Title: Hot Spell
Author: Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Meljean Brook and Shiloh Walker
Publication Info: Berkley 2005
If you’re curious about the various paranormal schticks that are popular right now in Romancelandia, Hot Spell offers a taste of some of the sub-genres. You have your SF/steampunk (Emma Holly’s “The Countess’s Pleasure”), your squicky uh-I-think-that-might-verge-on-bestiality human/animal chimera (“The Breed Next Door” by Lora Leigh), angels and demons (“Falling for Anthony” by Meljean Brook) and vampires and werewolves (“The Blood Kiss” by Shiloh Walker). Lots and lots of rampant inter-species lovin’, yo. *suppresses urge to make joke that invokes Barnyard Sluts Vol. IX* Unfortunately, the two decently entertaining stories in this anthology can’t make up for the one gawdawful story, or the other one which is pretty much just a snooze.
“The Countess’s Pleasure” by Emma Holly
Set in the same steampunk universe as The Demon’s Daughter, Georgianna DuBarry, formerly possessed of a Thoroughly Useless Cock (now more useless than ever ‘cause it’s, well, dead), goes to a stripshow in in Bhamjran, develops a case of the hots for the demon stripper, then hires him to pop her cherry. Along the way, we learn all sorts of nifty things, like how demon spray-on prophylactics work, and are treated to some truly superficial observations of the consequences of inter-species love in a highly-stratified society.
The shaggery in this story, it is hot, but GOOD GOD, people, did we really need yet another fucking (well, non-fucking, actually) virgin widow? To see a rule-breaker like Holly use a hoary clichÃ© like that is exasperating. The love story itself is somewhat unconvincing, which may be an unavoidable consequence of an erotic romance novella. Most romance short stories have a hard time building a convincing relationship between the two protagonists, and in an erotic romance, where quite a bit of the real estate is taken up by fizznucking, the space for building a convincing emotional connection is even more limited. However, the story is fun despite its flaws, the sex is well-written and hot, and the characters, while giving the impression of being perfunctory sketches, are at least likable. I can honestly say, “At no point did I feel the urge to stab any of the protagonists in the face.” Sometimes, that’s about all you can ask for. This is high praise indeed when you read what I have to say about the next novella. Grade: B-
“The Breed Next Door” by Lora Leigh
Where do I start with this mess? The heroine, perhaps, who isn’t just painfully feisty, but pointlessly so. Or the hero, whose obsession with the heroine borders on creepy, and whose motivations in general seem just…ARGH. And the writing style. Egad. It’s not so much awkward as magnificently lurchy. And the sex? Hilarious, but much in the unintentional, over-the-top way MST3K movies tend to be.
What? You want a story synopsis, you say? OK, fine: genetically-engineered freak, Tarek (part lion, part man, possessor of a barbed cock) moves next door to Lyra, pain-in-the-ass extraordinaire. Excruciating attempts at romantic comedy ensue, before it segues into excruciating attempts at romantic suspense. To add insult to injury, the heroine is that marvel of modern romance novel engineering: a spunky, horny modern woman in her 20s who’s in possession of both her own house and her virginity, with no convincing reasons, moral, religious, or otherwise, given as to why she’s still hanging on to her cherry.
If this short story were a little old lady, I’d push it into oncoming traffic. Misses the Cassie Edwards Barrier (by which all F books are asessed) by an asshair. Grade: D-
“Falling for Anthony” by Meljean Brook
Caveat: I’ve met Meljean in real life, and I proof-read this short story during the latter stages of its publication process. Make of my comments and this grade what you will.
Set in Regency England, doctor and all-round nice boy Anthony Ramsdell deflowers his best friend’s younger sister, Emily Ames-Beaumont, shortly before departing for service in the army and amidst some angst. We shall not dwell on the reasons for this deflowering, for yea, they are indeed silly and spoiler-iffic. Suffice it to say: Could have been more convincing.
After a battle in Spain, Anthony is attacked by a thoroughly nasty piece of work known as a nosferatu, but before he dies dies, is given a choice to become a Guardian and help the forces of good beat back the night. Meanwhile, as Anthony learns to be a bad-ass warrior with wings, Emily is facing some interesting problems of her own back in Merry England: her brother seems to be falling ill and developing a rather interesting psychosis—one involving an unquenchable thirst for blood.
The world-building in this story is some of the best I’ve seen in Romancelandia. Unfortunately, this means that the love story took a backseat. In terms of characterization, Anthony is thoroughly likeable, but Emily needed to be smacked around with a choice bit of haddock a time or two. Plot-wise, this story blows all the others out of the water, and the horror elements are excellent; I shivered a little during some of the ooky bits, and I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to this sort of thing. I just wish Brook had more space to develop the characters and romantic tension; this, plus some debut author clunkiness in the expository parts, make this story a C+.
“The Blood Kiss” by Shiloh Walker
This story isn’t bad, just kind of boring. It’s one of those “King of Werewolves marries Queen of Vampires” sorts of tales, and those who can’t get enough werewolves and vampires—well, here’s your chance to enjoy both in spades.
Roman Montgomery, wolf king of Wolfclan Montgomery, has to rescue one of his dumbass younger brothers from the House of Capiet, a powerful vampire clan that’s on the wane. During the rescue attempt, he meets and promptly falls in lust with Julianna, the daughter of the leader of the House of Capiet. Oh noes, can love doomed by all that “a plague o’ both your houses” baggage ever succeed? Bitch, please, this is romance novel, so you know that the answer isn’t just a “yes,” but a resounding “yes.” A somewhat bland story that offers few surprises. Grade: C-