Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Irregulars

Irregulars  Anthology

I've enjoyed each of the author's works separately, but together, they created a world so multi-faceted and unique that someone could easily write dozens of stories inside it without repeating themselves once. Fantastic, alluring, and simply awesome.
All stories are set in the same universe, and each story contains a mystery, a romance, an aspect of worldbuilding, and a message. This setup, and of course their shared universe, connects the stories to make four pieces an almost seamless whole, but there's also a distinct individuality to each novella which I'd attribute mostly to each author's personal preferences and style. Mind you, we've got four masters of their craft at work here, so each novella contains all aspects, and all stories are beautifully woven, but each story focuses on one particular aspect of the basic scheme.

In order of appearance:

Cherries Worth Getting by Nicole Kimberling

Being in the forefront, this story had to paint the backdrop for the other three, which it did with subtle perfection by using bold strokes. Sounds contradictory? Well it isn't. The key was using a normal place - Portland, in this case, - and a normal activity - buying food from a food cart - and then dropping a bomb smack in the middle of this peaceful scenery - human meat as contraband. From there, I felt irresistibly sucked into a world where blissfully oblivious humans live side by side with beings from other realms, where everybody could be wearing a disguise and next to nothing is quite like it seems.
Human meat is a traditional dish among otherworldly races like for example goblins and vampires, but recently it has become a sought-after delicacy for food-crazy humans, too. Of course, in order to serve human meat, humans have to be killed, and since we're in the human world here, the killing of people is still murder. This is where the Irregulars come in. Former chef turned agent Keith Curry and goblin expert Agent Gunter Heartman have been lovers before, but their antagonistic parentage brought them apart. Now forced to work together, they slowly find their way back to each other.
The focus here was on the mystery. Hunting down leads, some of them false, questioning witnesses, testing evidence - the story had all the elements of a genuine murder mystery, and a very good one at that. It was also, at least to me, the most hair-rising of the four. Cannibalism, just for the thrill of it - Oh.My.God. Weaving an actually rather sweet romance into something like this, and coming out with a positive message like don't let your preconceived notions stop you from falling in love with someone, that's quite an achievement.

Green Glass Beads by Josh Lanyon

Ah, the master, he did it again - wove a story so full of subtle romance and sophisticated character development I couldn't help falling in love with age-old Rake, seemingly detached and single-mindedly unscrupulous investigator, and half-faery Archer, quick-witted, passionate intellectual. This story may have some exciting cat-burglar action, magic-wielding and bloodshedding, but first and foremost, it's a tender, poignant, heartwarming, and yes, VERY sexy love story. It's the most character-driven story of the four, and its message is the simple ancient wisdom that love comes with true care and consideration, and anything else is just so much noise.

No Life But This by Astrid Amara

In regard to cruelty, bloodshed and outlandishness, this was the darkest and most sinister of the four stories, in the truest sense of the word, since the world of Aztaw it introduced literally has no light. This story was also something of a maverick - although it was still set in the Irregulars universe, it created a subsphere of its own where a different set of rules apply. Which was also this story's biggest forte. The worldbuilding took my breath away with its imagination and colorful weaving. And then, the character of Deven - an assassin who kills as easily as he breathes but still somehow preserved his innocent soul, which makes him something like a feral child. He's slow to trust, but once he does, he's loyal to his own death. Gruff and aloof agent Silas August balances Deven perfectly. Those two found each other slowly, almost reluctantly while the story moved around them and pulled them along with breathtaking speed to the explosive finale.

Things Unseen and Deadly by Ginn Hale

While the first story set the foundation, this last story wrapped everything up nicely, though still standing very much on its own. I thought this story the most intellectual of the four, from the whacked-out cookie jamboree where all characters of the other storys have their brief reappearance, to the many hidden hints and references. This story had also the most memorable character for me in Henry, the Half-Undead bum, a man forcefully stripped of all his humanity who's still the epitome of a decent considerate being. The story took a classic plot, the lost prince and his world-weary, self sacrificing knight in shining armor, and turned it into something unique and new, something very tender and touching as those two lost souls connect and ultimately safe each other.

Every single one of those storys was a treat on its own, but together they were just perfect. They entertained me and touched my heart, they made me think and flattered my intelligence, they made my skin crawl and my heart race in excitement and had me laughing out loud more than once.

Books like this one are rare gems that stand out like lighthouse beams from the fog of mediocrity. Books like this one are the reason I read.

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