by Sara Dennis, fantasy (2006)
Cobblestone Press, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-60088-055-1
Sara Dennis' Stacking The Cards has werewolves, Fae, witches, and magic set against the carnival atmosphere of Las Vegas. Elements that have become standard when it comes to urban destiny become more colorful thanks to the setting. Therefore, Stacking The Cards allows for a really nice vicarious adventure. This book is part of a multi-author series called Vegas Magic along with Loribelle Hunt's Gone With The Wolf and Shelli Stevens' This Spells Trouble, which revolves around three witches who venture out on Halloween for some club-hopping action to find themselves separated, caught in unexpected adventures of the paranormal kind, and, of course, finding hot boyfriends in the process.
It is Halloween. The Crypt is one of the more unusual casinos in Vegas because its clients are mostly not human. There are Fae, vampires, werewolves, demons and more coming out to play, especially on Halloween. Samantha Parrish is a witch, a spell-weaver witch to be exact. She and her fellow girlfriends (one of them can apparently deal with the undead, from what is inferred in this story) are out to play in Vegas on this very night. Sam is minding her own business when she spots this magician Alec Symanski doing some card tricks and realizes that she's just found the perfect guy to end Halloween with a bang, if you know what I mean. Of course you do. She is happily watching him and thinking of the naughty things they will do together once she has her hands on him when she accidentally spoils one of his tricks with her real magic. She decides to apologize - without telling him that she's a witch - and invites him to the Crypt with her for a drink.
However, a confrontation between Alec and Sam's possessive werewolf ex Duff has Sam realizing that Alec could actually possess real magic. This means Alec could be a warlock without realizing this and she feels that she should teach him a thing or two about using magic and all. However, before Sam and a skeptical Alec can really do anything, Duff launches his own plan to seize Las Vegas from the current alpha wolf that considers this place his territory.
There is a rather irritating scene here where our main characters decide that it's okay to have sex even if they don't have a condom because she's on birth control pills. Oh please, safe sex isn't just about preventing unwanted pregnancies from taking place, right? Still, I suppose I can be generous today and assume that witches and warlocks don't get STDs so they don't have to worry about getting any. I can be generous because Stacking The Deck is one fun ride of a story. There's excitement, there is magic, there is sex. This is a short story so the ending feels a little too rushed in the sense that it feels as if the bad guys are defeated too quickly, but the pacing and the build-up are just right. This baby feels like a complete short story instead of one badly lacking in depths and satisfactory plot resolution.
I also like how Sam can take care of herself. I do wish Ms Dennis will show more of Sam taking care of herself but I suppose common romance novel conventions dictate that a hero who sits in the background and keep the home fires burning while the heroine goes off to kick some werewolf behind is not the most romantic thing ever so Sam has give and take when it comes to letting Alec do his thing as well. But I adore the characters nonetheless. I am not sure if I will really buy the fact that these two are in love after so quickly an acquaintance, but Ms Dennis manages to convince me that Alec and Sam, at the very least, do like each other enough to get all so dramatically "I'll die for you, baby!" protective of each other.
I also appreciate the effort made by the author to actualize her setting. Sure, there is nothing here that can't be found in any random urban fantasy story currently flooding the markets but Ms Dennis puts everything together to make increasingly generic urban fantasy elements feel fresh, new, and exciting again. The only reason I'd want this story to be longer is because I want to read more.
When it comes to Stacking The Deck, reading this book is like randomly pulling out a card from a stack and finding that it's an ace. I don't know what I will expect when I begin reading but at the end of the book I'm craving for more.
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