There are many stories in this collection dealing with Christian mythology-- angels and demons, heaven and earth and hell. Further, there are monsters of urban legend and ancient monsters released into the jungle of modern times. This is a great introduction to the urban fantasy genre and the diversity that can be found therein.
As a collection, I give this 3.5 stars.
These are the most notable offerings in this anthology for me:
NAKED THE NIGHT SINGS by Teresa Frohock: From the title to the story itself, Ms. Frohock showcases her sophisticated, lyrical style. She knows how to establish a tone and mood appropriate for an eerie tale. The story is a smooth blending of urban fantasy and horror, with a subtle and ominous quality worthy of Hitchcock. It is about frustration, desire, temptation and regret, with the fate of the world on the line.
TOEJAM AND SHRAPNEL by Nickolas Sharps: A sassy title with a definite urban fantasy vibe. This is one of the best offerings in this anthology, a delightful surprise. It demonstrates the quintessential elements of an urban fantasy tale-- a familiar setting with skillful injections of fantastical, occultist elements and sassy, sympathetic characters, and an easily imaginable modern quandary. T&J is an empathetic, eerie, contemporary tale. Sharps establishes an effective pace, neither rushed nor plodding. The natural progression of the story keeps the reader firmly at the center of events as they unfold. Interest is piqued and increased with every portentous clue and it's eventual occurrence. Last but not least, T&J delivers satisfaction. It is like a well-executed alley-oop play-- good set-up, flawless execution, SCORE! Nickolas Sharps is now on my radar.
BENEATH A SCALDING MOON by Jeff Salyards: This is one of the hidden gems in this collection. I'd read Mr. Salyards' SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER and I never would have predicted this story. It deals with a woman's unexpected transformation and how she deals with the transition. Any change involves a crossroad, a point of decision-making. Cassie, the lead in this story, must determine how much value she places on freedom, desire and satisfaction. A very enjoyable, intriguing and visceral story. Plus, it is a naughty tale with strong infusion of humor.
SAVAGE RISE by Adam Millard: An invisible malevolence attacks buildings once a year. Urban fantasy with a hardboiled detective lead and a good dash of horror. Good build up. Great potential for expansion into a full-length novel.
GREEN GROW THE RASHES by William Meikle: Quite different from the other stories in this collection. A short but beautiful story about finding new spirit after being burnt-out and weighed down by life's tragedies.
I'M AN ANIMAL. YOU'RE AN ANIMAL, TOO by Zachary Jernigan: The interesting title is enough to hook you in. There is no denying Mr. Jernigan's visceral, evocative style. There is a crispness, a tangible quality to the way he describes people and places. This was a good story with haunting imagery. I will confess I wanted more of the tragic elements of the characters' predicament, for Mr. Jernigan to take it to a more horrifying extreme. Certainly well-written but I get a bit of a tongue-in-cheek vibe which was cheeky and saucy to be sure, but I do miss more of the profound emotional undercurrents I've noted in Mr. Jernigan's other works.
DOUBLE DATE by Andrew Moczulski: This story had a classic, unadulterated urban fantasy feel-- easy dialogue, huge dose of attitude, a collection of familiar magical creatures and a dash (or two) of unconventional romance. Most of all, it was engrossing and Fun.
BREAK FREE by Ryan Lawler: A heartwarming story of a son's attempt to break his father out of a magical prison floating amidst the clouds. The story is fast-paced and entertaining, incorporating a form of vapor magic that lends extraordinary strength. I do wish the emotional relationship was further explored.
SEPARATION ANXIETY by J.M. Martin: Creepy, post-apocalyptic tale populated by various legendary creatures a la 'Cabin in the Woods' (but with a better story). Without giving away the complex plot, this is like a turf war on a grander scale. It is always wise to determine who exactly you are starting a war with.
CHAINS OF GRAY by Betsey Dornbusch: A moving story about an angel who had long been banished from the heavenly fold for his humanly love of a mortal. Suriel is called upon to aid angels in solving a crime. In doing so, Suriel is forced to revisit the events of his estrangement. This is a story about redemption, not necessarily of the traditional vein but redemption through the eyes of the individual faced with such opportunity.
DHARMASANKAT by Abhinav Jain: urban fantasy with a strong infusion of ancient Indian mythology. I like the exotic setting and Mr. Jain's description of it. Vikram is assigned an unusual quest, one in which he entertained serious doubts.
This is my short review of the other stories:
FRONT LINES by Timothy Baker: Interesting for the most part but, ultimately, it left too much to speculation. While I certainly do not want to be spoonfed as a reader, a story should also not have numerous gaps. It leaves me thinking I likely missed the writer's intent. This felt to much like a serial where much is left hanging in anticipation of a subsequent installment.
LOS LAGOS HEAT by Karina Fabian: Lead is a private investigator that happens to be a dragon. This is one of the weaker offerings for me. Except for the novelty, it seemed unnecessary for the lead to be a dragon. It certainly didn't add anything to the narrative and made it seem bumbling in some parts. Unfortunately, without the dragon, it wouldn't be much of an urban fantasy tale either.
NEPHILIM by T.S.P.Sweeney: There seems to be a plethora of stories lately with Christian mythology, particularly angels and demons. Nonetheless, this was enjoyable and a fast read, if more than a tad predictable, with a wickedly satisfying ending.
UNDER THE DRAGON MOON by Jonathan Pine: A tale of revenge and justice. Blends crime fiction, nice twist at the end.
GOLD DUST WOMAN by Kenny Soward: Rather interesting imagery. Very other-worldly feel, with a science fiction vibe. While interesting, I just didn't feel much of a connection with this story. It didn't draw me in.
WIZARD'S RUN by Joshua S. Hill: This felt like one long chase scene. It wasn't a poorly written one-- it had a good pace and the eventual confrontation with weapons and magic was not without excitement. But it was essentially just that for me-- an action scene. I didn't feel like I got to know the characters, the setting or the underlying motivation for the chase and confrontation.
BLOODY RED SUN OF FANTASTIC LA by Jake Elliot: A showdown between Mikael the Archangel and Ba'al in the streets of LA. The action scenes were good but I couldn't quite care about either of the combatants. If anything, Ba'al was the sympathetic one for me. Moreover, the conclusion had a deus ex machina quality.
QUEEN'S BLOOD by Lincoln Crisler: Not sure I get this. I felt so detached to the story while reading it. Interesting parallel world angle though.
BLESSING AND DAMNATION by Wilson Geiger: A rogue denim threatens the tenuous peace that exists in the world. Another demon, Norshael, is dispatched to stop him. A demon can only move on earth by appropriating a human body. Norshael serendipitously inhabits the body of mortal with unexpected skills. It may just be Norshael that ends up being saved. Good but not particularly remarkable.
JESSE SHIMMER GOES TO HELL by Lucy A. Snyder: A fast-paced, action-packed, magic-heavy tale about rescuing trapped souls, with a dash of revenge thrown in for good measure. Fun, reads like an anime sequence, but not too much emotional content.
I don't generally read short stories, at least not much anymore. It's a tricky thing to be able to introduce characters and reveal enough about them and their motivations at such short length. I'm also more interested in the exploration of emotions and an in-depth look at characters which, again, is not easy to do in a short story. Many stories in this anthology did manage to do that and there were quite a few pleasant surprises. Ultimately, the enjoyment of any particular story is a personal matter, largely dependent on preferences and experience.