I'll avoid major spoilers, but will put them under a cut for organization, and brevity.
This is the main reason I bought this anthology - I mean, I also figured it'd be good to sample some other urban supernatural stuff to see if any of it intrigued, but the first short installment of the Briggs Alpha and Omega series (the next two books of which I've already read) was what really sold this one.
For the record, the Alpha and Omega series follows two of the characters within the Mercy Thompson series' world, an Alpha and Omega werewolf. This is the story of how they meet up, and sets up the dynamic for the rest of the series.
The world in this case is fairly normal modern-day, if you assume that there has always been a hidden preternatural community living alongside our own, and that about twenty years ago, the Fae came out of the closet so to speak, leaving the hidden position of other, less cuddly species (such as Werewolves and Vampires) a bit more precarious. Witches exist, as do many and various other beings of myth and legend, although the story (like its related series) definitely has a more urban, real-world feel. There are supernatural abilities, and magic, but they follow their own rules.
Anna is one of these creatures - a Werewolf, who's part of a pack that makes her feel useless and keeps her cowed in some pretty nasty ways. Although thankfully said ways are mostly just alluded to, as background, and not shown. It's for character building, not titillation or shock value.
Things are going down with her new pack though, bad things, and she suddenly finds herself as liason for Charles, a dominant wolf and son of the Marrok, Alpha among Alphas for the North American werewolves. He's come to investigate what's going on, but of course things are never quite that simple... The story itself is partly just following the action and investigation, but more than that dwells on the two characters, how they interact, and how their relationship develops.
Anyhow, I probably don't need to say how I liked this one, since I've made no bones about my love for the Mercy Thompson books, and my general liking for anything connected. I don't like the Alpha and Omega stuff quite as much, but it's still definitely among the good stuff as far as urban-supernatural goes, and this short story is the same.
Kai Tallman Michalski is a telepath of sorts, seeing thoughts as visualizations, and just describing herself to her friends as an empath. In this world, it appears that something called "power winds" came through the world perhaps a year or two ago, bringing magic and creatures from mythology back out into the world and in view. Because of this, the "Gifted" people who have various psychic or magical abilities are held by many with scorn, and viewed with fear and hatred, and the world is still scrambling to find its balance and deal with the new reality.
Things have been even worse in Kai's neck of the woods lately though, because an unknown killer has killed two people already, and although it's not known to the public at large, both were Gifted. One of those investigating is Nathan, Kai's friend, who keeps the fact that he isn't exactly human hidden from most of the world. Kai is one of the very few who knows, if not the only one.
When a third person is killed though, things go from bad to worse, and it goes from being a general worry to something more deeply connected to Kai.
This one surprised me a bit, since it seemed like it was going to be something blander than it was, and then suddenly... it was a bit more interesting. The characters feel well-realized enough, and the dynamics between them are fairly interesting.
My main beef with the story is that the world and backdrop itself doesn't seem all that extremely compelling. Although part of it may be just the shortness of the story, where there's not as much space to develop things, really I didn't feel like there was much to differentiate this from various other "it's the real world but hey, there's magic" stories, since the power winds aren't gone into, nor are the nature of the realms, or any rules of magic or anything of the sort.
Anyhow, all in all this was fairly good, but not perfect. One of those stories that leave me possibly thinking of picking up a book in the World of the Lupi series as it's apparently called, but not rushing off to do so immediately while salivating for more.
Here we have Claire, a null in a world of mages, where her only apparent talent is to cancel out the talents and magics of others. Her life sucks, her family life was horrible, and to make matters were her job (working as part of security at an occult auction house) is about to take a turn for the really horrible.
While working, Claire is approached by one of the Light Fey, a group that she's had slight dealings with in the past, none of them good. But that's not even the worst of it, as events start that land her and the strange Fey in an altogether different place, one that could get both of them killed if they're not careful, and ready to work together...
This story leaves me hot and cold. I generally like the characters and voice, and some of the concepts and action bits are interesting. That said, there are also bits that seem to lean more toward the wish-fulfillment side of things, where things happen because hey, they're cool, and the characters come together not because they drift that way, but because tab A is shoehorned into slot B, so to speak.
And as for the world, while we get some broad strokes here and there, it's left very much undetailed. We're not even told really how "known" magic and the occult are, although I get the impression from some bits toward the end that we're supposed to assume it's like the real world, where the general public isn't aware of the supernatural being real. But I'm not even sure of that. And it's a bit harder to really get into an alternate world, when you don't even know what's going on, or any of the rules that may apply.
So in general this story left me somewhat like the previous one, at the point where I might at some point pick up a book in the series, but am not driven to do so. Perhaps I liked it a bit less and would be less likely to look further into the world than with Wilks' story. But it wasn't terrible.
I had problems going into this story, since I was struggling to just leave my preconceptions at the door, when starting to read a story whose writer's nom de plume sounds more like a porn-star handle.
It turns out I didn't have to worry about it - the preconception was pretty much firmly along with the tone of the text itself.
The plot - what it is - revolves around a shapeshifter named Mona Lisa, who is the queen of this world's version of the were, or at least one geographical region of them, in Louisiana. Apparently it's following some other events of some other story somewhere, and we get some description of said events, but I didn't really worry about following all that much, because it was one part story more or less to three parts sex.
Now, sex is pretty much part of the package, so to speak, with most urban supernatural series. Some handle it more gracefully than others, or have it take over more of the, uh, action, as it were. But while the second and third of this anthology's stories included sex, and in at least some small amount of description, it wasn't overly done, it felt more or less natural (perhaps a bit less, in the case of "Buying Trouble"), was more like romance than gratuitous boinking, and it didn't take up much of the story.
Then we have this, which is the shortest of the four stories, and by far has the most sex. And the most graphic sex. To the point where it feels less like a story, and more like a couple sex scenes with a bit of plot begrudgingly sprinkled around them. The world itself, the characters' apperance and the physical locations aren't given with nearly the luxurious detail of just what two different characters at different points are doing to the main character, and how.
Seriously, when a roughly sixty-page short story includes two sex scenes, encompassing (not to put too fine a point on it) relatively(!) vanilla sex, oral, and anal, you know something's up. So to speak.
Needless to say, I'm feeling no desire to read any others in the series. If I want porn, I'll buy porn, and it will probably involve pretty pictures. When I'm buying a fantasy story, I want some plot, kthnx.
Overall, while obviously I didn't love each bit of the book to death, I'd say this is generally a good anthology, and not a waste of money. It at least lets you sample four different urban supernatural worlds for the price of one, and see what might be intriguing enough for future sampling.