Novella Review: Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack

4 of 5 stars.

The mash-up of supernatural urban fantasy and detective noir works time and time again. For Chicago this means Harry Dresden. London has Bob Howard of Stross’ Equoid. Here, Pollack gives NYC a reality-bending, multiverse-traveling detective named Johnny Shade. His wife is dead [by a poltergeist] and his daughter trapped in the reality beyond. Johnny stays a half step ahead of doom and demise by a canny network of associates and lovers.

He’s oath-bound to accept any client with his card, which cannot be a good thing. Especially when his own self-created and later destroyed–or so he thought–doppelganger comes to hire Johnny Shade to “beat” the duplicate’s maker, ie Johnny himself. As the duplicate Johnny known as Johnny Rev tries to take substance from the realm of dreams, Shade turns to the help of his ex-lover the Dream Hunter who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a formerly worshipped sun god and the Queen of Eyes [oracle of oracles] . . .

The layers of the history and worlds upon worlds tantalizes as around every corner lies another Johnny Shade anecdote or past lesson learned or lucked through. This tale is highly recommended.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

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Novel Review: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)Death Masks by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective noir stories exhibit an enticing mix of swagger and self-doubt, sexiness and vulnerability. They provide something relatable, while yet inspiring toward the noble. All the better when said detective noir tale is read aloud by James Marsters–thank you audible.

The Dresden Files series is episodically enjoyable, and yet an increasingly complex overarching world that bring the detective noir genre to modern day Chicago with a wizard at the helm. Harry Dresden always has one foot in his mouth and another mired in trouble from either this reality or another realm of existence. He’s also usually aided by a few of his growing number of associates and acquaintances.

In this tale, his CPD partner Murphy takes a back seat as does the Fae realm of the Nevernever. Harry strives to solve an international theft of the Shroud of Turin that’s made its way into Chicago’s underworld. Thieves, priests and fallen angels are hot on the trail of this treasure. Not surprisingly, Knight of the Cross Michael partners up on this case, along with a couple new faces from his Order. Meanwhile, Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan the bitten-but-not-turned-yet vampire has returned to Chi-town right as a major noble of the Vampire Red Court descends to kill Harry for his part in the war between the Red Court and the Wizarding White Counsel.

Typical of these novels, the dual storylines weave into a frenzied tapestry with a few loose threads left dangling for later episodes. Romance, family, politics, magic and mystery each get an update here.

I recommend the entire series. I’ve previously read:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Novel Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Dresden is the quintessential modern day, wizarding detective. With one foot in Chicago, and the other kicking the supernatural world of the Fae called Nevernever, Harry is ever learning about broader worlds and politics that make Chicago’s look tame. The first few books in the series established Harry as a talented yet poor wizard that has to advertise his abilities to pay the rent. This includes working for the Chicago Police Department as a paid consultant in all things weird.

Early books hinted at Harry’s dark past in which he killed his mentor in self-defense, and fought to maintain his life and to retain his talent from the White Counsel that rules over all wizards. Vampire and Fae politics also ensnared him, while werewolves, pixies, demons and worse prowled, buzzed and bullied Chicago.

This strong addition to the series starts with a murder and climaxes with Harry trying to prevent all out war between the two main fairy factions. Considering that Book 3 saw him fail to keep the 3 vampire factions from declaring war on each other and against the White Counsel, this is no small order. The tale is highly recommended.

James Marsters read this tale to me thanks to Audible. I’ve previously read Butcher’s:
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
“Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Consolation” by John Kessel

3 of 5 stars.

Perennial political hot buttons topics, such as immigration, sovereignty, security and privacy, are turned on their heads in this speculative character piece set in a much altered North America that seems to have taken a page out of Europe’s playbook. The dissolution of the US followed the loss of Florida to sea change and Galveston to hurricanes. Texas went independent and the Sunbelt claims the mantle of Confederated Free America. New York and New England became Canadian provinces as did the Pacific coast states. While Alberta left Canada to merge with the former US mountain states. None of the newly reconfigured nations seem hip to immigration from the others.

Luckily, that is merely a backdrop to this tale driven by characters. Three vignettes follow different characters revealing the pulse of the new political climate. One works for Canada in the Boston area to investigate political dissidents and hackers. Another is a guilt-ridden activist that has to keep her head down, crossing the borders that she wants closed to keep ahead of the law. The third is an Alberta ex-pat that’s immigrated to New York, Canada. He considers himself above or beyond politics as his worry is immortality and paying for the treatments that’ll extend his life indefinitely.

The story is left oddly and yet intriguingly loose as the lives of the three characters are pulled together in unexpected ways.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of DeadAnd You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The noir voice lends itself well to both detectives and mercenaries who often have much in common. It provides the personal perspective and often vulnerability and heart to the trained body and mind. Here, the protagonist isn’t human at all, but the sentimentality inherent in the noir voice shows her weakness as the AI mercenary finds herself caring where she prides herself on being ruthless and detached.

Sentient AI and humans mix in the mobster-inundated, refuse-choked worlds of Jupiter’s moons. Rhye [the hired gun] and Rack [her cyber-savvy partner] find themselves on the wrong side of a job gone bad. Rack takes a body-ending bullet to the face, sending Rhye on a desperate journey to finish the job, save Rack’s consciousness, and not get killed herself.

The narration is gummed up with overly ubiquitous, noir-appropriate metaphors and the necessarily complicated relation of reality to cyber-reality. Despite the imaginative set-up, few surprises arise.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Cry Havoc” by Julie Frost

5 of 5 stars.

In urban fantasy, the battle between hunters and monsters skews toward the humans overcoming those that are other-than-human. But this moving tale provides the noir voice to an alpha werewolf who doesn’t lead his pack against humans, but loses his entire pack to fear-mongering human hunters. It subtly provides the argument for the rights of the predators [wolves, werewolves etc] in a balanced ecosystem.

Some members of the mutilated pack didn’t hunt at all, the others chased deer. But they were slaughtered regardless. The alpha licks his emotional wounds and heads to his favorite watering hole without a friend left in the world.

It was a working-class place filled with working-class people, and the odors of stale beer and cheap whiskey predominated.

I ordered a double Jack Daniels, straight up, and the cocktail waitress took one look at my expression and left the bottle. I didn’t know if I was drinking to remember, or forget. Either way, it wasn’t working.

It’s not long before bragging hunters wander into the pub and a desperate battle for survival starts. Also, an older human keeps an eye on everything transpiring through the village between wolf and hunter. His intentions with the alpha are mysterious and yet the interactions are moving.

This contest-winning tale appears in Writers of the Future 32 edited by David Farland. It’s illustrated by contest-winning artist, Vlada Monakhova. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “That Which is Hidden” which I likewise enjoyed.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Spirit of the Thing” by Simon R. Green

3 of 5 stars.

Modern day wizarding detectives have proliferated the past couple of decades with mixed results on the noir voice. This tale exists as an unnumbered vignette within Green’s Nightside series set within the fictional London neighborhood of Nightside, an occult Nocturne Alley that never leaves the bleak darkness of 3am.

Detective John Taylor makes his way to the worst of the dodgy Nightside pubs, The Jolly Cripple. where the proprietor solicits his help to solve an alcohol-tampering mystery. Without tension nor much research nor clues, the private eye has the answer. A Sherlock Holmes’ style deduction would be fun, but Taylor just cleanly looks into the heart of any matter using his Third Eye depriving the vignette of any excitement or cleverness.

Then, another mystery arises in the form of a ghost that wants the cause of her murder discovered. This potential climax is dispatched as fast as the first.

Little insight is given into the larger Nightside world and the protagonist gets little room for character development. Perhaps that is to be expected when 2 cases are solved in quick order in under 12 pages.

This tale appears in Street Magicks edited by Paula Guran. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. The short story was originally published in Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives [2011].
 
 
 
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