Urban Allies: Will please many fans of urban and paranormal fantasy

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Urban Allies: Ten Brand-New Collaborative Stories Kindle Edition by Joseph Nassise Urban Allies edited by Joseph NassiseUrban Allies edited by Joseph Nassise

I’m always impressed when authors work together, and in Urban Allies, editor Joseph Nassise has managed to pair up twenty authors who not only collaborate, but merge their own characters into ten brand-new and original adventures. Each story shares a similar theme: popular characters from existing series or novels meet up and must join forces in order to defeat a common threat. Since these are urban fantasy authors, every story has a supernatural or paranormal aspect, though the situations and resolutions are completely unique to each tale, ranging the gamut from a haunted house, ghosts, magic of all stripes, plenty of demons, and much more.

As a genre, urban fantasy tends to feature protagonists who embody a certain type of wish-fulfillment, depending on the author and intended audience. The women tend to be beautiful, intelligent, and imbued with supernatural powers like shape-shifting or sorcery which enables them to vanquish any foe. Likewise, the men tend to be rugged alpha males, overflowing with testosterone, brutally dispatching overwhelming numbers of enemies with a hyperbolic arsenal of weapons and whip-smart one-liners. Naturally, these are broad generalizations, but these qualities do appear in some measure or another in almost every story featured in this anthology. The stories are all fairly concise, and each of them is well-written; urban fantasy fans that aren’t too keen on one story are sure find something else which will appeal to them. In almost every story, it’s obvious where one author’s style ends and the other’s begins, and most of them chose a back-and-forth trading of character perspectives, but it was surprising how many of them were able to fit the pieces into a unified whole.

There are only a few issues at hand: the title of the anthology is Urban Allies, but many stories take place in a backwoods or rural area, rather than using a metropolitan setting to full effect. Additionally, each story drops the reader into the shared world, with very little backstory for existing characters or universes, so getting up to speed can be a challenge if readers aren’t already familiar with a particular series. Even introducing a story with a sentence or two of explanation regarding which character comes from which author’s established series would have been welcome, so that readers would know where to look for more of an appealing character or universe. A small biography/bibliography of each author is included at the end, though, which may point curious readers in the right direction.

“Ladies’ Fight,” by Caitlin Kittredge and Jaye Wells: Ava, a hellhound in human form, and Leo, a Grim Reaper, are driving through the Louisiana swamps on their way to New Orleans, where they’re supposed to pick up a Scythe for Leo. They cross paths with Sabina Kane, a Chosen of the Dark Races, her human lover Adam, and a mischievous demon named Giguhl, and the two groups band together for an impressive battle against a necromancer in the St. Louis cemetery. I got a good sense of where these individual characters are at in their current series, but it was hard to feel impressed by Sabina’s lengthy list of titles when I don’t know what she had to go through to get to this point.

“Tailed,” by Seanan McGuire and Kelley Armstrong: Verity Price and Elena Michaels each find themselves far from home in this story, set in the woods outside Albany, NY. Verity, a cryptozoologist, is investigating exotic-animal smuggling at a pet expo while Elena is chaperoning her werewolf twins on a field trip. Verity’s immersion into the natural world was compelling, and Elena’s disinclination to fit in with the other soccer-moms was both charming and funny. The two authors’ styles are well-matched and the character interactions felt totally natural, creating an enjoyable story and providing incentive to seek out each author’s individual work.

“Sweet, Blissful Certainty,” by Steven Savile and Craig Schaefer: Daniel Faust, a temporarily dead man, needs the help of Eddie Sunday, a man who can talk to the dead. Faust seeks information from the ghost of Cadmus Damiola, a magician who claimed to be able to see the future before his disappearance in 1924. Eddie manages to retrieve Damiola, fully alive and well, who is astonished by the success of modern Las Vegas magicians, and agrees to provide Faust with answers in exchange for some help with his own problems. There are a lot of ominous-but-vague portents from Faust about a future which must be avoided, and I wish a little more had been explained with regards to his fears. Damiola’s sections include a lot of references to Glass Town and magic which folds time, which are an interesting set-up for Savile’s upcoming Glass Town novel.

“Pig Roast,” by Joseph Nassise and Sam Witt: Knight Commander Cade Williams, also known as “the Heretic,” leads his Echo Team of the modern-day Knights Templar into Pitchfork County, Missouri, to retrieve the Eye of Horus from a motorcycle club calling themselves the Devil’s Swine. Their point-of-contact is Joe Hark, “The Night Marshal,” who makes cryptic references to the Left-Hand Path and shares Williams’ appreciation for good firearms. It was easy to picture this as a Stallone-Schwarzenegger or Stallone-Lundgren action movie, though readers who have low tolerances for gore and obscenities may want to skip ahead.

“Takes All Kinds,” by Diana Rowland and Carrie Vaughn: Kitty Norville and her husband, Ben, have driven down from Colorado to Louisiana to attend the Southern Paranormal Research Conference. Apparently, even werewolves have to do some professional networking now and again. While lost in the countryside, they spot a blood-splattered car on fire, and notify the police — who bring personnel from the Coroner’s Office, including Angel, a young woman with a zombie parasite and a powerful hunger for brains. Kitty and Angel aren’t sure what to think of each other, but there’s a mystery to be solved, and their differences are easily set aside in pursuit of a murderer. I was hoping for more of a supernatural element to the mystery itself, but the overall story and characters are appealing.

“The Lessons of Room 19,” by Weston Ochse and David Wellington: Jack Walker, normally an upstanding member of U.S. SEAL Team 666, is drunk and beating a ghost with a coat hanger, which may be one of the most notable character introductions I’ve ever seen. He’s holed up in a run-down Pennsylvania motel, too drunk and obsessed with seeing his girlfriend’s ghost to realize that he’s in danger. Laura Caxton, ex-state trooper and ex-con, is sent by unknown persons to retrieve him, but the intensity of witchcraft at play here may be too much for even the two of them to handle. I enjoyed the inclusion of local Hex signs, which can be seen everywhere in Amish country, and the evil element is both inventive and unique.

“Blood for Blood,” by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden: Peter Octavian, former vampire and private detective, recently turned sorcerer, wakes up in a Fae dungeon cell next to the cell containing a vampire calling herself Dahlia Lynley-Chivers. They’ve each been sent from their respective worlds into Faery, the realm of the Fae, on vitally important missions. If either is to escape and achieve their goals, they’ll need to work together and steal something under heavy guard. Harris and Golden have worked together before, and it shows: this is the only story which is told from a single viewpoint, incorporating one of Golden’s characters into Harris’ Southern Vampire universe. Though Dahlia and the overall scenery are Harris’, the dialogue and prose style are definitely Golden’s.

“Spite House,” by C.E. Murphy and Kat Richardson: Joanne Walker, a shaman, visits what claims to be a genuine haunted house on Queen Anne Hill, in Seattle. Harper Blaine, a private investigator and “greywalker,” someone who can see auras and ghosts, is staking out the same house, and goes inside after she sees Jo do the same. The two characters are remarkably alike, both in appearance and overall demeanor, which turns out to be crucial to what’s behind the strange occurrences in the house (and a nice bit of self-effacing humor on the authors’ part). The different magic systems mesh together, the overall plot is strong, and it was interesting to see Jo and Harper’s attributes work in concert.

“Crossed Wires,” by Jeff Somers and Stephen Blackmoore: Lem Vonnegan is a lesser mage in a world in which blood is used as fuel for all magic, no matter how great or small. Eric Carter is a necromancer in a world in which magic suffuses everything, even the air around him. They’re each drawn to a mysterious house in New York City which is somehow simultaneously a glamour and wholly real in both their worlds, a complicated construction of magic that spells doom for countless people and realities. While reliant upon existing books, this story works well as a stand-alone introduction, and a good exhibition of each author’s imaginations.

“Weaponized Hell,” by Larry Correia and Jonathan Mayberry: Captain Joe Ledger, Department of Military Sciences, is paired up with Special Agent Franks, United States Monster Control Bureau, in the desert outside Mosul, Iraq, after Franks saves Ledger’s convoy from an ISIL attack. It seems ISIL has a new tactic, one involving demon-possession of kidnapped teenaged girls, and the two men are tasked with wiping out both the local ISIL base of operations and their source of demons. The story is heavy on combat details, making sure the reader knows exactly what caliber of firearms and ammunition Franks and Ledger have at their disposal, as well as how finely-honed and effective their killing instincts are. Ledger has some surprising moments of introspection, displaying more humanity than is normally seen in this type of character, while Franks is written as a “giant killing machine” with peeks at his curious past.

I don’t normally read much urban fantasy, but this anthology inspired me to stretch outside my usual comfort zone and seek out more short fiction from a number of the authors featured in Urban Allies. Readers who are fans of these authors and their creations are sure to be pleased, and I could recommend any one of these stories to readers who are looking for an introduction to the urban fantasy genre, depending on their personal reading preferences.

Publication date: July 26, 2016. Urban Allies brings together beloved characters from two different urban fantasy series–Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, Joanne Walker and Harper Blaine, Joe Ledger and Agent Franks, Sabina Kane and Ava–in ten electrifying stories. Combining fictional worlds in one dual adventure, each of these stories melds the talents of two high-profile authors, many working together for the first time–giving readers a chance to see their favorite characters in an imaginative and fresh way.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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2 comments

  1. I read a review of a contemporary fantasy book recently and the reviewer called it “rural urban fantasy,” which demonstrates part of the restriction of labels, I guess.

    This sounds fun, but I do wonder, as you mentioned, how easy these stories are for people who haven’t read the source material. I read a Kat Richardson short story before I’d read any GREYWALKER books,and it was hard for me to understand what was going on. On the other hand, it’s an anthology, which means there’s probably something for everybody.

    • Yeah, slicing a genre up into finer and finer distinctions just seems like asking for contention.

      I’ve read a few of the Sookie Stackhouse books, so I was slightly familiar with Harris’ source material, but I was a total newcomer for everything else. So I can vouch pretty strongly that most of the stories do accommodate new readers.

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