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Sustenance, the latest of the Saint Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, is in many ways a typical Saint Germain novel - we have the Count, now calling himself Ragoczy Ferenz, Grof Szent-Germain, his manservant and companion, the immortal ghoul known as Roger, an intelligent woman in some degree of distress who forms an attachment with Saint Germain, and a historical place and period of considerable conflict and sociopolitical upheaval which can present a believable threat to the wealthy and powerful but always precariously placed immortal exile.

The style is familiar too, to any fan of Yarbro's invincible vampire - narrative interspersed with letters and documents which often give the reader insights that the main characters may never be aware of.

The time and place, while historical for many readers, are just barely in the past for many of Yarbro's older readers - Paris and the Northeastern US in the late 40s and early 50s, at the beginning of the Cold War and the reign of fear perpetrated by Hoover and McCarthy, among others, in the US.

The story focuses on the activities of a group of American academics forced out of their university positions and into exile due to suspicions of their being Communist sympathisers - however, even the most radical of the bunch seem simply to be left-wings free-thinkers who don't understand why Russia should suddenly be an enemy not an ally.

As academics, most have a powerful need to publish - not only for their livelihood, but also for the love of research. And Grof Szent-Germain owns publishing houses under the Eclipse imprint all around the world, with long list of academic publications under their belt. When Charis Treat, a historian who made the mistake of researching the medieval commune movement, approaches him about looking at her own manuscript - and possibly those of a few of her friends, Szent-Germain is drawn into the duplicitous and dangerous world of American intelligence, the feud between FBI and CIA, and the insanity of the Communist witch hunt. And Szent-Germain has much to hide - though nothing like what the operatives swirling around the ex-pat Americans imagine.

A sobering novel for Yarbro's readers, yet bearing within it the inevitable promise of a new life rising from ashes.
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Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Keiner, is a vampire anthology with a twist. The theme that ties them all together is the idea of birthdays - birthday parties, birthday gifts, public or private ways of commemorating birthdays.

I picked this anthology up because it had a Henry Fitzroy story by Tanya Huff (Blood Wrapped, in which Henry and Tony hunt monsters and debate what to give Vicky for her 40th) and a Garnet Lacey story by Tate Halloway aka Lyda Morehouse (Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two, in which Garnet and Sebastien encounter some unnatural weather en route to Sebastien's birthday dinner). While that's enough reason for me to acquire an anthology of vampire stories, there were quite a few other tasty treats on hand, most notably stories by several other authors whose well-known vampire series I'd always meant to try but hadn't yet.

I know this may be difficult to believe of someone who really likes vampire lore, but this collection was my introduction to Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse universe, in the rather amusing Dracula Night, where the birthday in question is that of the great Vlad Tepes himself. In The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, I met Rachel Caine's Morganville vampires, and found myself in great sympathy with a young woman who chooses not to accept her family's vampire Protector on her 18th birthday. And, while I've always meant to read the Harry Dresden series - and did watch and enjoy the short-lived TV show based on the books - the Dresden tale in this anthology, It's My Birthday Too, which features Harry's vampire brother and a nasty after-hours dust-up in the local mall, was my first foray into Jim Butcher's work. Also new to me was P. N. Elrod's vampire detective Jack Fleming, who takes on a fake medium with plans for his victim's birthday in Grave-robbed. Kelley Armstrong contributed Twilight, a short story set in her Women of the Otherworld series featuring Clarissa duCharme, whose birthday into her vampiric life brings with it a requirement she is having trouble fulfilling.
Completing the anthology were various stand-alone stories, some of them by first-time vampire fiction writers.

Most of the stories in this collection fall into the category of paranormal fantasy or supernatural romance, with sex and humour filling out the spaces between blood-drinking and death - including Jeanne C. Stein's The Witch and The Wicked, Bill Crider's I Was a Teenage Vampire, and one of my favourites, Elaine Viets' Vampire Hours, a revenge fantasy about a woman who finds a unique way to get back at a cold, controlling and adulterous spouse. Several, of course, are about vampire detectives of one sort or another - though not always exactly urban fantasy, as in the case of Toni Kelner's How Stella Got Her Grave Back, in which 82-year-old Stella returns to the small town where she was born and died, only to solve the murder of the unknown woman buried in what had been her own grave.

Two of the stories - The Mournful Cry of Owls by Christopher Golden, about a young woman who discovers the truth about herself on her 16th birthday, and Carolyn Haines' The Wish, about a woman who sees Death - fall into the realm of more classic supernatural horror, and perhaps for this reason are two of the strongest entries.

All in all, it was a fun bit of reading, and if none of the stories are masterpieces of supernatural fiction, certainly all of them were entertaining.

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Intisar Khanani has a gift for creating strong and interesting female protagonists - as it was with the main character of her novel Thorn, I was immediately captivated by the young, courageous and resourceful heroine of her novella Sunbolt, which is the opening chapter in a series.

Hitomi, an orphan struggling to survive as a thief and as a jack-of-all-trades (often passing as a young boy), lives in Karolene - a city with a strong Asian feel to it, from the tropical fruits in the market and the fishing dhows in the harbour to the occasional mentions of a sultan who seems removed from his people and possibly under the thumb of a powerful and cruel mage named Blackflame. Hitomi is also part of a revolutionary cadre known as the Shadow League, led by a charismatic young man known as Ghost.

Hitomi is also, unknown to anyone, a mostly untrained mage, in a land where anyone with the Promise, as such gifts are called, who is not formally trained as a child is doomed to consent to being a "source" for other trained mages, or have her magic taken from her. What training she has was given secretly by her parents, both mages themselves, before they died.

The novella is somewhat of an "origin story" - a fast-paced and absorbing introduction to Hitomi, the world she lives in, and the people - friends, comrades, foes, and others with more ambiguous roles - who will presumably play significant parts in her story as it unfolds in future chapters. Conspiracies, secrets and mysteries are revealed, or at least suggested, as the events of this first installment point toward exciting developments to come. I'm quite eager to read more of Hitomi's story.

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the story that unfolds in Drew Hayden Taylor's The Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel, is on the surface quite simple. Once, long ago, an adventurous young Anishnabe boy ran away from his home and persuded fur traders to take him to Montreal; from there he was taien to France as an amusement for the court of the King. Soon enough he discovered that he longed to be home again, but instead he fell sick with a disease his people had never been exposed to - measles - and as he lay dying, something else his people had never known came to him and gave him a second life as a vampire. Now, some 350 years later, Pierre L'Errant has finally come home to the modern-day reserve of Otter Lake, where his village once stood. And here he changes the future of an unhappy young Anishnabe girl who sees nothing in her life worth living for.

A fascinating blending of an ancient European myth-figure and a contemporary coming-of-age and dealing with trauma YA story, the overriding theme that brings both vampire and human teen together is the need to reconnect to one's roots, one's culture, one's history. For the vampire, the connection is what allows him, at last, to die. For the teenager, a vision of the history and place she shares with her ancestors gives her the desire to live.

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With 20-odd books in the Saint Germain series, by now one knows what to expect - impeccable historical detail surrounding yet another of the ancient vampire's travels and adventures. I love these books, and Night Pilgrims delivers all of the trademarks of Yarbro's successful blend of the historical and the supernatural.

It's 1225, not long after the Fifth Crusade, and Saint Germain is back in Egypt, living as a secular guest in a Coptic monastery while attempting to minister to the medical needs of the community's elder. Political developments, both internal to the monastery (the ambitious monk who seeks to become the community leader and is suspicious of Saint Germain's true nature and intentions) and external (unrest stemming from the advance of Ghenghis Khan) make it necessary for the Count to leave his place of refuge. Fortunately, a party of European Christian pilgrims require a guide in their journey south along the Nile to sacred sites in Ethiopia. The Count, a well-travelled polyglot with great skill as a healer, is the perfect choice.

The novel details the world of medieval Egypt through which the group of pilgrims pass with painstaking detail, and I must admit that this for me is one of the greatest draws of the Saint Germain novels. The other draw is the idea of Saint Germain, the millennias-old being who has seen the rise and fall of civilisations, the best and worst that humans can contrive - and still moves among them with pity and compassion. The vampire healer. The peacemaker (when possible) who needs blood to survive. The eternal contradiction.

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I did a lot of catching up with various series in 2013. The Completed series:

David Anthony Durham, the Acacia series
Acacia: The Other Lands
Acacia: The Sacred Band

N. K. Jemisin, the Inheritance series
The Broken Kingdoms
Kingdom of the Gods

Christopher Paolini, the Inheritance series

Glenda Larke, the Mirage Makers series
The Shadow of Tyr
The Song of the Shiver Barrens

Charles Saunders, the Imaro series
Imaro: The Naama War

C. J. Cherryh, the Chanur Saga
Chanur's Homecoming
Chanur's Legacy

Elizabeth Bear, Jacob's Ladder series

Kage Baker, The Company series
Not Less Than Gods
(Probably the last, given Baker's untimely death)

Michael Thomas Ford, Jane Austen, Vampire series
Jane Goes Batty
Jane Vows Vengeance

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Last year was a year for historical novels of many flavours. I've already discussed the historical mysteries I enjoyed, but there were other multi-genre historical novels to be read kast year.

I finally caught up with Diana Gabaldon's twin historical-tine travel fantasy series, just in time for the upcoming release of the next Outlander novel. I'm looking forward to that, and also, I hope, to more of the Lord John books. 

Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
Diana Gabaldon, The Scottish Prisoner
Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone

Another multi-genre book I happened across was Paula Brackston's now-and-then historical/paranormal fantasy novel The Witch's Daughter. Told in two different times, it's the story of a woman whose mother was hanged as a witch in 1628 and who survives into modern times by learning witchcraft herself from a powerful but vengeful warlock. Brackston seems to have written several more books in a similar vein, and this one was interesting enough that I anticipate reading more of her books.

Then there was the somewhat unclassifiable Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, by Robin Maxwell, who is known for her historical novels. Jane is a retelling of the Tarzan story from the perspective of the woman who loves and civilises him, but Maxwell makes Jane even more interesting and unconventional than Edgar Rice Burroughs managed to do (and considering his times, and his focus on Tarzan as his hero her actually did rather well at it). A cross between historical fantasy and literary hommage, Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan should delight ERB fans and feminists alike.

And finally, I read two more novels in Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's marvellous historical vampire series. As ever, I enjoyed these novels greatly, both for the historical accuracy and for the chance to experience yet more chapters in the endlessly fascinating life of the Count Saint Germain. 

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, A Dangerous Climate
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Commedia della Morte

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It seems that there has been a recent rebirth of the novella. I've been finding all sorts of books that are collections of three or four novella-length pieces - most of them in the urban fantasy and paranormal romance categories. Also, some publishing houses, notably Subterranean Press and Aquaduct Press, have been publishing a number of works in the novella to short novel range. And one finds novella-length pieces on various author and magazine websites all over the net. In the list below of novellas I've devoured this past year, if a novella was not acquired as a standalone publication (paper or edoc), I've tried to indicate the name of the book, or website I found it in/on.

As for the novellas themselves, there's quite a range. Many of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance novellas are much of a muchness. I was delighted to find a novella by Michelle Sagara set in her Cast universe, and found the novellas by Yasmine Galenorn and C. E. Murphy interesting enough that I intend to explore their novels.

On the other hand, I was very excited to read more tales set in Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam - Abigail Irene Garrett is a character I am very fond of. The same is true of the late and much lamented Kage Baker's steampunk sequence of novellas associated with her Company books. And I do like Diana Gabaldon's Lord John sequence of novels and novellas. And my devouring of Margaret Frazer's published oeuvre would not have been complete without the domina Frevisse novella.

Marjorie M. Liu, The Tangleroot Palace (Never After)
Marjorie M. Liu, Armor of Roses (Inked)
Marjorie M. Liu, Hunter Kiss (Wild Thing)

Yasmine Galenorn, The Shadow of Mist (Never After)
Yasmine Galenorn, Etched in Silver (Inked)

Mercedes Lackey, A Tangled Web (Harvest Moon)
Mercedes Lackey, Moontide (Winter Moon)
Mercedes Lackey, Counting Crows (Charmed Destinies)

Rachel Lee, Drusilla's Dream (Charmed Destinies)
Catherine Asaro, Moonglow (Charmed Destinies)
Michelle Sagara West, Cast in Moonlight (Harvest Moon) 
Cameron Haley, Retribution (Harvest Moon)
Karen Chance, Skin Deep (Inked)
Eileen Wilkes, Human Nature (Inked)
Maggie Shayne, Animal Magnetism (Wild Thing)
Meljean Brook, Paradise (Wild Thing)
Tanith Lee, Heart of the Moon (Winter Moon)
C. E. Murphy, Banshee Cries (Winter Moon)
Sharon Shinn, The Wrong Bridegroom (Never After)

Elizabeth Bear, In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns (Asimov's)
Elizabeth Bear, Seven For A Secret
Elizabeth Bear, The White City
Elizabeth Bear, Ad Eternum

Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Succubus (via author's website)
Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (via author's website)
Diana Gabaldon, The Custom of the Army (via author's website)
Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Plague of Zombies (via author's website)

Margaret Frazer, Winter Heart (Smashwords)

Kage Baker, Rude Mechanicals
Kage Baker, Nell Gwynne's On Land and At Sea
Kage Baker, Speed, Speed the Cable

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Some interesting anthologies and collections of short stories came my way last year. The anthologies included two nicely edited theme anthologies by John Joseph Adams (dystopias and homages to Barsoom), a vamipre themed antholgy edited by Nancy Kilpatrick, a survey of urban fantasy edited by Peter Beagle and a dragon-themed anthology edited by Jack Dann.

Of particular interest were two volumes edited or co-edited by Connie Wilkins: the second volume in a new annual series of anthologies featuring short stories with lesbian protagonists; and an uneven but engaging selection of alternate history short stories with a focus on queer protagonists as nexi of change.

I was also delighted to be able to obtain a copy of an anthology edited by Nisi Shawl of short stories written by authors of colour who attended Clarion as Octavia E. Butler Scholars. The anthology was offered by the Carl Brandon Society for a limited time as a fund-raising project and is no longer available.

Peter Beagle (ed.), The Urban Fantasy Anthology
John Joseph Adams (ed.), Under the Moons of Mars
John Joseph Adams (ed.), Brave New Worlds
Nancy Kilpatrick (ed.), Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead
Jack Dann (ed.), The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Nisi Shawl (ed.), Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars
Connie Wilkins & Steve Berman (eds.), Heiresses of Russ 2012
Connie Wilkins (ed.), Time Well-Bent: Queer Alternative Histories

I also read several collections this year, including two more volunes from PM Press's Outspoken Authors series, featuring work by and interviews with Nalo Hopkinson and Kim Stanley Robinson.

Other collections of works by SFF writers included: a set of novellas from Mercedes Lackey featuring two familiar characters, Jennifer Talldeer and Diana Tregarde, and a new heroine, techno-shaman Ellen McBride; a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Bear featuring forensic sorcerer Abigail Irene Garrett; short stories by Maureen McHugh; and forays ibto the fantasy realm of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

In honour of Alice Munro, this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature, I read a collection of her more recent short stories (and plan on reading several more in the coming months - I've always loved her work and am delighted that she has been so deservedly recognised). Also worthy of note was Drew Hayden Taylor's collection of stories set among the residents of the fictional Otter Lake First Nations reserve, and Margaret Laurence's short stories set in Ghana. In the realm of historical fiction, There were stories by Margaret Frazer featuring medieval nun and master sleuth Dame Frevisse; I discovered and devoured Frazer's novels last year, and will speak of them in a later post.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Lucky Strike 
Nalo Hopkinson, Report from Planet Midnight
Mercedes Lackey, Trio of Sorcery
Elizabeth Bear, Garrett Investigates
Maureen McHugh, After the Apocalypse
Lloyd Alexander, The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain

Margaret Laurence, The Tomorrow-Tamer
Margaret Frazer, Sins of the Blood
Drew Hayden Taylor, Fearless Warriors
Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

All in all, I found a wide range of short fiction to enjoy this year.

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I follow a lot of authors who write both science fiction and fantasy series. New volumes in ongoing series read in 2012:

Tanya Huff, The Wild Ways

The second novel about the Gale family, whose women are strangely gifted and powerful and whose men - rare in a family of many sisters, aunties and nieces - are the embodiment of the Horned God. The full story of what and who the Gales are is slowly unfolding as Huff tells stories about its various members, and I'm sure there is more to come.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Lord Vorpatril's Alliance

Now that Miles Vorkosigan is settled into a title, important court function and family, Bujold has turned her attention to one of the people in Miles' inner circle. An improvement on Cryoburn, largely because the new focus lets Bujold play wild games with her characters again.

Elizabeth Moon, Echoes of Betrayal

This follow-up series to Moon's Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter series just keeps developing more and more twists and taking a wider scope with each volume. I'm thinking by the end that we will know a lot more about the history and future of this world, and that's a good thing.

Charles R. Saunders, The Trail of Bohu (Revised)

The third volume of Saunders' exceptional Imaro series was first published decades ago, and revised recently now that the new era of self-publishing has finally allowed him to complete the series. Although I had read the original version when it was first published, between revisions and the passage of time, thiswas very much a new book for me. And it sets up the coming confrontation between Imaro and his life-long enemies very well.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Burning Shadows

Somehow I never tire of the Count Saint Germain, warrior, healer, alchemist, vampire. This one is set in 5th century Hungary and Romania, where the Count faces the coming of the Huns.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Silence
Michelle Sagara, Cast in Chaos
Michelle Sagara, Cast in Ruin

Finally almost caught up with Sagara West's Elantra Chronicles featuring Private Keylin Neya.

Todd McCaffrey, Dragongirl
Todd and Anne McCaffrey, Dragon’s Time
Todd McCaffrey, Sky Dragons

Fare thee well to Anne McCaffrey, creator of Pern and other worlds. I've been reading her work for most of my life, it seems, and while I have issues with her gender politics, still I can't ignore what a key figure she was in science fiction. And as Todd McCaffery cones into his own as inheritor of his mother's creations, I'm hoping to see more originality and more of the greater awareness of sexual and gender diversity and equality that he has been bringing to the series.

Kevin Hearne, Hexed
Kevin Hearne, Hammered
Kevin Hearne, Tricked
Kevin Hearne, Two Ravens and One Crow (novella)
Kevin Hearne, Trapped

Atticus O'Sullivan (born Siodhachan O Suileabhain), the 2000 year-old Druid with a sharp wit and enough magical power to take on a god or two, is one of the most enjoyable new characters I've encountered in some time. The Iron Druid Chronicles are fast-paced and truly funny. I hope Hearne has quite a few more brewing in the back of his mind.
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It's always a joy to find a new author whose work intrigues, delights, entertains, or amuses. This year, new authors (and the books that called to me) included:

J. M. Frey, Triptych

Frey's debut novel knocked my socks off. Well written, with characters that come alive, a riveting plot told in an original way, and a careful exploration of gender, race and cultural integration. Loved it.

David Anthony Durham, Acacia: The War with the Mein

First volume of a series that I will definitely have to finish, a sweeping epic of empires and prophesies, politics and war.

N. K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Jemisen's book is another superior entry in the genre of epic fantasy, all the more so because of her highly original style and approach to the matter of moribund empires and supernatural forces that form the basic framework of such novels. Again, a series that I'm looking forward to finishing.

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

And how could I not read the YA sensation that everyone else and her cat is reading? Enjoyable if somewhat derivative of many books that have gone before it. The author does well at giving Katniss a true and consistent voice.

Malinda Lo, Ash
Malinda Lo, Huntress

Both of Lo's YA fantasies have been long-listed for James Tipree Jr. Awards, which is always in my mind a formidable argument for checking out a new book. In these books, Lo creates a high fantasy world of humans, elves, ghosts and assorted things that go bump in the night, where her characters can find their own destinies, seking adve ture while challenging gender roles and sexual identities. More, please, Ms. Lo.

Nalini Singh, Angel’s Blood
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Kiss
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Consort
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Blade
Nalini Singh, Angel’s Flight

Singh's books are my newest guilty pleasures. There's actually a lot I don't like about these books, including some very questionable gender isues abd waaaay too much not very original sex. I hate the plot about the spunky woman and the arrogant man who hate each other on sight until he beats her up and then they have mind-blowing sex and stay together despite the fact that he never really repects her as an equal. And these novels are full of that kind of shit. But there's also a very interesting world to explore here, with humans being governed and controlled by powerful winged beings called angels, even though they pretty much lack any compassion or other such angelic qualities, and their servants, the vampires, who are humans infused with a special angelic secretion. It's very much a 'red in tooth and fang' kind of world, with naked power plays all over the place, and that's the bit that fascinates me. So I read them and love to hate them.

Nathan Long, Jane Carver of Waar

And this book, which already has a sequel on the way, is just plain fun. A John Carter of Mars scenario turned upside down, Jane Carver is a biker chick on the lam after accidentally killing a guy who was harrassing her. She finds a secret cave, is transported to a distant low-gravity planet, and the typical Barsoomian-style adventures ensue. Burroughs fans who don't mind gender-bending should love this. Goreans will cringe. And that's a good thing.

Kameron Hurley, Brutal Women

This collection of science fictional short stories by the author of the Bel Dame Apocrypha (a series that I now know I must read) is certainly well-named. Not for the faint of heart, these stories explore women (and other beings of other genders) in the midst of violence - physical, emptional, psychological - and their reactions to such environments. Worth reading and thinking about.

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This year I read the final volumes in some series I had enjoyed: Jes Battis' interesting and original urban fantasies featuring Occult Special Investigator Tess Corday; the Vampire Princess of St. Paul series, a young adult urban fantasy about witches and vampires in the twin cities, by Tate Hallaway aka Lyda Morehouse; and the angels of Samaria series by Sharon Shinn.

While these series did come to conclusions that seemed appropriate, I rather hope that I'll see Tess Corday again, and I do want to see what lies in the future of the first Vampire Queen.

Jes Battis, Bleeding Out

Tate Hallaway, Almost Final Curtain
Tate Hallaway, Almost Everything

Sharon Shinn, Angel-seeker
Sharon Shinn, Angelica

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The genre of fantasy is rapidly subdividing these days, and I'm not entirely certain what the distinctions are any more. I am sticking with urban fantasy as something that ha
a definition of urban fantasy as something that involves humans interacting with non-humans (vampires, demons, werewolves, elves, whatever) and the use of magic or psychic powers virtually indistinguishable from magic, in an urban setting that is directly based on real world settings (modern-day Toronto or Chicago or whatever). It may involve crimes or mysteries, or it may involve supernatural romance. Or both. I"m not all that fussy.

Jes Battis, Inhuman Resources

Battis' OSI series has held my interest through three volumes to date, and I have the fourth in my TBR pile. The premise is that there is an investigative force, CORE, complete with Occult Special Investigators, that is charged with the responsibility of dealing with all sorts of non-human and occult communities (vampires, necromancers, sorcerers, and so on) secretly co-existing with "normate" human society, investigating crimes involving members of these communities, and keeping the whole business quiet so those ordinary humans can never know. The stories focus on OSI Tess Corday, a woman of mixed heritage (and by that I mean human and demon) and her investigative partner (and roommate) Derrick Siegel. Together they solve crimes! - with the aid of an interesting collection of supporting characters, of course. But behind the episodic nature of the occult crime procedural is a sweeping arc that has to do with Tess' demon heritage.

Katharine Kerr, Licence to Ensorcell

With her lengthy Deverry Cycle epic fantasy series completed, Kerr has decided to explore the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre, and in my opinion she quite nails it with this first volume in the new Nola O'Grady series. O'Grady is a an operative with a secret agenct whose mandate you can probably figure out right away, and her new case is to find a serial killer targeting werewolves. It's personal - O'Grady's brother was one of the victims. Her partner on the case is a hard-boiled Isreali operative, assigned to work with her because the serial killer has claimed victims in both Israel and the US. I like this new series, and the next volume is in my infamous TBR pile.

J. A. Pitts, Black Blade Blues

This is a first novel from author J. A. Pitts, and there is some roughness to it, but the premise - a lesbian blacksmith who moonlights as a props manager and is part of a medieval reenactment society - was not the sort of thing I could resist. And there are dragons! To continue the refrain, the next volume is in my TBR pile.

Kevin Hearne, Hounded

Another first novel, and a very fine one too. But how could I resist a novel about the last of the Druids, currently living in Arizona under the unlikely name of Atticus O’Sullivan. The rest of the cast of characters includes his Irish wolfhound, a werewolf and a vampire who happen to be his lawyers, several Celtic deities, the spirit of an ancient Hindu sorceress and a coven of witches. And it's funny too - Hearne has a pleasantly dry wit that is well integrated into the style and storytelling. The next volumes is... oh, you know where it is.

Tate Hallaway, Almost to Die For

You, constant reader, already know that I think very highly of Lyda Morehouse's work, and of course you are aware that Tate Hallaway is the name Morehouse uses for her contemporary supernatural urban romance fantasy work (did I cover all the bases there?). This is the first volume in a new YA series about a teenaged girl whose father happens to be the leader of the vampires in her city, and by vampire tradition, that makes her his heir. I liked it, and... you guessed it, the next volume is in my TBR pile.

Tate Hallaway, Honeymoon of the Dead

And, to balance all these new series, this is the last volume in Morehouse/Hallaway's Garnet Lacey series. Garnet and her vampire lover Sebastian von Traum are finally married - but Garnet's past gets in the way of their planned honeymoon in Transylvania. A good ending to an enjoyable series. No more volumes to put in my TBR file. Sniff.

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Like many other people these days, I have a deep appreciation and affection for the work of Jane Austen. I've re-read all of the published novels several times, and collect the various versions of the films and TV movies that have been based on her books. I am a little more picky about which of the many "inspired by Austen" novels that have been hitting the market in ever-increasing numbers, but I do read some, when the fancy takes me.

Jane Austen & Seth Grahame Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This was, as many people seem to agree, a lot of fun, but I fear the idea did not delight me sufficiently to cause me to go and buy all the other versions of classics with interpolated fantasy elements that are (were?) such a fad for a while. Best part of this one? - the martial arts battle between Lady de Burgh and Elizabeth Bennett.

Carrie Bebris, Suspense and Sensibility

Bebris has written a series of mysteries in which Elizabeth and Darcy solve crimes involving both the other characters from Pride and Prejudice and characters related to or featured in the other novels. I rather enjoyed the conceit of this one, in which a member of the fictional Dashwood family from Sense and Sensibility is possessed by his ancestor, the historical Francis Dashwood, notorious founder of The Hellfire club (well, one of them, but certainly the one best known to posterity). Unfortunately, Bebris does not, at least in my opinion, get the "voice" of the Austen characters quite right and this left me a little disappointed. I may or may not investigate the other books in this series.

Michael Thomas Ford, Jane Bites Back

This was delicious. Jane Austen as a vampire, turned by no other than Lord Byron, living in modern times and trying to get a new novel published. I enjoyed Ford's take on an Austen who has survived into modern times and seen her books rise in popularity and critical acclaim, and plan to pick up the sequel.

Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club

Fowler's conceit in this book is fascinating - the novel follows a diverse set of characters in a book club devoted to Jane Austen, their interactions with each other and with the texts they are reading and discussing. Parallels naturally emerge, but the relationships and resonances are subtle. Well worth reading.

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Patricia Briggs:
Moon Called
Blood Bound

Moon Called and Blood Bound are the first two novels in Patricia Briggs’ urban fantasy series featuring Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson, a not-quite-human auto mechanic raised by werewolves. She herself is a shapeshifter, but of a kind known in indigenous North American traditions, not European ones – a skinwalker. Her animal shape is that of a coyote, she doesn’t have the great strength of the werewolf but she is not bound by the moon, is faster than ordinary humans, is resistant to certain kinds of magic and can see and talk to ghosts.

In Mercy Thompson’s world, the supernatural beings – fae, werewolves, vampires and others – are in the process of revealing themselves to ordinary humankind, because it is becoming harder and harder to keep their existence a secret. At the beginning of the series, only the lesser fae have done this, but other kinds of non-humans are dealing with the question of how to respond to the increasing problems they are having in remaining undetected, and what changes may be necessary to old habits and traditions in either keeping hidden for now, or in revealing themselves without sparking fear and potential retaliation from humans.

There’s a lot of neat things to commend the series, but there’s also one huge thing that is potentially poison – Mercy gets very close to both werewolves and vampires, in a way that I find just a little too reminiscent of the early Anita Blake books, although with much less actual sex. However, there is a fair amount of focus on dominance issues, the Alpha wolf of the local community declaring Mercy to be his mate at least in name, and how that affects her relationship with his pack, the politics of the local vampire community (Briggs uses the nomenclature “seethe” for a group of vampires related by loyalty to one master), the relationships between pack and were, her friendship with one of the more powerful local vampires, all of the things that made Hamilton’s books interesting at first and then made them intolerable once she’d gone too far with it all.

So far, Briggs is avoiding the pitfalls, and I’m enjoying the series quite a lot, but I’m reading with caution.
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A Mortal Glamour, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

In A Mortal Glamour, Yarbro turns her not inconsiderable talents at researching and writing historical fantasy to a story of sexual tensions and repressed longings – for love, for freedom – and their consequences in the tightly controlled environment of a Catholic convent during a time of social and religious unrest.

It is the 14th century, the time of the Avignon popes, when Catholicism was split between two competing political factions within the Church. Plague is abroad in Europe. Groups of wandering, often violent adherents of assorted heresies have created an internal threat, while the Eastern borders of Europe are once again facing invasion, driven by the migratory pressures that have periodically pushed new populations westward out of Central Asia.

Trouble is brewing in a remote French convent, la Tres Saunte Annunciation. A young nun, Seur Angelique, child of a wealthy family, in love with an unsuitable young man, rages against the unyielding father who has given her an ultimatum – marry an older man she fears and despises for dynastic reasons, or face permanent incarceration in this community of religious women, many of whom are not themselves in possession of a true vocation. Into this unstable set of circumstances comes a new Mother Superior, who may not be exactly what she seems.

Yarbro has written a fascinating account of the consequences of mixing religious hysteria with sexual repression, and if, in this work of fantasy, she gives a supernatural flavour to the proximate cause of the events she recounts, the underlying causes are clearly delineated.

Fascinating reading.

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Saint-Germain: Memoirs – Tales of the Vampire Saint Germain by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Saint-Germain: Memoirs is a collection of shorter fiction – two short stories, two novelettes and a novella – presenting incidents in the long life of Yarbro’s immortal hero-vampire. Like her first short story collection of featuring the vampire, The Saint-Germain Chronicles, the stories here cover a wide span of years, from ancient Greece to modern times. In fact, it is only in these two collections – at least so far – that we have any glimpse of how a 4,000 year old vampire copes in the present day, which is one of the things that make these collections particularly enjoyable. At least to me, seeing Saint-Germain in modern times brings the vampire closer to the reader and opens up the sense of wonder, the possibility of great mysteries hiding in the mundane world we all think we know.

My favourite pieces are the two short stories – both deal with encounters between Saint-Germain and women who stand up for themselves. While most of the Saint-Germain narratives involve complex relationships with interesting women, the stories that interest me the most are those in which Saint-Germain becomes involved with women who began from a position of inner strength, regardless of their circumstances and whatever situations bring them into the vampire’s path. In the first story of this collection, Saint-Germain’s path briefly crosses that of one of the most well-known “shrews” of ancient history, Xanthippe, wife of Socrates. And in the final tale, Saint-Germain matches wits with an ambitious reporter in modern-day Vancouver.

The remaining three pieces in the collection are interesting as well, giving the reader glimpses into three different times and places – one already familiar from one of the novels – in the unlife of Saint-Germain

All in all, a pleasant visit with my favourite vampire.

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Minion, L. A. Banks

I must confess to being deeply disappointed by this book. So much of today's urban fantasy is being written by white women, about white heroines, that I really wanted to enjoy an urban fantasy about a black heroine, by a black writer.

Unfortunately, I found Minion to be overly derivative, unnecessarily complicated, slow-moving and poorly plotted, and, what I actually found most jarring of all, annoyingly inaccurate in its attempts to give the ornate edifice of its mythology an occult underpinning.

See, there are master Vampires who occupy the seventh level of Hell, and lesser vampires who hang around in the lower levels, except when they hang out on earth (at one point, I thought someone was describing a D&D adventure), and there are only so many lines, one for each continent. And then there's the Guardians, who are empowered by all the lovely forces of light, and come in all the rainbow colours of the races and faiths of the earth, and there are always 144,000 of them (a tribute to the original 12 tribes, but whether that's for the 12 Tribes of Israel or for some idea about 12 tribes of humanity I'm not sure) and they protect sacred texts and do good deeds and fight vampires and other nasties and whenever a super-duper vampire slayer is about to be born, they try to find him or her (at least there's some gender parity here) and protect and teach the slayer until he or she is ready to complete the change and kick mega-vampire ass.

But this time, Damali Richards, the slayer, or Neteru, is a super special "millennium bridge" female, who was conceived in one millennium and will come to power in another. To make her even more special, her father was a cleric who hunted vampires until he was seduced and turned by one, and her mother was touched but not turned by the same vamp while pregnant with Damali. And there's some other stuff having to do with mystical triangles in the sky that haven't been seen for 3,000 years and the slayer's mama having been an innocent who unknowingly cast a revenge spell over the buried coffin of a master vampire who then supernaturally mated with the vengeance demon to create a new breed of super special demonised vampires that are now running loose and killing both the guardians surrounding Damali and the family and "business associates" of her childhood boyfriend and gangland leader Carlos, who now owns a major night club and runs drugs and a prostitution ring.

Oh, and Fallon Nuit, the master vampire who killed her daddy, is trying to seduce Damali in her dreams, because a Neteru can somehow, if properly seduced by a vampire at just the right time when she's begun to mature but hasn't come fully into her power, become pregnant with a daywalker, a vampire who is invulnerable to light. Naturally Damali hasn't told any of her teacher/guide/protector/fellow warriors of light about this, in part because her mentor hasn't told her that all the master vampires within psychic range of her would be compelled to do this, even one the time to try and get her pregnant is passed, because a mature Neteru gives off psychic pheromones that make vamps of the opposite sex go crazy trying to turn him/her... and maybe I should just stop now, even though I haven't even got to the point where the rogue master vamp Fallon Nuit owns one of the biggest urban music recording and promoting companies in the world and he's planning simultaneous concerts in five cities that will form a pentagram over the world and... do something creepy, I'm sure.

Now I'll admit that mob and gang-related crime is not something I tend to enjoy reading, and Banks situates the war between the vampires and the Warriors of Light in the interface between producers and creators of urban music and performance art and various gangs based on ethnic membership (black, Latino, Asian and Russian gangs are referenced at various points, and many of them work for Fallon Nuit). Hell, I didn't even enjoy Mario Puzo's The Godfather, one of the classics of the criminal association genre. So I start out struggling with the setting. But I could have dealt with that.

However, Banks has taken bits and pieces from almost every variation on the vampire story that I know of, from European, Chinese and African folk traditions though the early literary imaginings such as Dracula and Lord Ruthven, to modern media treatments from Anne Rice to Buffy, many of them not ordinarily compatible, and shoved them together with some strange mixture of Christian and New Age spiritualism (and some very dicey astrology), and tried to make a coherent mythos. It doesn't work, and it's way too complicated to permit the suspension of disbelief, For me anyway. Come to think of it, it's not all that crazier than the Book of Revelations, and lots of people manage to suspend reason as well as disbelief long enough to swallow that.

The structure reminded me of a bad police procedural, only instead of the cops going back to the same witnesses over and over again each time one of them changes his or her story (Cold Case is one of the worst of the current lot in this regard, I find), the Warriors themselves keep going back to their wisewoman/seer, Marlene, everything something new happens, only to find that she knew about it all along but couldn't tell them because the time was not right, and even though she's telling them something now, there's still shit she's not sharing because the time still isn't right. Like warning Damali to watch out for vampires invading her dreams.

There really wasn't much plot for the first nine-tenths of the book, just exposition of the complicated mythos and setting and the backstories of the characters, much of the former extracted slowly and painfully from the seer Marlene. The characters talk a lot, and have lots of internal monologues, and that actually assists the one good thing I found about the book - one does get a good sense of the characters, their stories, their motivations. And I liked many of those characters, especially Damali. She's a young woman on the verge of a terrifying destiny, unsure and over-confident by turns, eager to do what she's been trained to do but at the same time, rebellious and loning to be like every other young woman who gets to go hang out with her friends at clubs and meet boys.

If someone out there could assure me that Banks manages to tone down the overblown and ritualistic origin stories and slayer mythology and just tell a story, either in the later books of the Vampire huntress series, or in any of her other urban fantasy books, I'd be willing to try her stuff again, just on the basis of the strong characterisation - because all of us need to be reading more books about strong women of colour, and that's one thing that Damali surely is.

But they've got to be better written than this.

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Romancing the Dead, Tate Hallaway

Yep, Garnet Lacey is back, with another mystery to solve among the undead of otherwise fantastical denizens of Madison Wisconsin. Sebastian, Garnet's vampire fiancé, is missing, his ghouls (human he has a feeding relationship with) are jealous of her, his renegade half-human son Matyas has reappeared in town, there's something terribly off-centre in the new coven she's trying to form, and there's a very strange shape-shifter on the loose.

The first two books in the Garnet Lacey series, written by Lyda Morehouse under the penname of Tate Hallaway, were pleasant supernatural romance romps with solid metaphysical underpinnings, and the third volume continues in that vein - part of what I like about them is that while both Morehouse/Hallaway as the writer and her protagonist Garnet are serious and respectful toward the occult, Garnet as a character is a woman with a keen sense of the ironic, the comic and the ridiculous as well as the serious. The combination of the two perspectives in one character, and one book, creates as if by alchemy a result that seems both satisfyingly real, and patently fantastic all at once.

As supernatural romance mystery "chick-lit" goes, this is definitely some of my favourite stuff.

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New Amsterdam, Elizabeth Bear

Someday, I believe, Elizabeth Bear is going to be universally recognised as one of the truly great science fiction and fantasy writers. I am profoundly impressed with each new book of hers that I read. She creates complex, interesting characters, places them in well-constructed settings, and tells engaging stories in finely crafted language that, in addition to entertaining, explore a host of challenging themes and leave the reader with something more to think about.

And range. Has she got range. Her body of work to date runs right across the spectrum from hard sf to high fantasy, and when she gets tired of the standard sub-genres in speculative fiction, well, she just mixes and matches until she comes up with something she likes. And she’s frighteningly prolific. Her first novel, Hammered, was published in 2005. Since then she’s released nine novels, one collection of linked short stories and novellas, a collection of stand alone short stories and a tenth novel co-written with Sarah Monette. At my last count (and I could be wrong), she has three more novels finished and in the pipeline, with at least two or three more in various stages of development.

And I’ve read most of the published books (though I haven’t gotten around to writing about all of them yet), and the ones I haven’t are sitting on my TBR shelf.

Today, I’m going to talk in glowing terms about her alternate history/steampunk/urban fantasy/vampire detective book, New Amsterdam. New Amsterdam is that collections of linked stories I mentioned above. is set in an alternate Earth at the beginning of the 20th century, a world in which the colonial project in the new world unfolded somewhat differently, thanks to the war magic of the indigenous peoples. There was no American revolution, and no unchecked drive across the vast new continent. England has only recently acquired the former Dutch colonies, and remains on the verge of war with France.

It’s also a world where vampires are quite real and function, to varying degrees, openly in society, and sorcery is recognised as a valued skill in a number of situations occupations, including that of forensic investigator. Which brings us to the absolutely unforgettable protagonists of the stories: Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, working in New Amsterdam as a Detective Crown Investigator and forensic sorceress, and Sebastian de Ulloa, ancient and powerful vampire, who travels to the world with his companion Jack Priest. Crime-solving is Abby Irene’s profession, and appears to be a hobby of Sebastian’s (which he approaches in a manner which seems to me somewhat reminiscent of the Great Detective himself, Sherlock Holmes).

Of course, events bring them together, and of course they solve mysteries and crimes together and become entangled in each other's lives and face grave dangers that neither can escape without the other (and of course, don't forget Jack, who is quite involved in all of this as well).

One of the wonderful things about these stories is how cleverly they both follow and subvert the standard tropes of the vampire detective/urban fantasy genre – which I love on its own, but here, where it has been carefully deconstructed and rebuilt in a way that is both comfortably familiar and delightfully different, is much stronger meat, and well worth the careful digestion to bring out its rich and mature flavour. This is a real, complex world, with characters that have complicated histories, needs and desires, multi-layered and conflicting intentions, motivations and loyalties, political considerations, secrets, deceptions, risks and consequences – all the stuff that Bear is so very good at, and which makes her work a true delight to read.


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