It took me a while to decide, but I think I can honestly say I’ve never read an anthology quite like Irregulars, four novellas from four talented authors who’ve woven each of their stories together to create an Urban Fantasy/Urban Fairy Tale world where goblins, vampires, brownies, fairies, pixies, demons, witches, and all other manner of extra-human creatures reside to tell the story of the NIAD, the NATO Irregular Affairs Division, the agency that regulates and manages mythical artifacts and all things magical.
Starting things off is the one author in the collection with whom I was unfamiliar, Nicole Kimberling. Her story, Cherries Worth Getting, does a great job of setting up the premise and the world building for the entire novella. If you buy this book and are at all tempted to read the stories out of order, don’t. I think it’s really important to read everything in sequence, not only because some characters overlap, but also because, well, this is really a fine story.
Keith Curry and Gunther Heartman are former lovers who are teamed up on a case involving culinary crimes—really disgusting culinary crimes, actually. Their break up wasn’t necessarily the end of a relationship; it was more the end of a “co-workers with benefits” arrangement that came about because Keith was carrying some really heavy baggage, and Gunther was keeping a fairly significant secret.
Though Keith doesn’t want to be partnered with Gunther again, their investigation into murder and black market protein draws the two men closer to catching the criminals, drawing them closer to each other as a result, as goblins, vampires, and humans provide the danger, and Keith and Gunther work to overcome the things that had torn them apart.
I thought this was a fast paced and well told story, a strong intro for the other authors to build upon but not overshadow as the rest of the tales unfold. – 4 Stars
A fae/human hybrid with a demon kink and an obsession with magical artifacts stars in Green Glass Beads, Josh Lanyon’s contribution to this compilation.
Archer Green is the curator of the Museum of State-Sanctioned Antiquities, who also was, at one time, affiliated with the more radical Society for the Rescue and Restoration of Indigenous Magic, which leaves him a prime target for Commander Rake’s scrutiny.
Rake is the new head of the Vancouver branch of NIAD, and he has more than a passing interest in Archer’s methods and reasons for collecting the artifacts he does. Archer has become Rake’s prime target to help prove that the SRRIM is still alive and thriving and participating in the illegal acquisition of highly dangerous artifacts. Rake has an axe to grind and he’s not above using Archer as his sharpening stone to do his job. But, Rake also has a secret of his own that hides behind his glamour.
The search for green glass beads, an artifact with very personal ties to Archer’s own ancestry, leads to danger, manipulation, and an act of betrayal that, in the end, provides for a touching reunion between Archer and Rake.
This was a sexy and satisfying read that also has a bit of a tie-in with Ginn Hale’s story. – 4 stars
Astrid Amara’s No Life but This kicked the WHOA! factor into overdrive for me in a murder mystery that tells the story of Deven Shaw, who, at the age of ten was sacrificed by his own father in a show of political loyalty to Lord Knife, the ruler of the underworld realm of Aztaw, at the time.
Deven’s father was the NIAD ambassador to Aztaw, and he allowed his boy to become a symbol of blind dedication to his cause, after Deven was kidnapped by Lord Knife’s rival, Lord Jaguar, and was then sentenced to death, an act the elder Shaw fully supported to further his own agenda.
An act of courage and quick thinking, something Lord Jaguar could respect, is the only thing that saved Deven’s life that day, and he spent more than a decade in Aztaw, training as an assassin and dreaming of the day he’d be rescued by NIAD agents, but eventually coming to the realization that he had no one or nothing to rely on but himself and his own willingness to survive.
Lord Jaguar’s death after he’d bestowed his house power to Deven led to a sacred vow and Deven’s eventual escape from Aztaw in order to fulfill that oath, but after so many of his informative years spent outside the human realm, his return to society leaves him uncertain of how to behave or react in a human way.
Being partnered with the surly and disagreeable Agent Silas August to investigate the murder of August’s partner Carlos, and Carlos’s sister, Beatriz, takes Deven to Mexico City, where a dark and sinister magic with connections to Aztaw puts the men directly on a path marked for death.
Deven is the prime target of Night Axe, Lord of Hurricanes, the bogeyman of Aztaw, who has returned from exile to steal the power that Deven possesses so he can claim control of a war torn and nearly decimated Aztaw. And Night Axe will use every means at his disposal, up to and including Agent August, to gain Deven’s compliance.
Astrid Amara’s brilliant imagination and vivid prose left me entirely in awe, from start to finish of this story. The relationship between Deven and August builds slowly and believably but the action and suspense is nothing short of driven, as the two men get closer and closer to resolving the mystery, something that could ultimately prove fatal for August, and leads both men to discover that there are things worth dying for, but there are also things very much worth living for.
A sinister betrayal also proves to Deven that one’s word is his bond, only when the one he’s given his word to is worthy of that loyalty.
I loved this one, plain and simple – 5 stars
Not to be outdone, and rounding out this anthology beautifully is Ginn Hale’s Things Unseen and Deadly, a story that just tugged at my heart strings in the most sublime way.
This is a story that loosely ties into all three of the other books, overlapping characters and storylines, and tells the tale of a revenant named Half-Dead Henry Falk, who works with NIAD in both the shade lands and the human realm, and the Stone of Fal, a sidhe legend revolving around a stone hidden within the body of a princess’s child, the child with the only legitimate claim to the sidhe throne.
Jason Shamir is a man who, as a young boy, witnessed the brutal murder of his father by goblins, a truth that led to years of psychiatric evaluation both in and out of mental institutions, and eventually led to him hiding the fact that he could see the truth, truths that no one else can see beneath the façade of the extra-human beings that walk in the human realm.
Jason holds a powerful magic within himself, one that he’s entirely unaware of, one that’s tied to synethesia, the ability to see shapes and color in music, a power that he will come to discover with Henry Falk’s help, a power that will come to light and reveal that Jason is very much more than the average and forgettable man he appears to be.
Henry and Jason are each so lonely and lost within their own worlds, but it’s the power Jason possesses to see the truth that lies at the core of men that gradually draws them closer together. Henry’s betrayal at the hands of the man he loved and whom he thought loved him in return led to a painful and bitter betrayal that left Henry straddling the realm between life and death, and left him unwilling and unable to see himself as being capable of trusting, let alone loving, again.
Greed and human trafficking leave Jason vulnerable to the dangers that await him in both the human and sidhe realms, and Henry makes it his personal mission, in life and in death, to protect Jason at all costs. Theirs is a relationship that becomes priceless in the only way a connection can be when a man who had nothing and gained everything is willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of the other. Theirs is a connection born in need and loneliness that will endure and strengthen together.
Things Unseen and Deadly left me wanting more of Henry and Jason. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Ginn Hale may resurrect them sometime in the future – 5 Stars
This was a thoroughly impressive collection of stories, a true collaboration in every single sense of the word. All four novellas tied together beautifully to make for one wildly entertaining read.
Available at Weightless Books