Blue Ribbon Rating: 4 out of 5Original Review Link
“Retribution Clause” by Ilona Andrews
When a successful — and much hated — lawyer murders his wife, POM insurance adjusters Adam and Siroun are called upon to fulfill the “retribution clause” in the dead woman’s insurance policy. But nothing is simple in post-shift Philadelphia; not even for insurance adjusters. And completing their obligation just might cost Adam his life.
I confess, I picked up the HEX APPEAL anthology for this story. Set in the world of Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, “Retribution Clause” follows Adam, a frost giant and cousin to the Kate Daniels character Saiman, and his partner Siroun, a woman who is more than what she seems. Like all of Ilona Andrews’s stories, “Retribution Clause” is filled with vivid imagery and fascinating twists and turns of the imagination. Siroun and Adam were interesting characters and the dynamic of their partnership was fantastic, making their story an irresistible read. Here’s hoping Siroun and Adam make their way to Kate’s Atlanta, because “Retribution Clause” left me wanting to see more of these two.
“Holly’s Balm” by Rachel Caine
Resurrection witch Holly Caldwell has a strong stomach, but the case she’s helping out with is one of the most gruesome she’s ever seen. A serial killer is bringing his victims back from the dead so that he can torture and murder them all over again. If hunting a murderer wasn’t difficult enough, a twist in the case has potentially deadly consequences for Holly’s lover, the recently resurrected Andy Toland.
I absolutely loved “Holly’s Balm.” Author Rachel Caine has penned a unique story that made me eager to snap up Holly and Andy’s first story, “Death Warmed Over.” At the heart of “Holly’s Balm” is Andy and Holly’s relationship. Holly constantly feels like her relationship with Andy is running on borrowed time and the sense of urgency, the specter of potential loss, had me avidly turning the pages of the story, desperate to see if things would work out for Holly and Andy. The case Holly and Andy are thrown into is undeniably horrid. Ms. Caine throws intriguing twists and turns into the story throughout this case and the building adrenaline makes for one heck of a climax to “Holly’s Balm.” I finished the story a well-satisfied reader and I cannot wait to read more of Ms. Caine’s work.
“Outside the Box” by P. N. Elrod
Marsha Goldfarb is a low-level witch working for The Company, and it’s her job to register and help orient new vampires. But for Marsha and her vampire partner Ellinghaus, what should have been a regular night at work turns into something far more complicated.
Even vampires and witches can’t escape bureaucracy in P. N. Elrod’s world. I liked the premise of “Outside the Box”and found myself wanting to learn more about The Company and the various kinds of vampires mentioned in this story. “Outside the Box” is a bit of a slow-starter, but when it picks up it’s an engaging read. There’s definite chemistry between Marsha and Ellinghaus and I’d really like to read more about these two.
“The Arcane Art of Misdirection” by Carrie Vaughn
Blackjack dealer Julie had thought she’d seen it all, but for the past two nights someone’s been cheating at her table and she can’t figure out how. If that wasn’t strange enough, Vegas magician Odysseus Grant shows up and shows her that there’s more to the world than meets the eye. Julie’s life will never be the same.
Illusions abound in “The Arcane Art of Misdirection.” I loved the concept that there’s magic all around us, only that we miss it because we don’t expect to see it. Julie and Grant’s hunt to find a cheater with magical powers is utterly engaging and Carrie Vaughn’s writing made me feel like I was actually in the story alongside Julie and Grant.
Odysseus Grant is a character in Ms. Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, and I have to say, I liked both him and Ms. Vaughn’s writing style enough that I’m definitely adding the first Kitty Norville book to my “to be bought” list. Here’s hoping Ms. Vaughn brings Julie into the series as well, for she and Grant are a great pair with lots of potential.
HEX APPEAL is an urban fantasy sampler that is sure to please fans of its nine authors and should provide great introductions to the work of the authors whom readers are unfamiliar with. Almost all of the stories in HEX APPEAL appear to come from established series, but having only read Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series and Erica Hayes’s Shadowfae Chronicles I can safely say that most of the stories can be read as standalones. The only one in which I felt like I was missing something by not reading the series was Carole Nelson Douglas’s “Snow Job.”
Aside from the four stories highlighted in this review, there are five more diverse worlds to explore, including a Dresden Files short story from genre heavy hitter Jim Butcher, a rather unusual — to someone who has not read the series — Nightside offering from Simon R. Green, Delilah Street and Phoenix Chronicles stories from Carole Nelson Douglas and Lori Handeland respectively, and a sassy Shadowfae Chronicles adventure from Erica Hayes. All in all, I recommend HEX APPEAL to urban fantasy enthusiasts — it’s a satisfying collection that whets the appetite for more.
Note: My review was written for Romance Junkies and is cross-posted here courtesy of Romance Junkies.