On the Prowl – story collection

I picked this up solely for Patricia Briggs. I find it a little odd that a Briggs story is part of this collection; the other three contributors seem to be firmly in the sex-soaked PNR category, and Briggs … isn’t. At least, the Mercy Thompson books aren’t, despite what their covers look like; it’s a hard sell when someone, particularly a male someone, has understandable difficulty looking past the tramp-stamped Mercy doppelgängers that scream “hot werewolf sex”. Not, of course, as loudly as the cover of On the Prowl screams it (midriff-baring leopard skin) … But Mercy really is urban fantasy… a protestation that loses a little ground with an anthology like this. For example, I went into it dreading the novella by the single-named Sunny; the first book in her series has this line in its description: “A smoldering debut novel exploring the passion, hunger, and danger that can break loose in the moonlight”. Oh. Fabulous. Ms. Briggs, what fresh hell is this? Are the Alpha & Omega novels, which I have not located all of yet, PNR? Say it ain’t so …

Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs
It ain’t so. This is solid Patricia Briggs. Anna has been a werewolf for three years, and it’s been brutal; only now is she exposed to the idea that it might not always be so. This is a great introduction to the characters and the world – and strictly PG-rated, at that. It could easily have gone deep into PNR territory; it has a lot of the elements. But this is a well thought out world with rules the magic must follow, and the aspects of the story a lesser writer would have turned into mindless hot werewolf sex were treated seriously, mindful of the characters’ personalities and histories and futures. Patricia Briggs writes with the mindset of “This is the character as she as been formed, warts and all, as three-dimensional and life-like as I can convey her. This happens to her, and then this. What is she thinking? What is she feeling? How does she react?” What some of these other authors set down on paper remind me of a little girl banging her dolls together to try to approximate what she think grown-ups do together. The bad PNR author has a little more comprehension than that little girl of the mechanics at least, but the level of relationship and character development conveyed is about on par, and while both processes might be fun for the perpetrator, neither is nearly as rewarding to an observer. And that, my children, is why Patricia Briggs writes urban fantasy, not PNR: her writing presents a realistic world into which fantasy elements are realistically introduced and through which her characters make their way in a believable manner. One fifty-cent word to cover it all: verisimilitude. Briggs achieves it. PNR, very very often, does not. Her work is not, I repeat not PNR. It is good urban fantasy. Very good.

Inhuman by Eileen Wilks
The version of Earth which Eileen Wilks has created has undergone a wee bit of a change. Power winds swept through a little while ago, and unleashed or emphasized or tore loose magical abilities in people who never suspected such things existed. Kai has an odd gift, not one she can explain easily, and not one she wants to try: she loses friends when she tells them she can see their thoughts. One person she doesn’t have to worry about in that regard is her neighbor, Nathan; whatever he is, he’s stranger than Kai. And their relationship is changed, accelerated, when they discover that whatever has been killing the Gifted in the neighborhood is using a human appearance – a very particular, dangerous human appearance. I like the writing, I like the characters and the use of mythology and the concept of the mage-winds. And the I-suppose-inevitable sex scene was comparatively tasteful, and the conclusion of it actually got a little snort of laughter out of me. On purpose, even. I’m interested. I do wonder why he says “Eh” all the time; it’s an odd idiosyncrasy. It happens at the beginnings of sentences, so he’s not trying to pass as Canadian….

Buying Trouble by Karen Chance
Haidar reigned in his horse. *sigh*

This was not what I expected. I liked it. I didn’t love it, but all of the otherwise gag-worthy elements (glowy elves and much-put-upon heroines and such) are dealt with in such a way that my interest was held and I was entertained, and never tempted to actually retch. I liked the transition between mostly-ordinary here-and-now and a sort of D&D setting. I liked the system of magic. I didn’t like the incompleteness of the story, though; yes, of course it’s just the beginning of the tale and if I want more I’ll just have to go get the books; but there’s a major character who shows up, has one line, and vanishes again, never to be seen and only briefly to be heard of. This character deserved at least one solid scene with Claire; happy, or tense, or uncertain, or dismayed, or all of the above – whatever, it should have happened and did not. In all, it was enough fun that I’ll take a … I can’t say “take a chance”, can I? I’ll give further Karen Chance books a try.

One qualm I had about this for a while was the way the pair’s clothing disappeared. Neither exactly started out dressed for being on the run, and then they both quickly ended up shoeless; a few pages later Claire is using his shirt for bandages, and other bits and pieces variously didn’t survive. So I was kind of wondering what they were going to do when they left their shelter … Yay deus ex machina. (Dragon ex machina…) A smaller(ish) qualm was that Claire was torn up about having accidentally killed the horse, but not too fussed by the men (elves, she corrected in a non-pejorative manner) she’d hurt and probably killed. I’m a horse lover. I’d be bothered too. But I’d be just a bit more bothered by the people, even if they were trying to kill me. Claire seemed utterly unaffected. Question – Claire’s other self, twin self, whatever, is … a baby. And has to grow up. But she’s not going to let it out much. So … Will that stunt its/her growth? It’s referred to as a second personality – how separate are they? (I know, I know: Read the other books.)

Mona Lisa Betwining by Sunny
Oh, now, this – this is what I was dreading. This is where That Cover comes from. I had low expectations for all but Patricia Briggs in this book, and was two-thirds pleasantly surprised. But this is … bloody awful. This hits on every dreadful cliché of PNR – from tight inner sheaths on down. The first chunk of the book has Mona *gag* Lisa (sorry – my gorge rises every time I read the name, and typing it is even worse) mooning and pining and moping because Her Beloved Is Dead and She Isn’t Pregnant. Thing is, though, even though her lover is dead she’s got at least a couple of spares, and uncounted other stunningly gorgeous males flocking from everywhere for a chance at bedding her. Literally. Of course, she’s not THAT fickle. She’ll stick to the two she’s got left … until circumstances dictate otherwise, of course. Grief has little effect on libido in this world. Libido, in fact, rules all, as I can’t imagine being pinned against a tree in one’s scanties would be so very conducive to sex as it seems to have been for her. Bark, and all. Rough. Dirty. And rubbing up against the tree wouldn’t be too comfortable either. (Ba-dum-tish.)

I thought (hoped), from reading this, that “Mona” was the Queen’s title (related to “Monere”), and the … heroine’s name was Lisa, creating a moniker that she and others would cringe over as much as I do. But then again, unless the title has followed her all her life, from what I care to read about it I guess it isn’t. Ew. The names – all of them, not just … ML – are calculated to irritate me thoroughly. Gryphon and Amber and Halcyon – good grief, they’re the sort of names you put in stories you write when you’re sixteen and then burn a few years later in horror at how juvenile they were. They’re purest OMG PRITTEEEE. Using one such? Maybe allowable; they are purty. All of them plus … ML? No. No no nonono. Uh uh.

Really. No.

The language … even besides the oh-come-on-really? “erotic” scenes, it’s dreadful. The clichés extend well beyond those scenes, and there is an inconsistency between pseudo-high-fantasy and ML’s present-day slanginess which is probably intended to emphasize how new she is to all of this but which makes no sense at all when some of the High Fantastic occurs in the first-person narration. Yes, that’s a terrible sentence, but I blame the influence of what I’ve been reading. If you know what I mean. The tone seems to be deadly serious, but then the first person narrator gets snarky (when I’m depressed, I’m not snarky), then …well, then, sex. Lather, rinse, repeat, ad, literally, nauseam.

The other novellas in the collection did a nice job of serving as introductions to the worlds they take place in, and to the characters the writers want the reader to come spend more time with. “Betwining” (which – huh?) did not do such a nice job. I’d never heard of Sunny or this character-I-refuse-to-name-again, or the Monere (wait – Oh, of course there’s an accent grave: Monère; is that just random because it’s pritteee or does it actually follow any rule of spelling?), and I spent a fair amount of the story at least slightly baffled. It didn’t take long to start skimming. And until I reached the line about the male lead’s nipples standing up like little soldiers … Appalled, I flipped a few pages further, and what I read next was worse (no, I’m not writing it, I’m still queasy), and – there, done.

Highly recommended

“Pardon me. I’ve got to go poke out my mind’s eye.”
–Frasier Crane

Sorry, Ms. Briggs. I love you, but … If the bad apple had been in the middle and I’d left the book with a better taste in my mouth, I might be able to be more generous with my rating. Not even “Alpha and Omega” could make up for the horrors of Monère. It’s interesting, actually; the book starts off with a great novella, goes on to a very good one, to a good one, to a dreadful one. Also, and possibly related, in the first story there is very little sex; in the second, only a little more; more still in the third; and, finally … Cleanup on aisle four, please. *shudder*

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