Title: CHARMED & DANGEROUS (Anthology)
Astrid Amara, KJ Charles, Charlie Cochet, Rhys Ford, Ginn Hale, Lou Harper, Jordan L Hawk, Nicole Kimberling, Jordan Castillo Price, Andrea Speed
Publisher: JCP Books LLC
Genre: M/M Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy (Short Stories)
Release Date: 25/08/2015
Spoiler free review by KASIA BB (ARC provided in exchange for an honest review)
For a serial long-distance reader like myself there is nothing better than a deliciously extensive novel, overflowing with convoluted plots and vigorous head hopping. On the flip side, however, I hugely enjoy a well executed short story. I am a massive fan of Guy de Maupassant, a master of the short story form. His writing is much about “compressing”; making every word crucial and engaging the reader’s imagination by providing hints and clues rather than spoon-feeding them elaboration and explanation. Undoubtedly, a short story is a difficult and demanding form. To my mind, it is also way less forgiving than a full-length novel. It takes a lot of skill and craft to develop a complete story with a good twist and a satisfying finale within a short space. An iron discipline, meticulous planning and relentless focus definitely come in handy here. It doesn’t meet every author’s ability.
Due to the above, anthologies can be very much a hit-and-miss affair with me. I was left frustrated and disappointed on a few occasions before, when out of the whole collection only two or three stories proved worth my while. Let me assure you – it is NOT the case here. Charmed & Dangerous is holistically excellent throughout. It is the best anthology I’ve read in a very long time. I was deeply impressed with its diverse content and riveted by the overall exquisite level of writing and the marvellous world-building skill on show.
This romantic anthology contains ten enthralling standalone tales by different M/M paranormal authors, the majority well known to me, with a few new names thrown into the mix. All the stories are linked by a common theme of the “sympathetic monster” – an insignificant often ostracised character, usually relegated to the fringes, finally gifted with an opportunity to shine. Moreover, there is quite a bit of sizzling hot man-on-man action featuring in every story.
Rhys Ford – Dim Sum Asylum
This is a great cop story featuring a half-fae, detective Roku MacCormic from Arcane Crime Department, who as a bi-species experienced ill treatment from both humans and faerie. After his former partner breaks bad, he is assigned a new sexy replacement. Trent Leonard might just be who Roku needs to start caring again and let go of his tragic past. There is an action film quality to this fast paced story, filled with police chases across Chinatown and miscellaneous magical creatures out and about. There is also an issue of equality, civil rights and tolerance lurking somewhere between the lines. The writing is witty and laced with dry humour. The sex scene it hot with a tangible spark between the characters.
Ginn Hale – Swift and the Black Dog
This is a story about wizards who did it their Way, tyrants going down and a revolution. Ginn Hale took a bit of a gamble with submitting a slightly darker, almost dystopian tale for this romantic anthology and it totally paid off. I loved Jack Swift, a somewhat disillusioned national hero and a burnt out wizard (the joke will become apparent upon reading.) The connection he forms with a younger, genuine and idealistic Finch on the opposites attract basis, seems touching and endearing. I loved the manner in which Ginn wrote her sex scene, leaving lots to imagination, yet revealing plenty. Her ability to world build is overwhelming – seamless, effortless and executed with great finesse. Characters are powerful and introduced with a punch. In my eyes, this is a perfect example of how a good short story should be written.
KJ Charles – A Queer Trade
This is a perfectly charming and well-developed historical set in London. It involves a naïve apprentice, an evil power hungry magician and some dangerous spells going horribly wrong all over the place. The unexpected death of Crispin Tredarloe’s master leads to some important papers being sold to a waste paper dealer, Ned Hall. The consequent disaster needs to be contained, while the two men are trying to deal with the obvious and intense attraction blooming between them. I loved the fact that Ned is portrayed as a proud attractive black man. It’s impossible not to comment on the language used here – gorgeously elegant and familiarly British. There’s also a good measure of humour thrown in.
Nicole Kimberling – Magically Delicious
This is an amusing story about Special Agents from Irregular Affairs Division – a human Keith Curry and his lover, an attractive reconfigured goblin Gunther. When Gunther becomes the eighth victim of the occult pixie-dusted attack, Keith embarks on the mission to investigate the security breaches and find the culprit, while trying to deal with Gunther’s parents, some very annoying foul-mouthed leprechauns, imprisoned pixies and illegal pixie dust manufactures. It is a humorous story about love and acceptance overcoming cultural and inter-species differences, dietary ones included. I found the sex scene well written and both characters extremely likable.
Jordan Castillo Price – Everyone’s Afraid of Clowns
A minor detour on the way to a Halloween party results for a medium Victor Bayne and his cop boyfriend Victor Marks in executing a little “psycoping”, combined with some hot sexy action in the dark. This story was a real treat for me. I’ve been an admirer of the Psycop series for a long time and Jacob is one of my favourite characters. The strength of this piece lies primarily not as much in the world building, as within the nature of Vic and Jacob’s relationship. I loved the visual versus tactile bond they share and how fantastically compatible they are. Things get boiling hot between them on both a physical and metaphysical level. It is enticing and believable, although supernatural.
Jordan L. Hawk – The Thirteenth Hex
This highly entertaining story involves some Metropolitan Witch Police shenanigans. Magic is definitely in the air when during the course of an investigation an expert hexman, Dominic Kopecky meets Rook, an unbounded and charming bird shifter, in need of finding his destined witch. It is a story about discovering one’s true nature. The dramatic events flow quickly, the sex is intense and the whole mythology is consistent and interesting. One of the side characters, a very intriguing cat shifter called Cicero, seriously caught my eye. I smell a great potential for a sequel here.
Charlie Cochet – The Soldati Prince
I loved this delightful emotion inducing shifters story, set somewhere between the human reality and the Soldati warriors’ world. Riley Murrough, a likable but ordinary guy and a dessert lover working at the Tiger Tails Café (funny), unwillingly and amidst dramatic circumstances comes face to face with his destined mate in all his furry glory. I found the arrogant and moody personality of Khalon, a tiger shifter and Soldati king adorable. This story registered to me as extremely visual. My brain kept supplying manga style images of shadow-like demons crawling out from the darkness. The ability to write in such a clever manner cannot be underestimated. In addition, the story is really funny in some places and touching in others. It also contains a fantastic pair of side characters. It unquestionably demands a follow-up.
Lou Harper – One Hex Too Many
This is yet another story involving magical crimes. This time detectives gifted with acute perceptive ability are investigating a deadly use of prohibited dark magic. A seasoned investigator Mike Mulligan works alone, convinced there is a curse attached to him. Cops, magical or not, are superstitious and the truth is he simply can’t keep a partner. But there comes Hugh Fox, a talented rookie who claims to be straight… at least for a while. I loved Leslie, a fascinating and sensual genderqueer side character, hilarious and hot as hell. It is a very witty, well-written mystery with a strong plot, full of crackling sexual tension and crowned with an adequately satisfying sexy conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would happily read about those characters again.
Andrea Speed – Josh of the Damned vs. The Bathroom of Doom
A paranormal anthology without a vampire story would feel incomplete. In this one, we also encounter lizard guys, slightly disgusting werewolves, necromancers and Cheetos loving hamster zombies. Josh, a regular non-supernatural guy and his stunning vampire boyfriend must deal with a case of bathroom appliances trying to take over a Quick Mart store in order to gain control over the way to and out of Dev. If it sounds completely bonkers and grotesque, that’s because it is. It’s a slightly unusual read, but also very funny.
Astrid Amara – The Trouble with Hexes
After a happy two year relationship private investigator Tim Keller broke up with his heavily tattooed boyfriend over a dangerous activity of hexbreaking Vincent got involved in. Ironically, six month later it is precisely Vincent’s help and expertise he requires to dismantle a malicious terminal withering hex placed on him that it slowing killing him. Both men aim to figure out who’s hell bent on harming Tim, while attempting to rebuild bridges, sort out previous miscommunication and restore the wonderful connection still burning brightly between them. I loved the goosebumps inducing emotional sex scenes. This is a skillfully executed and beautifully bittersweet story on relationships with all the angst, regret and longing attributed to them and a great uplifting finale that made me tear up a little. What a great closure to the entire anthology.
In conclusion, it was a spellbinding (pun intended), greatly varied and hugely enjoyable collection. I was simultaneously satisfied and left yearning in a good way. I need to mention briefly the fabulous cover designed by JCP – simply stunning! If pressed to pick a favourite, I’d say Ginn Hale’s story resonated with me the most. The writing is simply Ginn-ius (sorry, I felt compelled to do it). A novella on Jack Swift’s early days or further adventures of Jack and Finch would make me beyond ecstatic.
I happily award Charmed & Dangerous the rating of 5 – it’s an absolute must read for the paranormal romance and urban fantasy lovers. I usually consider an anthology a success when upon finishing the book I proceed to check out the authors’ other work and end up purchasing hundreds (or in this instance five) of their other novels. What a fitting title, indeed! The collection charmed the pants off me. It also proved dangerous to my finances.