Hot Spell
by Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Shiloh Walker, and Meljean Brook; fantasy (2005)
Berkley, $14.00, ISBN 0-425-20615-7

Hot Spell is the rare anthology in which I find myself enjoying all four stories. Amazing, really. While Meljean Brook is a relative newcomer, the other three authors contributing to the anthology are well known for erotic paranormal romances. Therefore, this is definitely a case of getting what you are expecting between the pages of Hot Spell.

Emma Holly starts off the show with The Countess's Pleasure, a historical fantasy where we have demons called the Yamas living alongside humans. Georgiana DuBarry, the Countess of Ware, pays a visit to Bhamjran, the city of pleasure in a country that strongly resembles India in this story. What happens when she pays an exorbitant price for the sexual favors of Iyan Sawai, a lower caste Yama who is forced to perform sex shows and, in the case of Georgiana, prostitute himself to get as much money as possible to free himself as his indentured servitude to his prince? The way Iyan's problem is solved is quite ridiculous, really, but I'm willing to overlook that since this is a short story and therefore it's not as if Ms Holly has much room to come up with complex plots. Iyan is really cute as this earnest fellow who is just a yuppie at heart underneath his sex guru persona. While Georgiana is a virgin widow, she is far from a nitwit that such heroines tend to be. These two make scorching hot love in bed and are a charming couple outside the bedroom, which makes this story a fun one to read from start to finish. It's also nice to be reminded that erotic romance authors may come and go, but Emma Holly still has many of them beat when it comes to erotic love scenes that work so well, oh my.

Lora Leigh's The Breed Next Door is part of her ongoing series about the Breeds, feline humanoids that were created to kill only to later become marginalized members of society. It's a long story, the way the Breeds come to be what they are today. At any rate, this one revolves around what happens when Tarek Jordan, our Breed hero, moves next door to virgin Lyra Mason. This one is pretty predictable in that Tarek is all about the mate-mate-mate stuff and it's a good thing that he's hot rather than fat and ugly because like it or not, Lyra has no choice when it comes to spreading her legs to be mated six million times to Sunday and back. And yet, I find myself unexpectedly enjoying all the politically incorrect "woman, me club you in the head with my giant dong and drag you to my cave to ravish you" overtones of this story.

Meljean Brook introduces her upcoming series with Falling For Anthony, an epic saga of angels, nosferatus, demons, and then some. Before he became fang-face food, Anthony is an early 19th-century doctor in love with his best friend's twin sister Emily Ames-Beaumont. He then becomes an angel-like being charged to protect humans from demons while Emily finds herself straddled with her brother who is changing into a monster before her very eyes. Their paths meet again, of course, and this is that story of what happens when they do. This one is easily the most interesting story of the four because the mythology is fascinating and the storyline is very different from the typical "me and my sexy spooky boyfriend" paranormal romance storylines. However, this is also the weakest story because it is the only story among the four here that comes to a screeching halt whenever the main characters have sex. I find myself not caring one bit about the sex scenes because the scenes related to the external conflicts are far more interesting and I want more of those. As a result, every time Anthony and Emily decide to get naked and play, the momentum of the story dissipates and I wish those two would be more considerate and wag their private parts at each other later after the story. Still, this is a very memorable read and I love Ms Brook's writing voice, so if the task at hand is to sell me on the rest of her series, she's done a very good job.

Shiloh Walker closes the story with The Blood Kiss. Do you know that this is the second anthology of the same name that the author is involved with? Back to the story, the Montgomeries and the Capiets are enemies and yes, you can roll up your eyes at Ms Walker. Roman Montgomery is the alpha of his Wolfclan and he's invading the Capiet house party to discover where the Capiets are detaining his brother. He meets Juliet Capiet, the prized daughter of Lord Eduard if only because she's one of the very rare true vampire females left among the fang-faced kind, and the rest, as they would say, is history. Mind you, this story is not a carbon copy of a certain play - Ms Walker goes as far as to create a brand new mythology for her story here. While there are one too many ridiculous cartoon villain moments for my liking here, The Blood Kiss is nonetheless a very entertaining story. Fast paced and thrilling, I love this one. I don't even mind the whole "mate-mate-mate" thing or the fact that the heroine temporarily loses her mind over semantics (who loves who more, that kind of thing) towards the end, I'm having too much fun to care.

Hot Spell, as I've said earlier, hits close to the bullseye four out of four. I'm impressed. Let's give the four ladies a round of applause, shall we?

Rating: 87

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