"First Blood," Various

Pros: Strong, emotionally-charged stories with vivid characters
Cons: It might help to be familiar with these authors’ worlds
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review copy (uncorrected proof) courtesy of Penguin Group.
Expected publication date: 8/5/2008.

 

Susan Sizemore’s Cave Canem: Dan Conover has spent two thousand years raising, training, and protecting hellhounds—an unholy crossbreed between werewolf and warhound. Vampires wait ages in the hopes of attaining his permission to keep one of the pups as a pet, companion, and protector. But one vamp in particular has decided not to wait: he drugged Dan and the mother hellhound with a spell, and stole one of the pups. Unfortunately for everyone, his decision has allowed a demon to get his hands on another pup—something demons have been waiting for since the race was created.

Dan is determined to get the pups back unharmed, and Tess, a werewolf assigned to make sure the hellhounds never fulfill their evil potential, is determined to make sure they can’t be used by any demon, even if that means killing them. The two should by all rights be enemies, but circumstances—and a very unnatural mutual attraction—have brought them together.

Valentine shook her head. “I’m not talking about a tendency to chew up the furniture and piss on the carpet. They are monsters who have to be convinced that they’re dogs.”

Erin McCarthy’s Russian Roulette: Vampire slayer Sasha was turned into a vampire, and now her own people want her dead. Vampire Cassandra holds her captive, willing to turn her over to the slayers in return for payment, but another, Alistair, is determined to free and protect her. Unfortunately, Sasha herself is making that difficult. She’s never been able to trust anyone, always had to take care of herself, and she doesn’t see that now is any different. People always want something, and Alistair must be the same. As much as she wants to get away from him, however, she needs his help for the moment, and the more time she spends with him, the more she starts to like him. Can she ever really open up to anyone again, however, after what she’s been through?

Chris Marie Green’s Double the Bite: Twins Ginny and Geneva have been vampires together for quite some time. Their maker had played them off against one another, trying to drive them apart, but before he could entirely succeed they fled him together. Now, however, a stranger threatens to do what their maker could not. Ben has come to find out how and why his brother Nolan died, and his investigation has led him to the twins. Where Ginny senses an instant bond with him, however, Geneva is jealous and suspicious. How will Ginny handle his questions… and the growing feelings between them? And what will Geneva do to keep her sister to herself?

Meljean Brooks’s Thicker Than Blood: Vampire Annie Gallagher returns to Philadelphia to find every vampire she knew dead… and the young human girl she loves missing. In trying to track down Cricket she stumbles across Jack, the FBI agent she loved, and an enemy far more deadly to her than she could imagine. Will Jack accept her as she is now? And can she find Cricket before it’s too late for either of them?

“You don’t mind that, according to most of my colleagues, I’ve become a certifiable nutcase?”

“I suck blood, Jack.”

 

For once there’s such a consistent level of quality in an anthology that I feel I can address it as a whole, rather than piecemeal. While it occasionally took me a moment or two to ground myself in each story’s reality since I’m not familiar with these authors’ worlds, they all swept me in and read smoothly. A couple of minor details were inconsistent, but the copy I read was an uncorrected proof, so odds are they’ll be fixed before the book goes to print.

These authors have a great handle on the difference in what you can achieve between a novel and a short story. Each story concentrates on a shorter scope and an intense relationship. There’s no need for artificial tension or overly-drawn-out conflict to keep lovers apart—the relationships, too, flow beautifully, and the characters are drawn with short, intense strokes that bring them alive.

Vampire fiction isn’t my favorite, largely because there’s so much of it. Much of it ends up sounding the same, with the politics and the various tropes that get repeated from world to world. Each of these stories and worlds, however, had a different strong feel to it, even when there was some amount of overlap in concepts. And more importantly, each story was less about vampires than it was about people and relationships. And these stories were touching enough that I found myself tearing up a bit at several places.

(Standard adult material warning: explicit sex included.)

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