BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Spotlight On: Charmed and Dangerous


Title: Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

Publisher: JCP Books LLC

Contributors: Rhys Ford, Ginn Hale, KJ Charles, Nicole Kimberling, Jordan Castillo Price, Jordan L Hawk, Charlie Cochet, Lou Harper, Andrea Speed, and Astrid Amara

Pages: 500pp

Price: $6.99

Okay, I confess: I bought this anthology because Charles and Hawk each have a story in it. They are two of my favorite authors of paranormal M/M romance, and I wasn't going to pass up the chance to read more of their work. Happily -- surprise! -- the anthology as a whole proved to be a good investment: fantastic stories, terrific characters, detailed world-building, and plenty of happily ever afters.

Aside from Charles, Hawk, and Harper, all of the other contributors were new-to-me authors. Let us just say that I will be handing over large chunks of my paycheck to them in the near future.

First, there is Rhys Ford, whose Black Dog Blues has been sitting in my To Read pile for months. Um, sorry about that. After reading "Dim Sum Asylum," I can't wait to sink my teeth into Black Dog Blues. Briefly, "Dim Sum Asylum" is set in an alternate magical San Francisco -- specifically Chinatown -- populated by humans, fae, dragons, and assorted other critters. A real live gigantic Asian dragon guards the entrance to Chinatown, magic is commonplace, and polytheism is the norm. When Detective Roku MacCormick (the son of an Irish fae woman and a Japanese mortal man) catches his partner stealing eggs from the nest of endangered crested Korean dragons, he ends up shooting the scumbag ... which results him getting a new partner, the very straight-laced, very blonde, apparently heterosexual Trent Leonard. Their very first case involves a cursed fertility idol running loose in Chinatown ... and things just go downhill from there .... A few things that stood out for me: 1) Fae exhibit physiological responses to grief, passion, and other extreme emotions. When they grieve, their eyes take on a citrine tinge along the edges; at one point in the story, Roku spies a fae Buddhist nun whose eyes have turned entirely yellow; 2) The fae are more insect in appearance than avian; they have ommatidia-faceted pupils, and wings like those of butterflies and dragonflies; 3) As noted above, polytheism is the norm in this world; Roku is a devotee of Pele, while Trent honors both Pele and The Morrigan. My immediate reaction upon finishing "Dim Sum Asylum"? More please! Yes, please! More stories with Roku and Trent!

Next up was "Swift and the Black Dog" by Ginn Hale. Once, Godscliff -- a city built on the ledges of a steep river canyon -- was ruled by the Tyrant, a mad wizard who used fear and fire and the darkest of magics to keep the people in line. Then, Jack Swift and his friends, all outcasts of one sort or another, oppressed and persecuted and terrorized, went to war against the Tyrant and fomented a revolution. Swift himself burned the Tyrant to ash, and a new government was installed, one that would be more fair, more just, more equitable. ... At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, one of Swift's old allies has turned, becoming an even greater monster than the Tyrant they overthrew. And Swift is the only man who can possibly stop him .... Again, wow, I want more. Hale has built an amazing world here; I kept imagining the characters in 1940s-style fedoras and long coats, weaving their way through crowded ledges above a polluted and rank river while airplanes and elevators soar up and down, belching smoke. I love the fact that, not only are wizards always gay -- always -- but each wizard's Way is unique; each much find his or her own path to Power; it cannot be taught, but must be learned, though trial and error and instinct. And that, it turns out, is the key to defeating the new, would-be tyrant. After reading "Swift and the Black Dog," Hale moved to the top of my To Read list; I just need to figure which of her books to read first.

Third in the collection is "A Queer Trade" by KJ Charles. While it is set in the same fictional universe as her A Charm of Magpies series, it is not necessary to have read those books to understand what is going on. Very briefly, Crispin Tredarloe is apprentice to the master magical practitioner Hepzibah Marleigh; when the latter dies unexpectedly while Crispin is away, he returns to find that Marleigh's odious relatives have already cleared out the house ... including all of Marleigh's papers, covered in arcane spells. Frantic, Crispin tracks down the waste-man who bought the papers ... unfortunately, Ned Hall has already sold some of the papers, and there is no telling the terrible effects those spells will have when they are loosed on an unsuspecting populous .... *squee* I loved this story. It was the perfect combination of angsty, romantic, and action-packed; plus, it offered a whole new view on Victorian London. I had never before heard of a waste-paper trade; but it was a real thing, and Charles uses this little-known historical tidbit to craft a compelling, fully-realized story. Again, more, please?

The next story is Nicole Kimberling's "Magically Delicious." Also a new-to-me author, I found that Kimberling's style and tone remind me a lot of Lisa Shearin (especially her SPI Files series); and that's a good thing. "Magically Delicious" centers around Keith Curry, a former master chef who is now a special agent with NATO's Irregular Affairs Division. From their secret base beneath the Mall in Washington DC, the NIAD makes sure that the magical and mundane worlds stay out of each other's way. When someone begins targeting NIAD agents, including Keith's ogre boyfriend Gunther, Keith takes it very personally. Warned off the case, he investigates anyway, and stumbles across an even bigger threat than he expected .... After reading this story, I did some digging, and discovered that the NIAD was originally introduced in the anthology Irregulars; even so, I had no trouble following along. This is a fun, fast story. Keith is a terrific protagonist: self-effacing, but still confident, brave enough to do his job because it needs to be done -- even though, as a human, he is way down near the bottom in the hierarchy of powers (seriously, the only advantage humans have is technology and Keith is pissed when his mage gun is taken away). I've added Irregulars to my list.

Following up next is Jordan Castillo Price's "Everyone's Afraid of Clowns." As was the case with Kimberling, Price's story is set in a previously-established series, that of PsyCop; again, a series I haven't had the chance to read yet. For the most part, I found it easy enough to follow along. Briefly, Victor (a skilled medium) and his boyfriend, Jacob, are on their way to a Halloween party when Victor has a particularly intense flash-back to one of his first encounters with a ghost. Jacob insists that they investigate, and they find that the theater has since been converted into a sort of restaurant/coffee shop/haunted house -- one favored by Men's Rights activists. And the ghost isn't anymore pleased by that fact than Victor and Jacob .... Honestly, "Clowns" was one of two stories in the anthology that I really struggled to connect with, and it had nothing to do with the subject matter or the characters. The story opens in the present, then descends into an internal flashback, then returns to the present. For me, the flashback slowed down the story; it would have made more sense to tell the whole thing in present tense: Victor's first encounter with the ghost as a teenager, then skip forward a quarter century to Victor and Jacob returning to the theater. The final revelation as to the ghost's identity was also something of a let-down (sorry, no spoilers). Nonetheless, I liked the characters enough that I have added the PsyCop series to my To Read list.

Jordan L Hawk's "The Thirteenth Hex" is the other reason, besides Charles' story, that I bought this anthology. And I was very pleased to discover that it is an original tale, not one set in any of her other series (although, I would have been perfectly fine with that, since I love her books). Ahem. Anyway. "The Thirteenth Hex" is set in an alternate New York City where Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt and the Metropolitan Witch Police keep the people safe. Dominic Kopecky is a hexman: skilled in mathematics and gemology, he draws the hexes which are later infused with magic by a familiar and then activated by a witch. When the familiar Rook approaches Dominic, convinced that a pharmacist-hexman has been framed for murder, Dominic readily agrees to help him investigate. Along the way, he discovers a terrible conspiracy ... and an unexpected love .... I know, I'm on repeat here, but -- more please! I want more Dominic and Rook stories! This would be an awesome series!

Charlie Cochet is another new-to-me author, and, unfortunately, "The Soldati Prince" was the other story with which I had some trouble connecting. It reads sort of like a tongue-in-cheek riff on the heterosexual shapeshifter romances that are so popular right now, including the fated mates trope. In Cochet's tale, Riley Murrough is a stuck-in-a-rut barista. When he is attacked by a swarm of demons, and then rescued by a pride of supernatural tigers, he thinks that he has completely lost it. Then he discovers that, not only are the demons real, but they are very very determined to kill him ... because he is the destined mate of Khalon, the king of the magical shape-shifting Soldati. Okay, first up, I really liked Riley; a bit of a smart-ass, but brave and loyal. Khalon was a bit too much the insufferable alpha male for me; the story wasn't long enough for him to really change and grow on me. 

I had previously read one of Lou Harper's short stories, "Dead Man and the Lustful Spirit," and enjoyed it enough to add Harper to my list. I had not had the chance to read anymore of her stories, though, before I purchased Charmed and Dangerous and found "One Hex Too Many" among the contributions. In short, the tale follows Detective Michael Mulligan with the city of New Skye's Extramundane Crimes Division, and his brand spanking new partner, Hugh Fox. Mulligan doesn't want a new partner; he's been through so many that he has a reputation for being cursed (officially, he's not). When a scummy car salesman is murdered by dark magic, the two detectives follow a twisting and tragic path, uncovering one victim after another .... Okay, I really, really like the world that Harper has built here. Leslie the office manager/front desk clerk/Captain's gopher is cool; s/he changes sex every week and may not be human, even though non-humans are officially banned from police work. Pixies are not meant to be kept as pets, shape-shifting is illegal, and demons are not to be trifled with. Mulligan has a tragic past, which is only hinted at here; and there is a heck of a lot more to Fox then meets the eye. The magical system is really neat, too; it's physically and psychologically draining to perform magic, and performing too much at once can leave the theurgist a gibbering, brain-melted mess; and dark magic is dangerously addictive. There is room here for many more stories about Mulligan and Fox, and I really hope that Harper writes them.

Next up is Andrea Speed's "Josh of the Damned versus the Bathroom of Doom." Now this was a funny story. Part of a larger series (again, haven't read them), the tale follows Our Hero as he, his vampire boyfriend, and his stoner roommate defend the Quik-Mart from zombie hamsters and enchanted bathroom fixtures. Josh, you see, has been appointed by Medusa to watch over the dimensional portal behind the Quik-Mart. Unfortunately, her completely demented sisters, Stheno and Euryale, are determined to seize her throne -- and that means getting Josh it of the way. Except, you know, insane, so ... they send zombie hamsters, a claw-foot bathtub, and a toothy toilet after him .... I giggled my way through this story. It was a heck of a lot of fun; it felt like a mash-up of Clerks and Shaun of the Dead. Yes, Speed is now on my To Read list.

Finally, there is Astrid Amara's "The Trouble With Hexes." Six months after breaking up with Vincent, Tim comes crawling back to his ex-boyfriend. Tim has been hexed, and Vincent is the only person who can help him ... assuming he wants to help the man who broke his heart. "Hexes" is set in a world analogous to our own: magic is underground, with most people denying that it even exists. People like Tim, who broke up with Vincent in large part because he didn't believe in any of that "voodoo, hocus pocus stuff." Well, now that it's killing him, he certainly does, but it might be too late .... This was a terrific story. I really liked Vincent and Tim, and I especially like the magical system. Vincent is a hex breaker and a tattoo artist; he is covered in protective tattoos, and even inked a few on Tim when they were dating. He uses herbs like crowpepper to "see" the weavings of a hex, and cut through them with his scythe. He took an oath to never cast a hex, but, when he sees how Tim is suffering, he is sorely tempted to break that promise. And, yes, I realize that I sound like a broken record, but pretty, pretty please can we have more stories about Tim and Vincent? Please?

Charmed and Dangerous is a terrific collection. It kept me entertained for a whole week, and had me wishing for me. Go, check it out. Read. Enjoy. Then go read some more.      




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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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