Authors: Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Ginn Hale, Astrid Amara
Cover Artist: Sam Dawson
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Length: Novel/480 pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
Review Summary: A fantastic series of ingenious and whimsical stories set in a dangerous world that I can only describe as incredibly imaginative, with characters that will blow your mind to smithereens. This awesome anthology is the standard against which I will judge future fantasy adventures.
NATO’s Irregulars Affairs Division is a secret organization operating in thousands of cities around the globe. Its agents police relations between the earthly realm and those beyond this world, protecting us from terrible dangers as well as enthralling temptations.
These agents—Irregulars, as they are known to the few who know them at all—are drawn to the work for their own reasons and close cases in their own unique ways.
Agent Henry Falk–an undead tramp brought back for a mission that might finally put him into a grave he can’t climb back out of.
Agent Keith Curry–a former carnivore chef turned vegetarian currently dealing with a goblin problem.
Agent Rake–a tough and ambitious guy with a penchant for easy living and dangerous games.
Agent Silas August, an uncompromising jerk with a dead partner and an assignment babysitting an assassin.
Four cities, four mysteries, four times the action and romance. Is your security clearance high enough to read on?
Have you ever struggled to describe how a story impacted you, knowing that your words won’t do it justice? Well, imagine four such stories in one anthology and you will understand my dilemma.
Irregulars has such unusual flawed characters whose personalities are so strange and complex you will wonder what it is about them that draws you into their world, but once there you don’t want to ever leave. I’m going out on a limb here by saying that this book sets such an exceedingly high bar it will be almost impossible for other stories to top it, fantasy or contemporary, and I tip my hat to the authors who wrote such incredibly intense, action-filled and imaginative stories that I got a rush when I finished this anthology and started reading it all over again. The world of the Irregulars is like freshly mowed grass – sweet smelling but with a hint of decay under the beautiful smooth layers on the top, and if you explore further you might find unexpected creepy crawlies, many of which are deadly.
Fantasy was the first genre I read growing up and Lanyon, Hale, Kimberling and Amara demonstrated in Irregulars that they could compete with any authors of the genre and best a lot of them. I was amazed by the breadth of their skill and creativity in weaving such amazing tales in their shared world.
Now on to the stories and I will try not to include any spoilers because you deserve to experience the high points the first time you read the anthology.
Cherries Worth Getting by Nicole Kimberling – 5+ stars, DIK
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
The Goblin Market
— Christina Rosetti
Former chef now NIAD Agent Keith Curry loved grilled cheese sandwiches and he ate them every chance he got. He’s a vegetarian as well, which is a good thing because his present assignment would violently upset his stomach at the thought of eating meat any time soon. His job – to find and prosecute unscrupulous restauranteurs and their suppliers who served up human flesh on the dinner menu. Since goblins were known to be human carnivores, his starting point for the investigation was areas populated by them but he needed a goblin as a back up.
Keith’s backup was a surprise. Gunther Heartman and Keith had had a few one-nighters over the past year until Gunther ended it without giving him a reason other than they weren’t suited. Unknown to Keith, Gunther was a transmogrified snow goblin, the scariest of the species, but he looked perfectly human and Keith, who had always thought of his former lover as human, had made a few offensive comments about goblins to Gunther, which upset him. Now they would be working together on an investigation involving cannibalism and the main suspects were goblins.
After looking into a few leads they got a hit and decided to go to the goblin market the next day to investigate it further. During their visit they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere in the investigation so Gunther invited Keith to lunch – their first real date – and they used the portal in the port-o-let at the market to go from Portland to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. During lunch Gunther told Keith why he broke off their previous arrangement. Keith was embarrassed and explained his aversion to goblins had to do with why he gave up his restaurant.
That evening Gunther invited Keith to have a drink at a local bar but when he was about to show up at the bar he discovered that it was owned by the wife of Trent Bullock a human he had busted for cannibalism a year ago who was now doing time. Could his wife also be involved in serving up humans for dinner in place of prime rib?
What I liked about this story were the number of suspects and the different species that were under suspicion (vampires, goblins, humans etc.) and the investigative process used to narrow them down from “possibles” to “likely” which at times required a very strong stomach because sifting through the evidence was gross.
Interspersed among the gruesome evidence of the investigation was the burgeoning romance between Keith and Gunther as they got to really know each other. Their romance was sweet and Keith realized that Gunther “tasted just like he looked – perfectly human, while simultaneously being inhumanly perfect.” The prose was lovely and I thought that some of the language was exquisite.
Can a goblin and a human find a love connection? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
Green Glass Beads by Josh Lanyon – 5+ stars, DIK
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing,
Better than any man’s fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
Overheard on a Saltmarsh
— Harold Monro
Archer Green was the Curator of the Museum of State-Sanctioned Antiquities (MoSSA) in Vancouver, Canada and that evening he was sweating it out for hours waiting to purchase a necklace made of green glass beads from one of his unsavory underworld contacts. His lifelong obsession was to recover the necklace as it represented “family” since he no longer had one. However the buy didn’t happen and he realized that he had been set up by Agent Rake, the new Commander of NIAD who appeared to be out for his blood and would be a lot more difficult to fool than his predecessor.
After barely escaping capture by Rake, the next day was even worse as the Commander and his agents showed up early at Archer’s home with a search warrant, and he was escorted to NIAD headquarters to be questioned. It appeared that Rake was very knowledgeable about Archer’s current activities and his past, including his half faerie heritage, and it was clear that his life was going to change drastically and not for the better.
Like all the other stories in the anthology, Josh Lanyon’s Green Glass Beads showed the author’s artistry and skill in a way I had never seen before. The imagery was mind blowing but you have to experience the scenes on your own because describing any of them would spoil the book for you. I should tell you to look out for the snake but that would almost be a spoiler, so I won’t 🙂
Josh Lanyon’s greatest talent lies in his characterizations, and his MCs are so three dimensional you could believe they were real people. Rake and Archer were no different in this respect. I loved Archer because despite his blustering and scheming his heart was in the right place and he only ever wanted to do the right thing, but Commander Rake stole my heart. He was an imposing presence and it wasn’t all due to his size. During the one time they had sex Archer’s best line (and a major understatement) was “You’re not ….. Canadian, are you?” and Rake’s response was “Don’t you recognize the real thing?” It was only then that Archer realized what Rake was – a demon. I will say this about the sex, it made the hairs on my head stand up – this was simply one of the most amazing sex scenes I have ever read and I went back to it again and again, but only to make sure they were still alive. :blush:
Rake was magnificent. He was a very old demon who had been around forever and had seen just about every major event in the world. He was deliciously decadent and depraved, but in a good way, 🙂 and showed amazing forbearance and tolerance for Archer’s machinations, even going so far as to warn him about Gaki one of the more odious monsters you would ever want to meet between the pages of a book. His love for Archer was what touched me the most and Archer’s ability to hurt him with words showed that he could be just as vulnerable as the next other-worldly person.
The world building and level of detail in the story about Vancouver was wonderful as the trendy Gastown district, and Downtown Eastside and other seedy parts of the city were brought to life and teemed with the kind of characters who would normally hang out there.
I loved, loved, loved this story and while the adventure was awesome and mind blowing it was Josh’s characters that blew me away. The end was amazing and three centuries didn’t seem to be nearly enough “togetherness” time for our heroes.
No Life But This by Astrid Amara – 5+ stars, DIK
I have no life but this,
To lead it here;
Nor any death, but lest
Dispelled from there;
Nor tie to earths to come,
Nor action new,
Except through this extent,
The Realm of You.
— Emily Dickinson
This story is the most action filled and violent but in a lot of ways it’s probably the most complex because of the Aztaw world and lifestyle which were wonderfully depicted. Aztaw was all about power and the lords who needed human blood for their spells. The warriors who served them spent their lives hunting humans to fuel the spells, but after centuries serving their lords the warriors rebelled at being forced to provide for their lavish lifestyle while they had nothing, and most of them were killed in an uprising or stripped of their house powers.
Deven was abandoned when he was ten years old by NIAD after his father went insane, and for 13 years he was forced to live in this hot, dark, unforgiving and inhospitable world. He was almost killed by Lord Jaguar, but his life was saved by the lord when he fought back and refused to lay down and die. To show his loyalty Deven became an assassin for Jaguar and barely managed to escape when his lord was killed.
He sought asylum in the US a year ago and because of his knowledge of the Aztaw he was asked to help NIAD investigate the murders of Agent Rodriguez and his sister which NIAD felt was linked to the Aztaw.
Deven arrived in Mexico City and he found out that he would be partnered with Agent Silas August, a taciturn fashion plate who was not at all welcoming and who no one but his dead partner could tolerate. It was obvious to Deven when he saw the murder scene that this was an Aztaw murder but he had to convince Agent August that they were dealing with a much greater threat than a simple ritual murder. The race to find the murderer or murderers immediately went into high gear when new threats emerged and it was apparent that the remaining Aztaw lords were determined to find new sources of blood to fuel their need for power.
Although the Aztaw world was unwelcoming and dark Deven longed to return because it was all he knew, but it was no longer his home. In many ways he was innocent of the ways of the world but at the same time he had street smarts. He became an assassin to protect the man who slit his throat but it was a lonely life, and with the death of his Lord Jaguar he had nothing left. Then in walked Silas August and Deven hadn’t a clue how to handle his attraction to someone like him.
August had lost his lover years ago and his heart seemed to be frozen in time but when he met Deven he gradually became the man he once was – warm and tender. They had to literally go through hell before they could be together and August almost paid the price with his life but in the end it was worth it. This was truly a story for the ages.
Things Unseen and Deadly by Ginn Hale – 5+ stars, DIK
The dead are selfish:
They make us cry, and they don’t care,
They stay quiet in the most inconvenient places,
They refuse to walk, and we have to carry them
On our backs to the tomb…
Diatribe Against the Dead
— Angel Gonzalez
I don’t know if I have a favourite story in this anthology and maybe I can’t choose because they are all so breathtakingly heartbreaking and wonderful, but TUAD really touched me because of Henry Falk and Jason Tramir – broken, disillusioned men at different stages in their lives. I absolutely loved Henry, known as Half Dead because he really had one foot in both worlds, and Jason was so vulnerable and beaten down by life that I wanted to hug him.
Jason’s father had been murdered in front of him when he was 7 years old and he spent his life in foster care and in and out of mental institutions. He could not afford the anti-psychotic drugs to control his episodes now that he was living on his own, and all he wanted and needed was a regular job that would last long enough that he could qualify for health insurance, but with his history that seemed almost impossible. He was hanging on just living for the day when he would be able to buy the drugs that would make his nightmares go away and either a cruel fate or a stroke of bad luck took him to Phipps’s Curiosities where the owner hired him for his own reasons. One morning, on his way to work to meet a very important client of his employer everything went to hell as he found himself living his nightmare, seeing snow goblins and various other-worldly gruesome creatures everywhere. Just when he thought his life was over he saw Henry Falk in his trench coat and patched pants, fresh from the shade lands (also known as the land of the dead), who didn’t look any better than things that go bump into the night but at least he seemed human.
Henry had been around a long time as a NIAD Agent and had seen just about everything there was to see in the shade lands and the earthly world. He had spent the better part of a century in his present resting place, only exhumed whenever his particular skills were needed. He knew that this assignment was going to be very difficult when he met shy, innocent Jason who was not what he appeared to be as he possessed special powers of which he was completely unaware. Henry soon realized that his real job was to protect Jason from both NIAD and the other external forces that were determined to capture him for their own deadly purpose. Would his loyalty to his comrades take precedence over someone he had just met but for whom he was developing tender feelings? In the end his heart ruled as he made what could be his ultimate sacrifice.
The grandeur and opulence of the Sidhe kingdom was phenomenal and exotic and proved once again what a great writer Ginn Hale is. Her characters and plot are stunning and breathtaking. Henry’s and Jason’s adventures were so fantastic that I couldn’t begin to describe them but I can tell you that a kitten named Princess was key to the success of the adventure as well as a great foil for the other characters, and she will work her magic on your heart. The other supporting characters were just as well drawn and I was really pleased that Gunther, who I became very attached to in Cherries Worth Getting, was back and played a very important role in this story.
The lovemaking between Henry and Jason was simply magical and in the end that was all that mattered.
A note of caution. Not all readers have a high tolerance for violence and some of these stories are extremely violent. However this anthology is not to be missed even if you’re not fond of horror and gore and I hope you do get the book so that you can enjoy this wonderful flight of fantasy.
As standalone stories Cherries Worth Getting, Green Glass Beads, No Life But This and Things Unseen And Deadly would be difficult for any reader to put down once started, but taken together all I can say is – WOW. I guarantee you will be re-reading the stories many times, losing yourself in the world of these addictive characters. The plots are all unique and fresh and you will be amazed by the awesome talent that produced these marvelous stories.
This anthology was much anticipated and I wondered if it would live up to readers’ expectations, but I couldn’t be more pleased to be proved wrong as Hale, Lanyon, Kimberling and Amara demonstrated what happens when vision collides with genius to create magic.
This is one of those times I wish I could award a book a higher rating than 5 stars because Irregulars deserves a special category. All of the stories were exquisitely crafted and you will never meet any of the main characters anywhere else because they’re original. I’m on my second reading and the stories are even more delicious and fantastic this time around, which makes this anthology definitely a DIK. What a glorious piece of literature!
Before I close off the longest review I have ever written I have to make one last comment on a more mundane level. The characters moved between worlds and cities using a port-a-potty, which in itself was so funny as to be hysterical. I wonder which genius came up with that idea? 😆
Most highly recommended.