"Inked," various authors

Pros: Lovely and highly original stories! Pretty good intros to the authors’ worlds
Cons: One story that rushed; now you’ll want to go pick up more books!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

The anthology Inked includes four tales of urban fantasy and paranormal romance that revolve around some rather unusual tattoos. The tattoos are used as a loose theme to tie together the stories, but this sort of book serves two main purposes: to introduce you to the works and worlds of these four authors, or to give you a chance to read about some of the small “extra” stories that take place between the authors’ other books.


 

Inked includes four short works, longer than stories and shorter than novels. The first, Karen Chance’s Skin Deep, finds a war mage trying to deal with a magical ward that has a mind of its own. It’s taken up residence on her skin in the seeming of a dragon tattoo, and it has no intention of leaving! The problem is, she really can’t spare the time and energy to deal with it. Her beloved is missing, and only she can find him. The story is funny, poignant, and gripping, and I immediately went and dropped several of Ms. Chance’s books on my wishlist.

Marjorie M. Liu’s Armor of Roses introduces us to the latest in a long line of demon hunters. She’s investigating a murder, but it seems to lead back to a case her grandmother worked long ago, and her own allies don’t want to tell her what’s going on. Liu’s story gives us a dark and unflinching look at a less well-explored part of World War II, and introduces us to a fascinating legacy.

Yasmine Galenorn’s Etched in Silver sets a half-human, half-fae investigator, Camille, on the trail of an extremely dangerous man. She discovers a surprising ally in her task, however, in the form of Trillian, one of a type of Fae few trust. As he sets out to help her, a strange connection seems to form between the two of them. I felt that this one rushed a bit, making it seem a little anticlimactic, but the story was quite interesting. Despite the complexity of Ms. Galenorn’s world, the story seemed to do a good job of making things easy to understand. So far I have only read a couple of the books in this series because they don’t seem to stand alone so well, and I’ve missed too many of them to want to go back and grab the whole series. I think if I’d happened into them near the beginning, however, I’d be following along with each new entry.

Eileen Wilks’s Human Nature takes FBI agent Lily Yu to Northern California to investigate the death of a werewolf. She’d better hurry, however, because there are plenty of people who don’t want her to investigate. The local sheriff hates shapeshifters, and has a perfect scapegoat in one of them already; he’d do anything to find an excuse to kill the young man. The leader of a “Humans First” group lives in the area, and his daughter claims that the deceased man fathered her child. And that’s only the beginning. Right now, she can’t even tell how the man was killed, let alone who, or what, might have done it. This tale presented a fascinating mystery, in a world that was presented fairly well and clearly despite the short length of the story. I love Lily as a character, and enjoyed watching the complex dance of were/human politics.

 

As introductions to authors’ worlds, these stories do a fantastic job. There might be a few minor confusions here and there, but it doesn’t take long to find your footing. The tales are fascinating, and I certainly had difficulty putting the book down. The mood ranges from fun to flirtatious, somber to horrific. There is adult material included, in terms of both explicit sex and dark subject matter (particularly in the part set in World War II). The stories do a surprising amount of justice to their premises and settings.

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