Three very different takes on the end of the world with strong heroines and a romantic bent. Individual reviews follow.
Dawn of Eden by Julie Kagawa - 2.5 stars
As most of the reviewers of the anthology, I picked this up primarily for Julie’s story. Obviously the editors were also aware of her pull, as she receives about 40% of the total book. Unlike most of the other early reviews, I was extremely dissatisfied with this short.
Kylie is med student working at a clinic outside Washington DC “treating” victims of the deadly Red Lung Virus. Unfortunately for Kylie, the victims, and the world at large, there is no treatment but hope and morphine for the pain. Most people die from the virus turning their lungs to jelly, but Kylie is a rare survivor and it has left her immune to the disease and its mutations, making her the perfect candidate to run a quickly failing clinic.
Life trudges along, growing darker and more bleak every day, until suddenly! Ben Archer and his life-changing beauty stroll into the clinic. Everything would be awfully swell, if he wasn’t dragging his buddy, bearing suspiciously humanoid bites. From there, we devolve into a frightfully standard zombie/vampire plot that I originally described as “"Have you ever thought, ‘Man I wish I Am Legend was actually a romance novel!’?” Now I know this was probably way harsh, as it also includes liberal doses ofWorld War Z and 28 Days Later.
The story is so derivative as to be boring. It takes the worst of the zombie genre and the worst of the romance genre. The love scenes are incongruous and came out of nowhere. The first sex scene, when Kylie and Ben have sex in the middle of a Rabid attack, felt extremely out of place for what we knew of Kylie’s character. I’m not one to judge a woman for getting some end of the world nookie, but by her own admission, it’s not something that she usually would do, except she’s so in love with Ben. After 2 days. And if that’s not enough, his magic fingers bring Kylie to climax just as a Rabid screams outside, “chilling and terrifying, but [she was] too far gone to even care”. Funny in a way I’m sure the author did not intend.
As a prequel to Blood of Eden, Dawn of Eden did nothing for me, and as a stand alone short, it did less.
Thistle & Thorne by Ann Aguirre - 4.5 stars
This, on the other hand, did a lot, for me and the anthology. Mari Thistle is a thief specializing in pre-disaster antiquities in hard to reach/dangerous locals. An orphan raising two younger siblings, Mari takes a job with a local crime boss, Stavros, to recover a statuette from inside the “Fortresses”. These heavily guarded communities house the rich and powerful, while the rest of the populace is doomed to struggle along in the Red Zone.
Sadly for Mari, Stavros gives her terrible, outdated intel that almost immediately launches her into a high speed chase from robot guards with one of his hired men, Thorne Goodman. The ruggedly handsome Thorne, (can I interject that I LOVED the idea that beauty standards have changed in the post-apocalyptic future and Mari is super attracted to his scar because it means he can fight?) reveals that Mari was never supposed to make it out of the Fortress and he is supposed to take her to be executed for her failure. Instead, Thistle and Thorne team up to take out Stavros instead, though don’t mistake Thorne’s reasoning for altruistic. He wants to take the mob boss’ place to avenge a mysterious girl in his past.
The romance is far subtler than the last story, but infinitely more effective than insta-love boinking. The plot moved along at a good clip, the characters developed, and the final confrontation was tense and exciting. My only true complaint is rather abrupt end, that closes without wrapping up all of the loose threads. Hopefully Aguirre intends to expand on the world in future stories.
Sun Storm by Karen Duvall - 4 stars
I have to admit that Sun Storm’s plot felt the thinnest of the three. Solar storms cause most people caught in them to die of radiation poisoning, but some special people are granted solar radiation-based super powers. There is a love story, that while not instant, is a little too quick for comfort. And the end? Ridiculous, contrived, and fell into place too quickly.
So why four stars?
Because none of that mattered while I was reading it. I gave my grades as soon as I was done and in the moment, I really enjoyedSun Storm. I’ve spent a week trying to describe why and it’s just not happening. Sometimes it’s not enough to just detail what makes a book good or bad, you have to go with how it makes you feel. And Sun Stormwith zombies, rogue government agents, and magic powers still ended up working just right.
Sometimes, you just can’t articulate what makes a book work. You just have to go with your gut and hope it's not ripped out by irradiated monsters.