Review: Urban Enemies
In general, I tend to steer clear of Urban Fantasy. Always have. Every once in a while I’ll make a foray into the realm, but by and large I’ve been disappointed with what I’ve found. The obvious exceptions, for me, being Butcher, Correia, and Hanover. The really difficult part is that there is quite literally a metric ton of Urban Fantasy books out there, and there are more and more showing up on the shelves all the time. With all those possible choices available, how does one go about finding the next great Urban Fantasy series/author to start reading? Well, short stories can sometimes help give you an idea as to whether you’re going to like an author or not. Trouble is, even some of the really popular novel authors don’t know how to write a good short story. So how can you tell? I’ll always fall back on recommendations. Anyone got one for me? I’ll trade you a few. Check it out.
URBAN ENEMIES is a short story anthology, edited by Joseph Nassise, and had quite a few author names that I recognized at first glance. More than enough to catch my attention when it came through the grinder, anyhow. And this one was about bad guys to boot. Such a deal. How often do we get to understand the bad guy? How many bad guys have legitimate reasons to be the way they are? I figured that I was about to find out.
As per my usual, here’s a breakdown of where the stories sat if I would have rated them individually:
- Loved: 3
- Liked: 2
- Liked and Hated: 2
- Mediocre: 7
- Didn’t Like: 3
- Hated: 0
A lot of entries landed slap-bang in the middle, but here are the details on my favorites of the bunch.
“Even Hand” by Jim Butcher: Gentleman John Marcone is the major Chicago crime boss in the Dresen series. Who else would Butcher choose to write about, really? A woman named Justine shows up at Marcone’s place and asks for asylum by the Seelie Accords. He’s not excited about helping her, but he knows she has connections to the White Court of vampires and she has a child with her. A creepy water-demon Fomor is chasing her. She’s taken something from them, and he wants to take the woman and the child back into the water with him. Not all is as it appears on the surface of this one, but Marcone takes the bait because having one of the Fomor attack his stronghold is a good first field test for his defenses…
“Altar Boy” by Jonathan Maberry: A guy that “works” for Joe Ledger (another great series I could have mentioned) meets a girl and starts to fall for her. He finds out that she’s more than she seemed to be and has actually played a very large part in his pained and twisted past. Some great character moments here, and I loved the ending.
“The Difference Between Deceit and Delusion” by Domino Finn: A west-african vampire in plate armor with a couple massive loop swords take his two voodoo-wielding bad-A buddies to go find the guy that tried to setup a money laundering scheme from drug-dealers through their boss’s perfectly legit (mob) business channels. This one was brilliant. Intense, unexpected, and loads of fun. I’m going to be looking this guy up for some future Urban Fantasy reading in the future.
“Balance” by Seanan McGuire: A “cuckoo” watches for a victim to psychically link to, and then they make the victim take care of it. The victim makes up a majority of the story surrounding their relationship inside their own head, so everything makes sense to them. Allows the cuckoo to live a life of safety and luxury without running into any trouble. This cuckoo runs into someone they didn’t expect to find though. McGuire consistently writes good stories. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought one was amazing, but they’re all really solid, including this one.
Outside of those that I loved or liked, the stories generally felt really rushed. Like the authors were trying to put too much information into a short story. Granted, lots of these stories come from series with loads of world-building associated with them, and how does one go about writing a short story in a setting like these that wouldn’t alienate or disorient new readers?
Answer: make the story more simple.
Unfortunately, most of these stories don’t do that, and they suffer for it. Issues ranged from there not being enough information to understand either what was going on or the significance of what was going on, to getting all of that information in a massive info-dump, to there being way too many characters to keep track of, to not even having any kind of ending to wrap up the story and having it feel like a deleted chapter from one of the books instead.
Based on this reading, I’m realizing that there are likely a whole lot more completely mediocre vampire novels floating around out there than I realized. Also, it might be that I’ve just been reading too much dark fantasy lately, but a lot of these stories didn’t really read like stories about villains. Baddies not bad enough? Maybe. Might be me on this score. I’m not quite sure.
Although there were a handful of stories or so that I enjoyed, the overwhelmingly large majority of them were disappointments for me. Nothing special. At least I got one new author to read out of the bunch though. As my college professor used to say, “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: Quite strong and, at times, heavy with it
- Violence: Lots of vamps of the non-sparkly persuasion would suggest...
- Sex: A couple scenes and more than a few references