The Crimson City series, created by Liz Maverick, is set in Los Angeles in the future when humans share the city with Vampires, Werewolves, Mechs and Demons. "Shards Of Crimson" has four short stories by Liz Maverick, Patti O'Shea, Carolyn Jewel and Jade Lee set within the Crimson City world and focusing on secondary characters from the earlier books. It's not necessary to have read any of the full-length novels to enjoy these stories but it can help to understand the background setting and some of the characters if you have.
"A Time To Howl" by Liz Maverick is the first story and it covers the Rogues, a breakaway group from the main power structures of the city, comprising a werewolf Tajo, vampire Hayden and two humans Jill and Bridget. They work as mercenaries but find that they have been set up, when watching the main vampire headquarters, as someone tries to kill a princess of the Werewolves, Gia, who is about to be given as bride to one of the vampires. Tajo the Werewolf ends up taking her hostage to keep her safe until they find who is trying to kill her. Of course Stockholm Syndrome does its work and although Tajo is a rough and ready man and not fit for a princess nature takes its course and the pair of them have to face up to the vampires.
Readers of this story would probably benefit from having read "Crimson Rogue" by Maverick as there are a lot of characters whose backstory we never quite fully understand. Although a good read with some moments of action there are also some unlikely plot devices and the relationship between the protagonists seems rather one-dimensional.
"DX" by Carolyn Jewel was a very different story, focusing on Hell Marshall, recently sacked from her job at Internal Operations in Crimson City following her relationship with a vampire, Tuan Ng. Hell is brought back to the team on a one-off basis to investigate a demon killing - the demon (the most dangerous kind, a Bak-Faru) almost killed Tuan and as Hell knows Tuan it is thought she will have most success with the investigation. She's partnered with Agent Jaden Lightfeather and very quickly their hormones start flying. However it soon becomes apparent that enemy and friend are somewhat confused and Hell has to decide who to trust - whether an evil demon can in fact be safer and more trustworthy than a friend.
This story had some interesting events and the underlying themes of the nature of trust and evil gave this story more depth. Hell knows that the hero has evil in him, she senses it, and yet she can also tell that he will protect her - it's unclear whether she's actually sold out for a handsome face and whether she will be happy with her future life but the tensions within the story make it a fun ride. This story worked well as a stand-alone and could be read without knowing any of the other Crimson City series as all necessary backstory is woven into the narration. It's an enjoyable read and very different from the preceding book in the collection.
The third book, "School Bites" by Jade Lee, was a particularly good contribution. Toni Freedman is a schoolteacher at a Middle School in Crimson City but her whole life is turned upside down when trying to break up a student fight. She is accidentally bitten by a young boy who has turned werewolf for the first time. Although applying the antidote it soon becomes clear that it hasn't worked and the school principal, John Wong, takes her home - getting rather more than he had bargained for in the process. Wong tries to train Toni in how to deal with being a werewolf - he is a Druid and has some skills in helping werewolves to keep control of their natures - but there is a definite deadline; if she doesn't show up at school on Monday everyone will know that she's a werewolf and she will lose her job. But things aren't as easy as they seem and when Toni returns to the school the secret is out - but it's not just her secret. Toni learns a great deal more about her fellow-teachers and students and what the school is actually about, as well as learning what it means to be a feared minority.
The themes of this story, although about otherworldly creatures, relate just as well to our world and that is part of the strength of this tale. ExcIusion, lack of acceptance and fear of otherness are all things that Toni faces, along with her doubts about her own strength and control. We meet the two main characters in the full-length novel "A Taste Of Crimson", Keeli and Michael, but this story works very well without any background knowledge of the series. It's a good read with some interesting points but may have benefited from being longer so that Toni's relationships with her school children, with Wong and with the werewolf community of which she is now a part could have been more deeply explored.
The final story is "Dark Awakening" by Patti O'Shea and is significantly shorter than the rest. It follows Kimi Noguchi, a young lady who has a crush on Nic, a demon and the half-brother of her cousin Mika. Nic seems to be avoiding her but she discovers eventually that he has been warned off her. Kimi is aware that she is a kijo, a special type of human and that she will gain some extra powers through training, but she doesn't realise that being a kijo is dangerous for her. At this stage of her life a demon could strip her of her powers - and Augustin, a Bak-Faru demon, is planning to do just that. Kimi enlists Nic's help to protect her from the demon but how can he do so when Augustin has already killed Nic's father and bested the son?
This was an enjoyable little story about the differences between humans and demons and the evil nature of some demons. Nic is aware that he could be dangerous to his soulmate as well and has been avoiding her to keep her safe from himself - although he breaks his own rules in due course. In such a short story it wasn't really possible to fully explore the characters of the protagonists but we do see Kimi growing up and beginning to understand what her status as a kijo means. This story worked on its own although the names and types of demons could be confusing initially. It's an interest read but the denouement between Kimi, Nic and Augustin seemed over rather quickly at the end.
These stories are all worth reading but all also suffer from the disadvantages of the short story format - it's hard to really find depth in, understand and sympathise with characters whom we barely get to know before the story ends, particularly as the sex between the main characters always seems to take up an inordinate amount of the word count, leaving much less for actual plot and characterisation. This book is probably one for the fans of the Crimson City series although it is also a great way to sample the writing of these four authors.
Copyright © 2007 Helen Hancox for Curled Up With A Good Book