Dirk & Steele: Tiger Eye (2005), Shadow Touch (2006), The Red Heart of Jade (2006), Eye of Heaven (2006), A Dream of Stone and Shadow (2006), The Last Twilight (2008), The Wild Road (2008), The Fire King (2009), Within the Flames (2011)
Anthologies: My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007), Never After (2009), Masked (2010), An Apple for the Creature (2012), The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius (2013)
Iron Hunt (2008)
I picked this up partially because the story looked interesting and partially because I loved the cover. Plus I read several recommendations and thought I’d like it. And I did like it, but there is one major drawback.
It’s one of those books that doesn’t really end. Yes, there is a conclusion to the book–we aren’t left hanging–but there is an over arching story arc, and that is left very open-ended, which I don’t particularly like in a first book.
Now I have to admit that it wasn’t a bad way to write the story, and it was very well done. I just have not been in the mood for epic fantasy for a very long time. I want to read a series because I enjoy spending time with the characters, not because reading on is the only way to find out if everyone survives (or whatever).
So, aside from my pet peeves, how was the story?
Maxine Kiss is a demon hunter. She has skills and advantages that have been passed along from mother to daughter for centuries, as they are the last of the Watchers to guard the earth from Demons. Most of the demons she encounters are zombies. Except that her zombies aren’t the shambling undead that live upon brains, but are instead possessed humans that thrive on the pain of others.
Although her mother lived a life of solitude, traveling only with Maxine and the boys, moving from place to place and hunting demons, Maxine has broken her mother’s rules and has settled down in one city, in one place, and with one man. A man with unique skills it must be said, but one still a single man. And because or despite of this, she has been found by those who are searching for her, and who have come to tell her that the world as she knows it will soon be ending.
The story did wander a bit, and was confusing at times, and did refuse to conclude the major story arc, meaning sequels are not just in the works, but mandatory, but Maxine and Grant were interesting, and I wanted to discover who Jack was and why he was involving himself with Maxine. I also wanted to learn more about the boys, but they remain very much a mystery.
I’ll pick the next book up in the series at some point after it comes out, but I won’t rush to look for it, and I may have Michael read it first, to let me know if the level of resolution at the end of the story continues to decrease, in which case I’ll definitely put off continuing the series.
Darkness Calls (2009)
Darkness Calls continues the story of Maxine Kiss. She is a Hunter who has inherited a fight against demons and the darkness. Unfortunately for her, it is no longer clear to her who are the bad guys in this fight. Grant, her lover and one called the Lightbringer, is being hunted by demons and the powers of darkness. Maxine, who was raised to be a loner, now has to look out for someone other than herself and the anonymous people possessed by demons.
First and foremost, there were several passages I have to go back and reread before I could make sense of what was going on. I got lost several times in the story, and occasionally wondered just precisely where things were going.
Most things eventually cleared up, but I am still not sure why the bad guys acted in the way they did. I mean, there are bad guys and there are bad guys, and I like to feel like bad guys have reasons for what they are doing, beyond simply Being Evil. I wasn’t so sure about that here.
Yes, the Big Bad was manipulating others, but I’m not sure that, “he’s a demon and they’re not like is” is enough of a reason for some of the things that happened.
I was also bothered by the fact things were far more visual this time. It’s not that I don’t like visuals, I’d just rather have action more than long descriptions of the horrors the bad guy has created.
I did keep reading, and did want to know what happened to the characters. I’m just hoping that the next book in the series (and there will be more books in this series) is better than this one.
A Wild Light (2010)
Hmm… now that I look back over my past reviews, I find myself less surprised at how I feel about A Wild Light. I also wonder how I managed to keep forgetting that I thought these books were just so-so.
On the plus size, the story arc was wrapped up within the book. There were larger unresolved plot points, but that’s par for the course with most supernatural fantasy books. It was also interesting to learn some of the back story of the boys. In fact, that may have been the best part of the book, learning precisely what the boys were.
On the minus side, I wasn’t overly enamored with the plot, and the story has definitely shifted from mystery adventure to supernatural romance. Which is… not what I was wanting to read.
I’m also not that thrilled about where the story is going. The overarching arc seems to be turning into a “saves the entire universe” kinda thing, and I’m just tired of that right now.
So, here’s another series I’m meh about and probably won’t keep reading.
Published by Ace
Dirk & Steele
Tiger Eye (2005)
I picked up my first Dirk & Steele book at a grocery store, when I realized I had a wait in front of me and absolutely nothing to read. I knew when I bought it that it was a paranormal romance, so managed to enjoy it despite the boinking. What I particularly liked was that although it was in a series, there was no need to read any of the books in order, so I could enjoy the book without having read any other books in the series.
Tiger Eye is the first Dirk & Steel book, but interestingly, it isn’t particularly about the agency, just (as with the other books) members of the agency, or those peripheral to the agency.
Dela isn’t a member of the agency per se, but her gift with metals makes her the weapons-master of sorts for the group, and she also trained with many of the members to both develop her skills and to learn to protect herself. To the public she is a talented artist whose pieces are quite popular. When she is all but given a puzzle box (she pays a minimal price when an old woman insists the box should go to her) she discovers the secret is, in fact, a man who has been trapped in the box for the past two thousand years, much like a genie in a bottle.
The story was a fun, fast read, but I did have a couple problems with it. First, if she is a metal-smith, why on earth is she completely unburned? No one can be that good, even with the use of magic.
Frpbaq, V gbgnyyl qvq ABG trg gur ovg ng gur raq. Vg znqr ab frafr jungfbrire. Lbh xarj ubj guvatf jrer tbvat gb ghea bhg (guvf vf n ebznapr nsgre nyy) ohg ubj ba rnegu qvq ure fnpevsvpvat urefrys fnir uvf yvsr? Vs Unev xvyyrq gur Zntv, ur’q qvr gbb–hayrff gur qentba ynql xvyyrq Qryn? Ubj qbrf gung rira znxr frafr? Naq ubj ba rnegu qvq gur jubyr fyrrcvat ornhgl/fabj juvgr ovg jbex? Gung znqr nofbyhgryl ab frafr rvgure. Juvpu naablrq zr, orpnhfr gur zntvp unq orra snveyl ernfbanoyr naq ybtvpny hc gb gung cbvag. V zhpu jbhyq unir cersreerq Unev (be rira Qryn) xvyyvat gur zntv guna gung ovg bs gjvfgrq frys-fnpevsvpr.
Also, I was annoyed by ALL the male members of Dirk & Steel being ravishing hunks. Gah.
Yet, despite that it was fun and interesting.
Oh, one last complaint: I hate the cover. That’s just…. hokey.
Shadow Touch (2006)
Artur works for Dirk & Steele. He escaped from the Russian mafia to the United States, where he was able to use his abilities–learning the history of objects and those who held them through touch. Because this touch also works on humans, Artur has remained isolated–always wearing gloves to keep from inadvertently learning secrets he doesn’t want to know.
Both are kidnapped by a secret Consortium, and sent to Russia, where others with special powers are kept captive and tested–and perhaps even bred to create more individuals with special powers.
I may actually have enjoyed the mystery and story in this book a little better than the romance. Artur is fascinating, and Elena was interesting, but I just had a hard time believing in their romantic connection. (Although the connection they develop as a result of Elena’s healing of Artur I was okay with. Go figure.)
As with all Dirk & Steele books, if you have not read a previous book in the series, you are perfectly fine to jump in here. Even if I wasn’t enamored of the romance, I really did quite enjoy the story and the mystery of the Consortium and the setting in Russia.
Published by HarperCollins e-books
The Red Heart of Jade (2006)
Dirk & Steele have been very good to Dean Campbell. They allow him to use his powers to help others, but also to have adventures–going out in the world and rescuing the innocent from evildoers. He also continues to mourn the loss of his first love who knew all his secrets and loved him anyway.
Mirabelle Lee (also know as Miri) is an archeologist who has the good fortune to work international digs. Their recent find in Yushan National Park in Taiwan of three well preserved bodies–two men and a woman–is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, and Miri wants to make sure everything is one by the book. Unfortunately for her, her boss and mentor removes an object from one of the bodies–a red piece of jade that draws Miri.
Apparently both Dean and Miri have drawn the attetion of a unknown group who seem to want them for reasons unknown or unexplained.
Dean has appeared in several of the other Dirk & Steele books I’ve read, and was enough of a character I was curious to learn more of his story. Miri is an intelligtent and engagng heroine. It’s always nice when female characters have sense and intelligence to go with their good looks.
I also liked how the past between Dean and Miri worked out. Initially I was skeptical, but I believe the story worked very well. Plus, she’s an archeologist and good at her job (not just someone who has an education in name but is really too stupid to live.)
As with other books in the series, if you have not read a previous Dirk & Steele book, you can start here with no difficulties. There remains the ongoing mystery of what Dirk & Steel truly is and does, but that mystery does not result in cliff-hanger endings, so no problems as far as I’m concerned. And any bits that were learned in other books are sufficiently clarified that you are not missing anything.
If you have not read a Dirk & Steele book before, this is certainly an okay place to start. As far as books within this series, I can’t say that Dean is my favorite character, but I do quite like Miri.
Published by Harper Collins e-books
Eye of Heaven (2006)
For the most part this is not a fantasy series per se, in that you can start at any point in the series without having read a previous book. That said, there were characters in this book who were written as if you might already be familiar with those characters. It wasn’t a big thing, and it didn’t in any way harm my enjoyment of the book. And as this was an earlier book in the series, I think she has improved upon how she deals with this situation in later books.
Blue is working in Indonesia, searching for a man who traffics in humans, and thinks he has a link when the situation blows up in his face. Things get worse for him when he is called home for his father’s funeral, and ordered to search for his half brothers.
Iris is a shapeshifter who uses her second nature to work in a circus in an act with the big cats. Her mother disappeared several years previously, and Iris has stayed with the group that has in many ways become her surrogate family.
This story was not nearly as strong as other books in the series I have read. It isn’t bad, and like the other books is well written, however, I did see where the plot was heading a couple times, but the story was still interesting, and the romance between the two main characters covered the weakness in the mystery.
A Dream of Stone and Shadow (2006)
Emma is an abused child who Charlie’s spirit stumbles upon in its wanderings.
Aggie is a member of Dirk & Steele who can catch glimpses of the future and remote events, and uses that skill to hunting child abusers and rescue the children they have stolen.
This is a dark story, in that one of the main characters is a child being sexually abused, another character is being held hostage, and the third is a woman who is driven to find and rescue abused children. That said, we don’t see any abuse, only Emma when she is alone and communicating with Charlie.
That said, subject matter not withstanding, this was a good story, and one I can recommend (despite the boinking). You don’t need to know anything about Dirk & Steele or have read previous books to enjoy the story.
Published by Avon
The Last Twilight (2008)
Rikki Kinn is a virus hunter for the CDC, and she’s in Africa looking at what may well be a new outbreak of Ebola. Unfortunately, a contagious and deadly disease turns out to be the least of her problems, when she discovers that she is being hunted–but no one can tell her why. In the US, Dirk & Steele are asked to protect her, and Amiri is sent back–despite his better judgment–to the land where he was captured and exported to a laboratory to be studied along with the other preternatural creatures caught by the Consortium. Despite his serious misgivings, he goes with ax and Eddie to protect find and protect Rikki.
As with most of the other Dirk & Steele books, there are references to characters and events and relationships from the past (i.e. previous books) however, since at least one of the characters (in this case Rikki) is unfamiliar with Dirk & Steele and the supernatural, these references do not actually detract from the story since the past (and the supernatural) are explained to Rikki and thus the reader.
First, I really like Rikki–she’s a very smart scientist, and although she (of course) has a troubled past, she is very good at her job, and does not fear placing herself in danger to do that job. I also like Amiri, who also (of course) has a troubled past, but has rebuilt his life and loves the work he does for Dirk & Steele. I also like that he had been a teacher before coming to Dirk & Steele. (Lovely role reversal, I must say.)
Since this is a floating head book, you know that the characters are going to get together by the end of the book, so the secondary mysteries of the virus, or Amiri’s father, the mercenaries etc do a good job of moving things along. There were, of course, a couple things I found a little silly, but for a kissing book, such silliness is expected.
If you’re looking for a fun romp and don’t mind boinking, then the Dirk & Steele series is turning out to be quite enjoyable.
Published by Leisure Paranormal Romance
The Wild Road (2008)
However, as I am on crutches and spending a lot of time waiting, I needed a diverting book to keep in my purse, and since I enjoyed The Fire King (another floaty head romance book set in the same world) I figured, why now.
After all, knowing it’s a romance going on at least prepares me for the inevitable boinking.
Although this is part of a series, I found that not having read previous books was not a drawback–these books seem to be standalones set in a common universe, but you don’t need to have read the previous books to be able to follow the story here, which is quite nice (especially as many of the previous books are out of print).
A woman wakes up in a dark hotel room, unaware of how she got there or even who she is, only knowing that she must run. Lannes is a gargoyle who is all but a recluse hiding from his past–an ugly past where he and his brothers were held captive and tortured by a witch. When he comes to the city to visit an old friend–a human who is approaching the end of his life–he becomes mixed up with with events that neither he nor the woman he meets, understand.
This is as much a mystery as it is romance and fantasy, which is one of the things I liked and that drew me into the story. We don’t know who the woman is or how she ended up in the situation she is now in, and in doing so discover bits & pieces of Lanne’s past, as well as a dark mystery that seems the heart of the woman’s situation.
Was there boinking and luurve? Yes. But there was lots of other stuff too, and the boinking wasn’t the point of the story, so I didn’t mind it so much.
A fun and distracting read–again, just what I needed.
The Fire King (2009)
I knew that when I picked it up, because it had a floating man head on the cover, and that swoopy writing you only see on romance covers. But I was somewhere without a book, and when I stopped at the grocery store to pick up something else, I saw this book and thought, “hmmm… I like her writing well enough. And it has to be better than having no book,” so with that I bought it.
I am coming to believe that if I know a book is a romance before I start reading it, I don’t mind so much.
Although this book is part of a series, I didn’t have difficulty falling into the story without knowing anything else about the characters and their world, which I think is a high recommendation in and of itself.
Soria is still trying to recover from the loss of her arm a year previously. Because of her unique skills, she is asked to return to the agency Dirk & Steele to see if she can understand a man whose language no one else recognizes. Karr awakes to a world he does not understand and where he can communicate with no one. He is bound as a captive because his skills as a shape shifter are a threat when he tries to escape a confusing world full of strangers.
The story shifts between Soria and Kerr’s points of view, which made it particularly interesting, since Kerr does not recognize the world around him, and so things we take for granted are strange and confusing to him. We also learn about their pasts as they learn about each other. I thought this was well done because although we are in the minds of the characters, it didn’t seem as if they were hiding anything from the reader, as much as trying not to relive painful memories, so when their discuss their pasts with one another, it doesn’t feel forced.
Of course this is a kissing book, so you know the two characters are going to end up together, it was just interesting to see how they dealt with the challenges.
Within the Flames (2011)
This was one of those times.
I started this months and months ago, but would read a few pages and then put it back down. Finally, one sleepless evening I plowed through and finished it.
Eddie is a pyrokinetic–he can can both control and produce fire. Working for Dirk & Steele took him off the streets and returned him to a semblance of normalcy. But now, the man who shattered his life and murdered his sister is out on parole, and Eddie is losing his hard-won control over his fire.
Lyssa has been hiding for years, caught partially in a bad transformation between her human shape and her dragon shape. But the family that murdered her family is now looking for her, and Eddie has been requested to find and help her.
I like Eddie. And I was perfectly fine with Lyssa. And their backgrounds were interesting. I just… couldn’t get into the story.
I’m pretty sure this is a case of, “it’s not you, it’s me,” because I can’t come up with a reason why I couldn’t get into the story.
Published by HarperCollins
This was a very mixed bag. Some of the stories were good, some I could barely stand to finish, and in fact, put this anthology down several times, for something (anything?) I liked a little more.
Part of the problem is that several of the stories were tied strongly into a series, so I either had trouble following what was going on or there was zero character development, since it’s all happening in the series.
Marjorie M. Liu’s story, “Where the Heart Lives” was one of the best stories, and actually stood completely on its own. You don’t have to know anything about her Dirk & Steele series to enjoy this story.
So, I generally found this a disappointment. If you’re following the series, then it might be okay, but very few of the stories seemed to stand well on their own.
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin
The only reason I have this book a second glance after seeing Laurell K. Hamilton’s name was because I’ve read books by Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, and Sharon Shinn and loved what I read. So I grabbed the book, despite my misgivings.
The second story was “The Tangleroot Palace” by Marjorie M. Liu. Sally is told by her father that she is to marry the Warlord of the South, to create a peace between their peoples. As the Warlord of the South has a terrible reputation for violence and destruction, Sally wants nothing to do with him. When her oldest friend, the gardener, suggests that she will find a solution in the haunted Tangleroot , Sally runs there in the hopes of finding a way out without leading to the destruction of the kingdom.
I really liked this story. Even though I guessed a major plot point right away, it didn’t particularly matter to the story. Sally was a wonderful heroine, and the supporting characters were also very good, and well developed despite the short length of the story.
So although I can’t tell you about the first story, I can highly recommend the remaining three stories. Check out this anthology, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Cleansed and Set in Gold - Matthew Sturges
Where their Worm Dieth Not - James Maxey
Secret Identity - Paul Cornell
The Non-Event - Mike Carey
Avatar - Mike Baron
Message from the Bubblegum Factory - Daryl Gregory
Thug - Gail Simone
Vacuum Lad - Stephen Baxter
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows - Chris Roberson
Head Cases - Peter David & Kathleen David
Downfall - Joseph Mallozzi
By My Works You Shall Know Me - Mark Chadburn
Call Her Savage - Marjorie M. Liu
Tonight We Fly - Ian McDonald
A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too) - Bill Willingham
Matthew Sturges, who writes House of Mystery, wrote the opening story, “Cleansed and Set in Gold.” …and I just ended up rereading the story when I flipped through to remind myself of whether I liked it. So yeah, I liked it. David Caulfield has “variable” powers, and those powers are the crux of the story. Fabulous.
“Secret Identity” by Paul Cornell was another story I especially liked. What does the hero identity do to the man who carries the hero around?
Mike Carey is another favorite author, especially his Felix Castor series. “Non-Event” begins at the end, with the supervillain being interrogated after the plan goes all wrong.
Gail Simone’s story “Thug” was both amazing and horrible.
“Head Cases” by Peter David and Kathleen David was an odd story. Interesting, and there were a few bits that were hilarious, but I did spend much of the story going, “huh?”
Joseph Mallozzi’s story “Downfall” was one of the longer stories, but I loved the twists and turns of a reformed villain being pulled out of retirement by his government minders.
“Tonight We Fly” by Ian McDonald was another story I particularly enjoyed–what’s it like for a superhero as he gets older–apparently he becomes crotchety and yells at the damned kids to get off his lawn.
The final story in the series was Bill Willingham‘s “A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too).” I love Bill Willingham’s Fables so I was looking forward to this story. It was another odd one, and it took me a bit to figure out what was going on.
All in all, it was a fun collection, and well worth checking out.
Luckily, the title is not reflective of most of the stories inside.
“Sympathy for the Bones” by Marjorie M. Liu was very good. A young girl was taken in and raised by the local wise woman who uses her powers for her own gain and as she sees fit. Nice, complex tale.
All in all, it was a decent selection of short stories that made up for terrible title.
Published by Ace
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius (2013) edited by John Joseph Adams
This is the third anthology I’ve read by John Joseph Adams, and I must say that he has a good rack record for creating anthologies with stories I really like. He also has a good mix of stories, some of which I am guaranteed not to like, but that’s okay, because it’s good to read stuff I don’t normally read, and if I really don’t like a story, I can always skip on to the next (even though I rarely do that).
The stories I liked best in this anthology were the straight-up cackling Evil Overlord sort (you know that list, right?), because they were funny. The ones I liked least tended to be the more serious ones, because, well, evil in its true form exists in the world, and it’s generally funny at all.
I generally like Marjorie M. Liu‘s short stories, and I enjoyed “The Last Dignity of Man”. An accident of naming makes Alexander Luthor become obsessed with Superman, and the forces of good or evil in the world. There were so very many lines in this story that I liked.
It is not enough to say one supports science. The real test is to see the finished product, fat and glistening, and not flinch.
I think those to sentences sum up many of the stories here–that evil men aren’t necessarily evil, but are sometimes men doing what they believe needs to be done to make the world a better place.
I really really liked this story–it’s one of my favorites from this anthology.
Aside from the anthology ending on several depressing notes, this was all-in-all a varied and very good collection of stories, with something for everyone. After all, the stories I disliked were not bad, they were just not my type of story.
Published by Tor Books