Out Of This World

J.D. Robb, Susan Krinard, Maggie Shayne and Laurell K. Hamilton
2001, Paranormal Romance
Jove, $7.50, 357 pages, Amazon ASIN 0515131091

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

It's great to have an anthology where the majority of the stories are so good. Even if you're mainly interested in only one of the authors, be sure to check out the stories by J.D. Robb, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Susan Krinard. Hamilton fans should be aware, however, that the Anita Blake story is actually the first six chapters of the upcoming Narcissus in Chains.

Futuristic Romantic Suspense
J.D. Robb's Interlude in Death begins the anthology. For the two of you out there who haven't heard of this series, Eve Dallas is a police lieutenant in futuristic New York. She is haunted by a painful past and is as tough as they come. She is married to Roarke, a rich, dashing man with a questionable past. The story begins as Eve reluctantly prepares to give a seminar off-planet for the Interplanetary Law Enforcement & Security Conference. There she meets Commander Skinner, a retired officer, who flaunts a captaincy in her face if she will help him bring down Roarke. She refuses, none too politely, and before long people begin dying and fingers start pointing in Roarke's direction.

Fans of the In Death series will not want to miss this novella and folks looking for a gritty, fast-paced little mystery with a strong, maturing romance will not be disappointed. Roberts expertly weaves in enough information to bring new readers up to date (plus those, like me, who haven't had time to keep up with the series) without boring her long-time readers with too much back story. Grade: A-

Fantasy Romance
Susan Krinard's Kinsman is an adventure-filled love story set in a futuristic land. In Jonas Kane VelArhan's world there exist humans, kinsmen, and a highly intelligent red-furred alien race called the shaauri. The kinsman are a race of humans (many with telepathic powers) who keep the peace between humans and the shaauri. After his wife's tragic accident seven years earlier, Jonas turned his back on humanity and went to live with the shaauri, who taught him to value his life. Now he has returned to humanity and is determined to find out the particulars behind the so-called "accident" that destroyed his life. Before he can begin his own investigation, Galatea (Tea) Dianthe, a beautiful human with many secrets, approaches him and asks that he help locate her lost brother. She offers a deal that the lonely man cannot refuse. Together they begin an adventure fraught with danger and find a deeply satisfying love that soothes both of their lonely hearts.

Jonas is a classic Krinard hero: tortured, lonely, wary and remote. Tea is brave, self-assured, and more than a little sneaky in order to attain her goals. Together they make a good team. The novella format and the action-oriented plot leave too little time for romance development, but Krinard neatly sidesteps this problem by using a handy-dandy paranormal ploy that works well here. This is a deftly written speculative fiction romance lacking the silliness that so often pervades this sub-genre. Now all I want is a story about those furry mate-for-life shaauri's. Grade: B

Fantasy Romance
Next up is Maggie Shayne's Immortality, and it's the weakest story in the bunch. Queen Puabi is an immortal witch. We're told she is the darkest of the Dark Witches but you'll have to take the author's word for it, because we're never shown the reasons why in this overwrought tale of woe. Queen Puabi seems pretty tame here despite her Eeevil reputation. When the book begins, she is distraught enough to make an attempt at ending her immortal life by diving into the sea. Millionaire Matthew Fairchild is pretty distraught himself and is also contemplating suicide when he finds her pale lifeless body washed up on his private island. She is still alive, of course, and strangely enough is a dead ringer for his dead wife. Together these two bundles of joy and mirth find redemption and love amidst scads of melodramatic events including but definitely not limited to hurricanes, plane crashes and head bashings.

I am assuming this story is part of Shayne's Witch trilogy (which I haven't read) because many things were alluded to but never elaborated on. I felt like I had been dropped smack into the middle of an unpleasant ongoing story. As a result, neither character came across as terribly likable and I didn't care a whit if they found redemption or became snacks for a hungry shark. Fans of this series may feel differently. This one gets a grade of D for the over-the-top kitchen sink plotting and the sketchily drawn characters. Grade: D

Horror
Laurell K. Hamilton's Magic Like Heat Across My Skin is a preview from the forthcoming Narcissus in Chains (due in hardback October 2001.) It moves the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series along in a highly anticipated direction. The last time we saw Anita, who also leads the wereleopards (see Obsidian Butterfly), she was torn between her two lovers and was frustratingly celibate. The two men in her life are Jean Claude, the dead sexy vampire who understands and embraces her dark side, and Richard, the sensitive, heart-stoppingly handsome werewolf. Both appeal to her for different reasons but who holds a piece of her heart? Anita has been diligently avoiding the situation but is forced to face down both of her "boys" when her wereleopards get themselves into a dangerous situation.

Will she finally be forced to choose between the two? And will they save the wereleopards from a powerful sadist? This is a not-to-be-missed read for fans of the series, although it's up to you whether you want consider this short story an appetizer or wait until the full-length book is released. The pace is fast, the reunion nearly sets the pages aflame, and it even manages to pack a painful emotional punch for readers familiar with the story. New readers to Anita Blake's world may be confused by several references and will not understand the dynamics of the various relationships but the sexual heat and unique characters still make for an entertaining read. This novella gets an A if you have read the series before this point, but because of the possible "huh?" factor, new readers would like it somewhat less. Because every book should stand alone, this one gets a B grade. Grade: B

If you're on the lookout for a story with a different setting, a romantic bent and a darker edge these novellas, with the exception of the Shayne dud, are easy for me to recommend.

-- Laurie Shallah

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  Author Links
Nora Roberts/JD Robb at AAR
Susan Krinard on her SF/F roots
Susan Krinard on the Allure of Paranormal Characters
Laurell K. Hamilton interview
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