*Editor’s Note: I don’t normally do this but I’d like to note Aidee submitted this review in February of 2022, so my apologies to her, and you, and think that might be why there are some unknowns in the review that have already been answered. Thanks for understanding.
From Darynda Jones, a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.
Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet
The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won’t stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who’s suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.
The King of Hel by Grace Draven
A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.
Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy
It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…
This was a good winter-themed anthology from some well-known authors. It landed a little unevenly on me, because I was not familiar with one of the authors’ writing, but if you’re familiar with most or all of the authors’ books, then this anthology is pretty good. There are four novellas in this anthology, and andeach one is based in a pre-existing world by one of the authors. Grace Draven’s novella is a prequel to her upcoming novel. Jeffe Kennedy’s novella introduces some new characters in her Bonds of Magic series. Amanda Bouchet’s novella ties together her two series. Darynda Jones’s novella was the least interesting to me, but that could be because I am not familiar with her books.
Kennedy’s novella is set in the theworld of her Bonds of Magic series, between the second and third books. It introduces us to new characters that may show up in the thethird book, though I’m not sure how — Im guessing here. The main couple in this novella are Han and Iliana. They are students at the Convocation Academy, the place that shapes wizards and familiars in this world. They are younger than Veronica, though they do know her. We also meet Alise, Veronica’s younger sister, who is a wizard and Iliana’s friend. The conflict is two-fold in this novella. First, Han’s designation as either wizard or familiar is still unknown. This means he cannot move forward with life, academically or otherwise. Second, Iliana is a familiar and she is almost done with her studies. Iliana and Han secretly love each other, but can’t do anything about it because of family commitments and because Han’s designation is unknown. In Kennedy’s world, familiars are paired off with with wizards and magically bound together. The wizard draws on the familiar’s reservoir of magic to cast spells without exhausting him or herself in the process. Often the magical binding comes with a marriage, so that so far as I know, there are no marriages between two familiars. This novella really works best if you have read the two previous full length novels, not because Gabriel and Veronica appear on the page, but because those books set up the the dangerous dilemma Iliana is in. If she refuses to bind herself to a wizard, then she will be hunted down and made to bind herself against her will. Running away means Iliana and Han quite possibly will break all ties with their families and friends. The novella ends on a happily for now. I’m looking forward to seeing how the third book handles this couple and Veronica’s sister.
Bouchet’s novella is a bit odd in that it is closer to urban fantasy than either her two other series. Piers, one of Griffin’s brothers has gotten himself exiled to New York City and collides with Sophie, a woman who had no idea magic was real. It’s a very tidy novella, in that there are no hanging threads that have to be wrapped up in a future book. The romance felt a little compressed because it essentially happened over the course of two or three very chaotic days while these two characters were running around New York City.
It was harder for me to be as invested in Jones’s novella. The world felt less clearly depicted to me, but this could be because I’m not familiar with her other books. That said, the blurb does say this is a stand alone novella, so I don’t know quite why this one did not work for me. We meet the main character, Winter, as she comes out of a kind of Sleeping Beauty type spell, but not awakened by a kiss. She is sworn to defend vampyres (yes, that is how it is spelled), but she cannot love vampyres. As the novella unfolds, we discover that Winter’s past is more complicated than even she knew. This includes her history with the devilish prince referenced in the blurb. I think part of my issue with this novella is that there were too many revelations for a novella–good novellas, by their nature, usually can’t have multiple world-changing reveals, like a novel can.
Draven’s novella is based on a historical couple, but set in a fantasy setting. I also thought it was a tidy novella in that it doesn’t end on a cliff hanger, and it isn’t tied to any of Draven’s other fantasy worlds. It’s also playing with the trope of best friend’s former love interest/partner. There is no cheating. The historical couple that inspired this novella is Louis the XIV and his second wife the Marquise de Maintenon. I found it hard to sympathize with the best friend, Kareena, because she seemed determined not to even get to know Doranis (the male love interest) beyond the superficial, which feels unfair to him and to their short-lived marriage. I would have liked to see Castil and Doranis more after they got married. I do think Draven did a good job of showing how devoted the couple was to each other before they made things official. Castil was always interested in Doranis as a person, regardless of his discomfiting appearance. I think this is because she herself was not traditionally beautiful according to the standards of the other courtiers and so found it easier to set aside theDoranis’s superficial details.
Overall, I thought this anthology did a good job of sticking to its theme of winter holidays. It isn’t explicitly Christmas-themed–the closest we get is Bouchet’s novella, but I’d say the holidays in the three other novellas are Christmas-adjacent because they don’t resemble other winter holidays very much. I appreciate an anthology that sticks with a theme a lot. This also worked for me because there wasn’t a long-running, super complicated plot or cast of characters I needed to keep track of, which I could not have handled at the time of reading this anthology.
So, if you enjoy most of these authors and are looking for reading material that will not consume all of your brain energy, this is a good bet for you.
You can buy a copy here.