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Shadowed Souls

Publisher: Roc Trade Paperback

Shadowed Souls is a collection of short stories that focuses on characters who are more gray in their history or moral fiber than the typical white knight hero or dark, evil enemy. Characters like Molly from Dresden Files, Vicki from Tanya Huff's Blood series or Simon from Anton Strout's Dead books are prime examples of these people and, in this collection, new stories are added to each of those series, as well as a few others you may or may not be familiar with.

The collection starts off with the new Dresden Files story by Jim Butcher. In Cold Case, the newly-minted Winter Lady, Molly Carpenter, is sent to Unalaska, Alaska by Queen Mab to collect a tribute from a Miksani tribe. While in the dreary and cold town, she starts to realize that not everything is as it seems and when she runs into Carlos Ramirez, the pair find themselves teaming up to accomplish both of their goals.

Seanan McGuire's short story, Sleepover, takes place in her InCryptid series. This story follows Elsinore Harrington, a half-succubus who is trying to find her way in the world by balancing both her cryptid and human side. While watching her cousin, Annie Price, during a roller derby match, she is approached by a young woman who seems to have some interest in Elsinore. Considering the half-succubus' recent breakup with one of Annie's teammates, she decides she could use the distraction and follows the other girl out of the rink. Unfortunately for Elsinore, it seems that the meeting was a trap and she finds herself kidnapped and tasked with finding a lost child in Portland's sewers.

If Wishes Were is the Tanya Huff Blood series short story. At this point, Vicki Nelson is going strong as a vampire private eye, but as the years go by, she can't help but watch her cop boyfriend, Mike, get older and more frail. When an investigation lands Mike in the hospital, she starts to look into the event herself. What she finds is a genie that has been recently awoken. Despite the initial chaos stemming from the genie's master's first couple of wishes, Vicki decides to leave the magical being alone, as long as he doesn't do any more harm. Well, it would be a boring story if it stopped there. While Vicki isn't as experienced as the vampire that sired her, being a P.I. among the supernatural for several years has trained her pretty quickly in how to deal with unexpected situations.

Anton Strout's Solus is a prequel to his Simon Canderous Dead series. Here we see Simon on one of his first cases at New York's Department of Extraordinary Affairs, where his mentor, Connor Christos, gives him some hard on-the-job training about the best way to use the young former-thief's psychometry power to solves the problems the pair will be facing on a daily basis. You see, Simon has the power to learn details about an object's history by touching them. While this power allowed him to steal only the most interesting items during his time on the streets, he will find that this power will now help the department learn valuable intel. When it comes to this particular case, it's all about figuring out why a ghost is still haunting a large castle mounted on top of a skyscraper.

Peacock in Hell, by Kat Richardson, is one of the few short stories in Shadowed Souls that isn't part of a larger series. As a result, it lends itself well with letting the reader get a glimpse at the author's style rather than potentially hooking them into a bigger world. Peacock in Hell, as well as the other unconnected pieces, show how well the author can, or can't, weave a world and characters in just a few pages.

In Peacock in Hell, Peacock is tasked with retrieving a particular soul from the underworld. At the start of the story, she has Lennie Redmayne, her package, in hand and the pair are trying to find someway out of the fiery pits, all while being chased by various forms of hellish creatures, literally. As the two make their way to their hopeful escape, they learn a lot about each other and what their particular skills are, not to mention their relationship to Peacock's boss.

Kevin J. Anderson's contribution to the anthology series is Eye of Newt, a short story set in his Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. world. While a much more lighthearted, and almost a Young Adult feeling story, Eye of Newt still manages to dip into the darker nature of some of the world's creatures. That being said, Dan's mission to help an anthropomorphic newt find his stolen eye, all while a massive paranormal cooking competition is going on, is still a pun-filled and somewhat comedic story that feels out of place in more than one way from the rest of the dark stories in this book. That being said, it was still a fun read.

Lucy A. Snyder's Jessie Shimmer series gets a new short story in Shadowed Souls with What Dwells Within. This story is set just a few weeks after the events of Switchblade Goddess and has Jessie and her familiar, Pal, back in Columbus. Jessie runs into her old friend Kai as he attempts to jump off of an overpass. She quickly dispels the magic that is forcing him to commit suicide and learns that his new girlfriend has gotten Kai into a tight spot. While I haven't read any of the books following Shimmer's other adventures, the world seems to be deep and full of interesting facets. This story has piqued my interest enough for me to consider reading the first novel in the series, Spellbent.

Jim C. Hines adds another one-off short story to the collection in Hunter, Healer. While not part of a series, the world he quickly spins in this piece has some intriguing aspects. In Hunter, Healer, Julia is a healer for the various creatures that live in Detroit. Her clinic is known as a safe place that anyone can go to for help and everyone knows that there isn't to be any violence on her property because everyone knows that at some point, they might need her help. What they don't seem to know though, is that she has a darker past than most of her clients and she shares her body with the soul of her sister, a fighting machine that was forged by their adopted father. Julia's quiet life trying to save those around her in the hopes of redemption is disrupted when someone from her past comes calling.

Baggage is part of Erik Scott de Bie's budding Justice/Vengeance series. In it, Vivienne Cain, AKA, the former supervillain turned superhero and now retired Lady Vengeance, tries to keep a low profile and just live her life with as little notice as possible. When Vivienne gets a gym membership at one of those 24 hour fitness places, she finds that some late-night training is doing her some good. For one, she likes the nights and for another, there aren't a lot of people at the gym in the early mornings, which is great given how strong her empathic abilities are.

When Vivienne starts to befriend Nicole, the woman at the gym's front desk during the late shift, she finds herself challenged to get back into fighting shape and possibly learn a thing or two. Unfortunately, Vivienne also starts to sense some demonic presence in the area and finds herself juggling her new friendship, her training, and potentially hunting a demon that seems to want to torment her with the looks of Lady Vengeance's dead boyfriend.

In Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Sales. Force., a heartbroken Kaylee returns to her job just after seeing her fiance pass away after a senseless car accident. While her boss feels like she still needs some downtime, Kaylee wants to get her mind off the trauma and decides she needs some mindless task. You see, Kaylee has an unusual job; when it turns out some monster needs killing, she is tasked with showing up and dealing out the damage. What she doesn't realize though is that her new mission isn't the kind of heavy-hitting job she prefers. Instead, she is sent in to investigate a new love potion that is being released. This highly expensive product doesn't purport to make you fall in love, but allow your heart to heal so you can fall in love again. Given Kaylee's recent loss, she is the company's best person to investigate the potion to make sure it's legit. Like Hunter, Healer and Peacock in Hell, Sales. Force. is a standalone story, but I felt like there was just enough world-building in it to make me wish to see more of the world around Kaylee.

Shadowed Souls' final story is a part of Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series that follows a half-human/half-monster who apparently tries to live a normal life. In Impossible Monsters, Cal decides to revisit a decision he made in his past. The story follows Cal as he makes his way to the home of one of his former high school teachers and recalls the brief time he spent at that school and observing this teacher. While interesting, I couldn't help but get a Dexter vibe from the story as a whole, except where Dexter was all human, Cal blames his monster blood for his violent tendencies. They both live by strict rules and guidelines and they both only try to hurt those that deserve it, but Impossible Monsters just happens to have a supernatural twist to it. Having not read the other books following Cal Leandros, I don't know if this is a common theme to the series or just the focus of this particular story.

Shadowed Souls is a nice collection featuring a variety of stories that cover a wide range of characters, settings, and styles. While some of the stories featured in the collection will be more appealing to some over others, anyone with even a passing interest in this collection is bound to find at least one gem in this book. Personally, while I was already familiar with several of the authors in this collection and had already partaken of several of the books that these series were from, I found Shadowed Souls to be a nice introduction into authors I wasn't already familiar with and some new worlds to explore.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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