by Hannah Howell, Lynsay Sands, Jackie Kessler, and Richelle Mead; paranormal (2008)
Kensington, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-7582-2511-5
Eternal Lover is, in a way, a study of two extremes as the historical short stories by Hannah Lowell and Lynsay Sands were previously published in 2003 in the anthology His Immortal Embrace. The short stories by Jackie Kessler and Richelle Mead, on the other hand, are urban fantasy. On the surface, the four stories seem to be odd bedfellows indeed, but I have to say, if we change the title of this anthology to Eternal Meh, then the inclusion of the four stories makes plenty of sense.
Hannah Howell's The Yearning sees witch Sophie Hay in 1435 heading over to the castle of Alpin MacCordy to undo a curse cast on all the MacCordy men by a vengeful ancestor of Sophie. This story is easily one of the worst examples of short stories I have ever read in any anthology.
Let's start with the beginning, where Rona Hay, the sister of the vengeful ancestor in question, recorded the exact words of the curse so that one day someone would break the curse... and then hid the scroll so that nobody could find it unless it was by accident. What on earth?
And then there is the hero, Alpin, who actually actively resists Sophie's attempts to help him because he'd rather play the martyr and be the wretched self-pitying boor that he is. Fine, I won't care if he wants to resign himself to being a beast like the curse consigns him to being, but at the same time as he refuses to marry Sophie - not that this nobility on his part holds him back from pawing her - he also is determined to marry some woman he doesn't love and will never bed. Why? Because he reasons that the woman doesn't love him so it's okay to put this woman through a marriage that will never be consummated because the husband is too busy playing the crazy fool in the shadows. Does that poor woman know what she is getting into? Does she deserve such a fate? Who cares! Everything is about Alpin, after all. I'd think if he really cares about not wanting to be a beast, he'd do everyone a favor and go kill himself, but then again, if he's dead, I suppose he won't be able to get everyone to pay attention to him as he whines about how noble he is to suffer the way he is making everyone suffer along with him.
Alpin gets a big fat F as a hero and frankly, it's very hard to care about a story where the heroine does everything and more to save an asshole hero who doesn't want to be saved.
Jackie Kessler's A Hell Of A Time sees the ex-succubus main character of her current Jezebel series, Jesse Harris, heading over to an intimate cottage getaway with her boyfriend Paul. But preventing a bloody gundown at the local Krisy Kremes outlet and arguing with Paul about being allowed to drive on the trip to the Northern Catskill Mountains pale in comparison to the living trees bent on mayhem and injury waiting for Jesse. Oh, don't worry, this isn't a homage to Evil Dead so there's no such scene involving randy trees if that is what you are worrying. Now, I like Jesse, but I would have happily strangled her myself in this story because she just won't shut up even when she's in a dire near-death situation. Jesse is really helpless in this story and when I wish she will do something, she'll just go on and on rambling that I want to scream in frustration. The author's voice for Jesse works very well for me in her full-length books, but that the same voice can grate on my nerves most painfully here. I find myself going, "Fight back! Do something! Just shut up!" here way too often.
Richelle Mead's City Of Demons is actually, I feel, the best of the four stories here but at the same time I can't get over a fundamental issue about the plot. Our succubus heroine Georgina Kincaid is still having a blast with her boyfriend Seth but a recent jury duty stint to New York City will test the relationship severely as Seth shows signs of being attracted to a waitress and Georgina realizes that love may not be enough, especially when she can't sleep with Seth. Is Seth really happy to be in a relationship that will never move past second base? Of course, jury duty is a blast as demons never play fair and Georgina finds herself being offered an irresistible bribe by one of the demons taking the stand: a day where she can be a normal person with Seth. Coupled with Georgina's increasing fear that she will lose Seth, this bribe is a very tempting one that even a succubus will have a hard time turning down.
Poor Seth - he is once again the most boring fellow in this story. If Georgina isn't so desperate to regain her humanity, I doubt she will give Seth a second look because this fellow is just bland and uninteresting in every way. A part of me still wishes that Ms Mead will take mercy on Seth and... well, maybe not kill him off outright since that will be pretty cruel, but perhaps give him amnesia and has Georgie tearfully let him go or something because, like Jesse's relationship with the equally bland Paul, I feel that the romance is the anchor that is holding back both characters from being truly interesting.
But the farce of the court proceedings makes for some very interesting and entertaining reading, but I find myself constantly distracted by one question. Why on earth does Georgie bring Seth along with her? I've reread this story three times just to see whether I have somehow missed out on the reason, but no, all I can find here is that Georgie is told by Jerome at the last minute that she has to cancel her planned vacation with Seth for that trip to New York. On page 175, Jerome also tells Georgie, "Take the human with you." But why? Why would Georgie go along, knowing full well that Seth will be dragged into the company of demons, devils, and succubi while she's away playing jury duty? I never get a good explanation as to why Georgie ever imagine that it is a good idea to put her human boyfriend in such a situation.
Lynsay Sands closes the anthology with Bitten, a sober and terribly clichéd historical short story about an emo brooding vampire saving a woman from a ship wreck. The same old "I want to boink her with my undead woody but she is too pure for my love so wah, wah, wah, I'm so sad and blue!" routine ensues. It as if the person arranging the stories in this anthology wants me to fall asleep at the end of the book instead of, say, writhing in pain. I don't know whether I should thank the fellow or not.
Eternal Lover is not what I'd consider a good showcase of the authors at their best since I know first-hand that their full-length efforts are definitely much better than these short stories would suggest. Read this one if you wish, although you're on your own if you do, but I would suggest that you seek out those full-length books instead.
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