These three best-selling authors have created magical worlds where anything is possible, everything is magnificent and love is in the air.
Mercedes Lackey's "Counting Crows" is the first story in the book. In it, Gwynn is wedded to a man she has never seen before, in order to ensure the safety of her father's lands. She goes to her husband hoping that he will be a man she can learn to love and finds instead that he is a brutal man who rapes her and beats her. While Gwynn brings order to her new household and decides whether to use her magic against her husband, she falls in love with one of her husband's knights, Sir Atremus. The story was an okay fantasy story, but a miserable romantic fantasy story. Gwynn was the most fleshed out of the characters, but she was too perfect to be truly interesting. I found myself more interested in Robin. Gwynn's husband was Bad, with only the hint of a backstory, not enough to make him more than a cardboard Bad Guy. Atremus was useless, which actually wasn't too bad, since I kept forgetting he existed. Gwynn may have fallen in love with him, but I didn't know enough about him to feel anything for him. Gwynn and Atremus apparently had long conversations that led to deepening feelings for each other, but Lackey just glossed over most of them. Since I know that in Lackey is capable of creating great romantic plots, this story was really disappointing and not good enough to be a keeper no matter what genre it's labeled as.
Rachel Lee's "Drusilla's Dream" was the second story in the book. I enjoyed the characters, and this story could have been very good, but the way Lee chose to write it made it, in my opinion, the worst story in the book. Technically, most of the story takes place during Drusilla's night shift job, while she's typing data into her computer. As she types, she's on autopilot, daydreaming about a world where she is a princess on a quest to find the Key of Morgania. Details from her job work her way into her daydream, such as the janitor, who becomes a powerful wizard, and Miles, her supervisor at work and the Behemoth tamer in her dreams. Although reality and dreams get really mixed up, and there's evidence that Miles is aware of Drusilla's dreams, I had a hard time seeing her dreams as evidence that she and Miles were falling in love. Unlike Lackey's story, which didn't feel like a romance, this did, but, unfortunately, it was a badly written one. If the entire story had been set in Drusilla's world, without any hint that there was a real world, it would have been a good, but very odd, story. I don't mind odd, though.
Catherine Asaro's "Moonglow" was the best of the three. Jarid is the heir to the throne until his parents are killed in an ambush. The entire kingdom believes he is dead, but he in reality he is still alive, deaf, mute, and blind. Iris, who believes she has no real magic, finds him. It's decided that Iris must marry Jarid, and much of the story covers how Jarid and Iris get to know one another. My explanation sounds ver cheesy, but I'm trying not to reveal too much. It's an excellent fantasy and romance, and I'm looking forward to the first book in this series. Asaro writes better romantic short fiction than many romance authors. I may keep the book just for this story. It's fascinating reading how Iris and Jarid fall in love even though Jarid can barely communicate and can't see or hear anything around him.
Overall, it's a weak book, but, if you can get it cheap, I would recommend it just for the last story.
The "lesser light" of the group, Rachel Lee, was the most interesting author. Her story, "Drusilla's Dream," was the best of the three by a wide margin. This was an unusual take on an urban fantasy, and I liked it very much. It was funny, interesting, and moving. There were a few very minor plotholes; for example, if Miles, her hero, had his eyes on Drusilla the whole time, the first time he sees her outside the shared daydream/computer storyline should be explained differently. Which is why this story doesn't get five stars; instead, it gets four. But a very strong four. And I'll be looking for more stuff from Ms. Lee.
I'm already a regular reader of Ms. Lackey, and I enjoyed her story, "Counting Crows." This was a period romance based in the medieval era of our Earth, and was nicely executed, even though in some respects, this was more a story about a brother and sister avoiding disaster than a romance; the romantic element was definitely secondary. But I liked Sir Atremus, and I enjoyed Gwynhwyfar's attraction to him. And the "spin," where it took a long time for the two of them to hook up, was an interesting one. Three and a half stars for this story.
I liked Ms. Asaro's premise for "Moonglow." This was an altogether new fantasy world, and the idea was very good. I liked the shape-magic. However, the execution of this story left a lot to be desired. The dialect used for Iris was not consistently applied, and I thought the story's ending a bit rushed. In addition, the fact that major mages could be out in the open where no one could pick up how powerful they are doesn't make any sense; the other, lesser mages should be able to pick up the power, even if it's never used.
That was a major plothole.
In addition, Ms. Asaro has some very unusual and offputting word choices. For example, she uses the word "coronate" in the following fashion: "We cannot coronate him tomorrow." Considering the rest is more or less in American idiomatic English, this threw me right out of the reader's trance.
So, despite the very strong and engaging plot premise, the story fell flat because the characters didn't engage me very much, and the execution of the writing was flawed. Two stars at best for this story, only because I liked the character of the foster father, Stone.
Overall: three and a half stars. Not bad at all, worth the money, and if the new Harlequin Luna line is much like this stuff, it should sell quite nicely.
Counting Crows: I actually bought the book for this story, since Lackey is the only author I knew. If you're reading it for the romance, it fails. On the other hand, the character development is wonderful (aside from the interaction in the "romance"), and the surroundings are vivid and compelling. Overall, I loved it.
Drusilla's Dream: This is the only one that I disliked. Most of that is probably personal. I found it a bit too silly, and cliched (which it made fun of itself for). I also found it choppy, and it was occasionally hard to tell whether the characters were in the "real" world or in Drusilla's fantasy.
Moonglow: I adored this story. Despite how short it was, I felt I really got to know the characters, even the secondary ones. The world building was very intricate, with great attention to detail. I found it occasionally frustrating when things were hinted-at, but never elaborated, but the world and the character's circumstances did a great job of backing up the romance. I'm looking forward to the sequel.