An unsatisfying experience with Unbound

 The new urban fantasy anthology Unbound, featuring short stories from Kim Harrison, Jeaniene Frost, Jocelynn Drake, Vicki Petterson and Melissa Marr kind of left me cold. Harrison’s young adult novel Once Dead Twice Shy presupposed that the reader knew the heroine from the anthology Prom Dates From Hell. And that’s the feeling that I got with several of the offerings in this anthology: that they were excerpts from the author’s larger arc, meant to be “extras” for people already familiar with their universes.

Frost’s story, “Reckoning,” is one I couldn’t even finish. What seemed to be a straightforward story about two killers in New Orleans and a supernatural hitman hired to track them down devolved within pages to talking about the hitman’s problems with some fellow vampire named Ralmiel. (I kept calling him “Ramlal,” and thinking of him as a man running a Kolkata neighborhood tea shop.) Dude, this is a short story: Stick to the point. I don’t care about Bones’ ongoing drama, clearly from a larger outside series. It wandered too far afield and then I was just done with it.

Vicki Petterson’s “Dark Matters,” had almost the opposite problem. While still assuming the reader was “in the know,”  she packed in too much information about her Signs of the Zodiac series — to the point where I had no idea what was going on. Shadows? Light? Glyphs? Kairos? Who are these people, what the heck is she talking about, and why am I supposed to care? The story’s lead characters, JJ and Solange, did have electric chemistry, but because of the convolution of the tale as a whole, I couldn’t invest in them. And an unfortunate side effect…? I could not stop humming “Copacabana,” by Barry Manilow.

“The Dead, The Damned, And the Forgotten,” by Jocelynn Drake is a prequel to her Dark Days series, about a nightstalker (a.k.a. vampire) named Mira, who is the leader of her kind. While not as convoluted as Petterson’s piece or blatantly missing scene-y as Frost’s, I still felt like I was shut out of the club because I haven’t read the books. It was a lot of this Coven and that clan and that vampire she ran around with in Europe and blah-di-blah. My attention kept wandering and, like with Frost’s story, I was unwilling to finish it.

Kim Harrison also drew in characters from her established series for “Ley Line Drifter” but in her case, they were supporting players Jenks and Bis. I love Jenks, so I loved the story. It did assume the reader had some grasp of who the characters are, but, to me, felt a little more accessible. Pixie. Gargoyle. Case-solving. It didn’t require too much delving into Rachel Morgan’s ongoing arc from the books. Then again, I don’t know how much of my reaction is because I have actually read Harrison’s other works. So the world isn’t alien to me and I didn’t feel like I was being forced to read a travel brochure for The Hollows.

“Two Lines,” by Melissa Marr, touted on the back cover as writing “her first adult supernatural thriller,” is undoubtedly my favorite piece. It was like discovering Courtney Milan in the anthology The Heart of Christmas. “Wow. This is awesome.” Marr’s short story is self-contained, albeit with the promise for more, and involves a breed of supernatural beings that I haven’t read about before. And nor does she assume her reader has familiarity, so she has just the right amount of exposition about who and what Eavan is. And the male protagonist, Cillian, was intriguing enough on his own to provide a delicious tease. Much like with Petterson’s story, Cillian and Eavan had fabulous chemistry. But in this case, I wanted to read more, not less. 

I’m obviously going to read Harrison’s next book because I’m already a fan, but Marr’s story was the only other one that made me want to read more in the universe the author established.

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