I’d never heard of Juno Books until this past January, where I had to take a required module on the Marketing Trends in SF/F/H, taught by Lawrence C. Connolly. Paranormal romance was a trend we discussed, and Juno Books was a publisher he highlighted, and he made particular note of this anthology. Given my interest in this sub-genre, I had no qualms about picking it up and giving it a whirl.
The anthology features stories previously published in 2005. And interestingly enough, I’d already read three of them: O’Keefe’s, Sherman’s, and Hand’s. I didn’t mind re-reading these, though, and the collection, I found, was actually quite diverse in its content. One of the writers is even a guy!
“Introduction: What is Paranormal Romance?”
by Paula Guran
I was really glad to read the intro of this anthology. Not only does talk about Romance as the GENRE, but it talks about the definition of genre, the boundaries of, and how all of that relates to this anthology. It also talks about the rise in popularity of paranormal romance, and how paranormal romance is, in a way, women’s adventure. Men’s adventure can include all sorts of things, and sometimes love, but for women, love is part of the grand adventure, and paranormal romance isn’t always happily ever after. It’s about women learning who they are, becoming empowered, and where love leads them.
So it’s a great preface to this anthology. In fact, I intend to urge my Romance reader friends to take a look at this, if only for the introduction, because I think they might find it fascinating. I was also excited to see Guran mention Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty books, not only because I’m a fan, but also because Carrie Vaughn’s an Odyssey graduate. Too bad she’s not in this anthology, but that’s okay. This volume is only the first of many.
“Follow Me Light”
by Elizabeth Bear
When I first read this story, I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I liked it, no doubt, but there were some questions lingering, so I decided to go ahead and give it another go, see if it cleared anything up.
I did get a new perspective on the story on the second read. I was able to put the dreams in context, appreciate all the fishy descriptions, and I actually understood the significance of the title this time around, which I totally missed before, so that was cool. I think my major complaint about this piece, and it’s really as much praise as it is complaint, was that I wanted MORE. I was engaged in the characters, in the story, in the magical element of the piece (I don’t want to give anything away). I know there’s plenty here that I’m supposed to fill the blanks on, like what kind of broods Esau was talking about (easy enough to guess), and what exactly the brothers were (easy enough to guess, especially with the hint of the captivating voices). Essentially, I wanted to get inside the author’s head and know everything there is to know about this story, its characters, and the before and after of it.
So it’s a good piece. I just wanted more. And in this case, it’s not a bad thing, because it’s enough to keep me wanting to go back to it, hunting out those little details I missed the first two rounds.
“A Maze of Trees”
by Claudia O’Keefe
This is the second time I’ve read this story, and it still breaks my heart. And with this being my second read, I understand some of the things that I questioned before, and while the joy of learning wasn’t there this time, the characters and relationship was just as strong, just as beautiful. Solid writing, the humor is just right, and great setting detail. Course, it doesn’t hurt that I’m familiar with the landscape either.
You can read my original review here.
“The Shadowed Heart”
by Catherine Asaro
I was very excited to see an Asaro short story here, and doubly excited when I realized it was set in her Skolian Empire universe. But the great thing about this piece (I could be biased) is that it’s very self-contained. She explains what the reader needs to know in order to understand the story, and nothing else. It works beautifully. Granted, since I was already familiar with her writing, her universe, and her habits, nothing in this story surprised me at all (not even the plot), but it was still very enjoyable. And I’m super-glad to see an SF story in this anthology, because I was worried that “paranormal romance” would be limited to the fantastic scale. Glad it isn’t.
by Delia Sherman
The first time I read this story, I didn’t like it much. Oh, it’s well-written, no doubt, and it had lots of fun touches of humor and pop-culture that are well done. But the first read didn’t stick with me, except that I remembered I didn’t like it.
Second read, I’m a little more forgiving. I notice more details, and since I know what happens, I can appreciate the story more. I actually find myself liking it now, which is a good thing. But I’m still puzzling over its place in this anthology. Granted, there’s a pair of lesbian lovers who get married, but neither woman is the main character, and I guess my personal definition of “paranormal romance” involves the main character being in a romantic situation. But, that’s my definition, and since it’s a good story, I’ll forgive it for being here. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the other stories are similar, where the romance involves secondary characters, and not the protagonist.
You can read my original review here.
“A Knot of Toads”
by Jane Yolen
This is a good story. I had a hard time getting through the dialect, but it was easy enough to hear, even though I wasn’t always sure what was being said at times. Still, a very enjoyable piece. A solid plot, a touch of romantic interest, and a good ending. I was actually surprised to see where it ended, but I like the suddenness of it, and it allows me to imagine my own ending. I, too, was blind to the truth of Alec, though I suspected there was more to Mrs. Marr than met the eye. I think if I had a complaint about this piece, it was that I was ignorant (maybe I shouldn’t have been) to the time period until it was given to me. But that may be the fault of my own ignorance, not the fault of the writer.
“Calypso in Berlin”
by Elizabeth Hand
I read this story on SciFiction back in summer of 2005, and I remember enjoying it a bit. Hand’s prose is always elegant, always beautiful, and she captures the feminine in ways that is tangible, though not easy to describe. This is a good thing. And while I haven’t researched her work, I suspect this story is part of a series: I’ve read Echo, which I know is related to this piece, and I wonder if there are any more in this series? I’m curious enough to check out her recent short story collection, Saffron & Brimstone: Strange Stories, and even if my hunch is wrong, I’m still happy to see a two-part “series.”
Anyway, it’s a great story, even on the re-read. I picked up on more details this time around, but that’s how it always goes, isn’t it? I love Calypso’s need for Philip, and I love the end of the story. It’s a beautiful piece, one that talks about art and love and the entanglement of the two, and definitely worth the read.
“A Hero’s Welcome”
by Rebecca York
Another SFR! This was a nice story, but there really wasn’t much to it. You’ve got a man and woman of different classes who loved each other in childhood, were separated, and who reunite after a war that gives the lower class the upper hand in society. The woman’s been through the usual: rape and degradation by soldiers, and the man’s got a heart of gold but full of anger from his war-related injuries. Sex is almost the first thing that comes to mind, yet because he’s always loved her, that’s supposed to make it “right,” and even though she’s been raped, she’s got the usual quiet, calm strength and is eager (though nervous) to give in (because of course, she’s always loved him).
It sounds like I’m making light of this, and I’m really not, cause the story was entertaining, despite being full of stereotype. I think the sex and the promise of immediate marriage is a bit too fast: I would’ve preferred to see more of this world (the class issues, the aftermath of war), and I would’ve liked to see this relationship and the trust it takes to give in build gradually. I just wanted more than what I got, and I think had the story been a novel, the reader might’ve gotten beyond the stereotypes and the immediate conflict that led the couple into bed so quickly.
That’s my two cents, though. I noticed on York’s website that she’s a romantic suspense author who likes paranormal settings, which has a slightly different focus than the paranormal stories with romantic subplots. There is a difference, even though the two might as well be sisters. It just all depends on what the focus of the plot is, and what kind of ending we’re given.
“Single White Farmhouse”
by Heather Shaw
What a fun little story, and how wonderfully absurd a premise! It’s a great piece, filled with the right kind of humor, and it’s a way to look at love and mating in ways you never imagined. It’s hard to say too much about this piece, but I’m glad to see something so different and humorous in this anthology. Very cute story.
“Magic in a Certain Slant of Light”
by Deborah Coates
While the beginning tripped me up a wee bit, I enjoyed this piece. I couldn’t help but wonder if all of Nora’s certainties are the reasons why those things actually happen. She knows her research will fail in six months, so how can she keep working on it, you know? So the central belief that Jeff will leave her becomes a real question: will her belief unintentionally force him away? I like the ambiguity of the ending, though, how leaving can mean anything at all, and the ways the zeppelin and talking dog manifests itself. I like to walk away from this piece with optimism, and it’s a piece worth reading again, no doubt. But I have to say, I’m really, really glad I read that coincidentally read an article on Schrödinger’s cat the night before reading this story. It helped, even though it was a small detail in the tale.
“Fir Na Tine”
by Sandra McDonald
Oh, this is a fabulous story. So much to love. The sheer desire of the protagonist, the men of fire, and the answer. Oh, the answer. It’s a great story, and I’m tempted to seek out more of her work. Oh look! Her debut novel comes out this April! Quite tempting indeed.
“A Treatise on Fewmets”
by Sarah Prineas
This is a cute story, but it’s quite silly. It’s not the kind of silly that amuses me personally, but that’s not a critique of the story (though the regular use of adverbs made me twitch a wee bit). The dragons were entertaining, though I wish I understood a little bit more about the nexus’ powers, and whether or not they truly made people beautiful, or if beauty was an illusion, or what. The ending was cute.
“The Hard Stuff”
by John Grant
This story I’m still puzzling over. There’s lots to like, but I feel there was a lot crammed into this story that either went over my head or I felt ignorant to. Ultimately, I think I gather that in order to succeed, Quinn ultimately had to do it on his own. And I like how Tania was more than she was physically, though the end result confused me a bit: is the Alison at the end the same Alison in Tania’s family? I don’t think so, but I wonder if this was intentional on the author’s part. Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so picky over details, but this story left me grasping for understanding, so I latched on to whatever I could.
It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong. It didn’t engage me completely, and I suspect I need another read to really get it, or maybe not.
It’s a good anthology, with 10/12 stories engaging me, and even the ones that didn’t were good in their own right. My absolute favorite piece was McDonald’s; Bear’s story was enchanting; Hand’s story was just beautiful. The anthology had a good diversity, considering its theme was paranormal romance. Not all stories had happy endings, and not all stories had a traditional romance. Definitely worth checking out if you write any kind of speculative fiction with romantic elements, and romance readers, I think you ought to check this out solely for the intro, which I found fascinating.
I do have one nitpick about the anthology: typos. I kept wanting to check my copy to make sure it wasn’t an ARC, there were so many typos: missing quotation marks, missing punctuation: stuff like that can really trip the reader up, and there were plenty of times I wondered who was speaking, or if I was reading dialogue or exposition. And I don’t want to blame either the authors of these stories or the publishing house, cause I’m sure the mistakes were a mix of both, but there were plenty of them, and spread out through the entire anthology.
No matter: I’ll be happy to buy the next volume when it comes out, which is slated for the end of April 2007.
Next up: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi