement.
But it is not all fun and games when they come to the rescue of a drowning girl only to confront a menace in the sea that even a weather warden has cause to fear. The close call reminds David how important Joanna is in his life, deeply reaffirming his love. A nice romantic interlude for fans of the series.
“The Wager” by Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Wager is a Lords of Avalon story and I am afraid it is strictly for the fans. Thomas Mallory is reminiscing about how he came to be incarcerated in the limbo of Avalon. It tells a story within a story. Meant to be a humorous piece, Thom recounts the lesson of one of the questions you do not ask a woman, particularly a female Merlin. This struck me as more of a piece of flash fiction than a fully constructed short story. The weakest of the entries so far.
“In Sheep’s Clothing” by Meljean Brook
Emma is returning to Pine Bluffs five years after becoming the victim of a werewolf attack. She is coming back to reclaim her lost love now that she has her new life under control. Her reuniting with Nathan, now the local sheriff comes sooner rather than later when she is attacked by a serial rapist/killer who has set a trap by shooting out her tire. Calling for his assistance, she survives the attack because of her werewolf strength and healing ability.
Her plan to reveal her true nature to Nathan is advanced when she decides to use her new senses to help him catch the killer. Would what they formerly had be destroyed and lost forever by the new knowledge? Would he understand and accept or would he think her a monster? Meljean Brook blends a taut action mystery with true romance for a very engaging tale. One of my favourite stories in the collection.
“The Dream Catcher” by Allyson James
In the baroque world of the Bor Narga, physical love and passion are not recognized and are even considered taboo. Although of high society, Natalia is cursed with desires that have become public knowledge, betrayed by her now deceased husband. Della a rival, has invited her to a party where a Dream Catcher that she has recently captured will be shown - a significant coup of the social circuit.
Despite her suspicions that the invitation is a trap to further shame and humiliate her, Natalia is intrigued. Indeed she is singled out for the Dream Catchers attentions and receives a small taste of the Dream Catcher’s magical abilities to fulfil any fantasy as a waking dream. Turning the tables on Della, Natalia engineers Ochen’s escape. Promises are made. When Ochen doesn’t return to her, Natalia sets out on a quest to find the elusive Dream Catcher.
More fantasy than paranormal, Dream Catcher nevertheless delivers an entertaining story of forbidden love, erotic romance and a satisfying HEA.