[I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I found this anthology quite inspiring in general, and it left me with a better impression than anthologies generally do. I appreciated that most stories, while building upon the foundations of original tales, didn't hesitate to stray from them at some point, instead of being "mere" retellings almost identical to their inspirations. For instance, the one inspired by "Rapunzel".
The ones I liked best:
- "When Pigs Fly" (original story: The Three Little Pigs): airship and their badass captains, on a backdrop of Alliance vs. Rogues conflict. I was bound to like this one.
- "From the Horse's Mouth" (The Goose Girl): a gritty retelling, that doesn't shy away from the grim realities of a country at war.
- "The Giant Killer" (Jack the Giant Killer): with Jack being more of a Jane, with interesting devices and a tendency to get into trouble... but always with a certain style.
Remarks on a couple of other stories:
- "The (Steamy) Tale of Cinderella (Cinderella, obviously): set in a fleet gathered around the princely ship, where the fated ball is to be held. But the Prince isn't just some charming vapid man, Cinderella is more interested in machines than in snagging a man, and there's a nice LGBT dimension. I do regret, though, that the latter was presented a little abruptly, out of nowhere—there could have been so much more, instead of the (at first) traditional approach of shaming same-sex relationships. Fortunately Cinderella's and the Prince's decision is an interesting one.
- "The Hair Ladder": I liked the different relationship dynamis between "Rapunzel" and "the witch". I wasn't convinced by the mother, however, as she was much too selfish and vain, and felt like a cardboard villain.
But overall, these stories were more 3 to 4 stars each than anything really bad. "The Walking House" (Baba Yaga) is probably my least favourite.
Stop by the Ruins today to see what Gail Z. Martin has to say about Necromancy Light and Dark in her various series (Chronicles of the Necromancer / Fallen Kings Cycle / Deadly Curiosities / Iron & Blood), and to win one (1) physical copy of The Shadowed Path (US/UK/Canada/Australia) and one (1) ebook copy of Modern Magic (worldwide).
Vendetta is the second book in Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities series (though there are also several story stories and novellas as well). Set in Trifles & Folly, the antique shop of twenty-something Cassidy Kincaid, it chronicles our heroine’s urban fantasy adventures, as she uses her psychometry gift (knowing an objects history after touching it) to continue her family tradition of aiding the “Alliance.” This shadowy group led by a 600-year-old vampire named Sorren, whose goal is to safeguard the mortal world by acquiring and disposing of dangerous supernatural artifacts.
As the tale begins, Cassidy along with her friend and assistant Teag Logan find themselves investigating an abnormal amount of spirit activity in Charleston. Not that ghostly visits are rare; in fact, they are fairly common in this haunted, southern city: some appearing regularly; others coming and going. But things are different now; the spirits themselves in an uproar, terrified by something in the otherworld.
Normally, Sorren would lend help to Cassidy with a situation this large, but he has his own problems. Hundreds of years of undeath having caused him to acquire a lot of enemies; most of them forgotten (or almost forgotten) by Sorren. One of that shadowy multitude is now attacking Sorren’s other holdings, causing him to be absent when his help would have been very welcome in South Carolina.
With her immortal mentor absent, Cassidy calls in some outside experts; several Root Workers lending a hand getting to the bottom of the escalating weirdness enwrapping Charleston. Their investigation leading the group to an ominous conclusion, one which threatens the entire population of Charleston!
Because I have only experienced a handful of urban fantasy, I tend to compare every new novel I read to those which came before it, and because of its feel, I have to place Vendetta on the shelf next to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Cassidy reminding me of Harry in many ways, especially how she is learning to deal with her powers and adapt on the run as supernatural crisis after supernatural crisis envelop her. Even the story itself is very Dresden-like, filled with non-stop action, focusing on Cassidy and her friends struggling to unravel mysteries, then avert imminent disaster. All of which really means this novel is a pulse-pounding adventure on par with (arguably) the best urban fantasy in the business.
One of the stellar qualities of this novel is Gail Z. Martin’s portrayal of Charleston. Here the city is a huge part of the narrative. Much more than a mere name for the setting but an integral component of the story. Its history rendered in exquisite detail. Each character living with its embrace, exhibiting the intricacies of its unique culture. Ms. Martin succeeding in capturing the essence of this place, showing it in all its southern glory. Vendetta truly fulfilling the promise of urban fantasy by making the “urban” environment just as much a part of the tale as the “fantasy.”
The characters are the only strength. Cassidy is a strong, skilled, and capable young woman; someone who is powerful but not overpowered, complex but not moody, approachable but mysterious, knowledgeable yet willing to take advice. Her friends are all unique, original, and more than willing to take turns lending aid to our heroine; they are never one dimensional in any way, but bursting at the seams with untapped potential and hidden history; all of it just waiting to be explored.
The only criticism I would level at Vendetta is the pacing; at certain points in the narrative, it is very slow. For instance, there are many chapters devoted to investigating the current supernatural crisis: clues are uncovered, leads are followed, and revelations are made, but it doesn’t result in anything other than a few fights and another mystery to resolve. Nothing wrong with that, but Cassidy and Company’s new riddle is too similar to the last one, resulting in a feeling that you’ve read all this before. All of which results in this story feeling too long, too drawn out for the payoff at the end.
Despite this one flaw, Vendetta succeeded in being an entertaining urban fantasy with an amazing setting, supernatural mysteries, compelling camaraderie, satisfying diversity, and raw emotions. Cassidy and Company braving the realistic haunting of the city, dealing with hurt, pain, and loss. Hints of romance do swirl around a bit, but it isn’t the true heart of the story. Rather, this is a tale about saving the world, or, at least, saving Charleston, South Carolina, which was a very fine read in my opinion; one all urban fantasy fans should give a try.
The publisher provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.