The Crimson City series created by Liz Maverick is set in a future Los Angeles
where humans share the city with Vampires, Werewolves, Mechs and Demons. Shards of Crimson
contains four short stories by Liz Maverick, Patti O'Shea, Carolyn Jewel and Jade Lee set within the Crimson City world and focusing on secondary characters from earlier books. It's not necessary to have read any of the full-length novels to enjoy these stories, but it
may help to understand the background setting and some of the characters if you have.
"A Time To Howl" by Liz Maverick covers the Rogues, a breakaway group
of mercenaries from the main power structures of the city, comprising a werewolf, Tajo; vampire, Hayden; and two humans, Jill and Bridget.
They learn that they have been set up when, watching the main vampire headquarters, someone tries to kill
Gia, a princess of the Werewolves who is about to be given as bride to one of the vampires. Tajo the Werewolf ends up taking her hostage to keep her safe until they
can discover who is trying to kill her. Of course, Stockholm Syndrome does its work; although Tajo is a rough-and-ready man not fit for a princess, nature takes its course and the pair of them have to face up to the vampires.
Readers of this story would probably benefit from having read Crimson Rogue by Maverick as there are
many characters whose backstory we never quite fully understand. Although a good read with some moments of action, there are also some unlikely plot devices, and the relationship between the protagonists seems rather one-dimensional.
"DX" by Carolyn Jewel is a very different story, focusing on Hell Marshall, recently sacked from her job at Internal Operations in Crimson City following her relationship with a vampire, Tuan Ng. Hell is brought back to the team on a one-off basis to investigate a demon killing.
The demon (the most dangerous kind, a Bak-Faru) almost killed Tuan, and as Hell knows Tuan, it is thought she will have most success with the investigation. She's partnered with Agent Jaden Lightfeather, and
their hormones start flying. It soon becomes apparent, though, that enemy and friend are somewhat confused, and Hell has to decide whether an evil demon can be safer and more trustworthy than a friend.
Some interesting events and the underlying themes of the nature of trust and evil give this story more depth. Hell knows that the hero has evil in him, she senses it, yet she can also tell that he will protect her.
It's unclear whether she has actually sold out for a handsome face and whether she will be happy with her future life, but the tensions within the story make it a fun ride. This story works well as a stand-alone and could be read without knowing any of the other Crimson City series as all necessary backstory is woven into the narration. It's an enjoyable read,
quite different from the preceding story in the collection.
The third story, Jade Lee's "School Bites," is a particularly good contribution. Toni Freedman is a schoolteacher at a
middle school in Crimson City whose life is turned upside-down when she tries to break up a student fight
and is accidentally bitten by a young boy who has turned werewolf for the first time.
It soon becomes clear that the antidote hasn't worked, and the school principal, John Wong, takes her home - getting rather more than he had bargained for in the process. Wong tries to train Toni in how to deal with being a werewolf - he is a Druid and has some skills in helping werewolves to keep control of their natures - but there is a definite deadline.
If she doesn't show up at school on Monday, everyone will know that she's a werewolf and she will lose her job. But things aren't as easy as they seem.
When Toni returns to the school the secret is out - but it's not just her secret. Toni learns a great deal more about her fellow teachers and students and what the school is actually about, as well as learning what it means to be a feared minority.
The themes of this story, although about otherworldly creatures, relate just as well to our world, and that is part of the strength of this tale.
Toni faces exclusion, lack of acceptance, and fear of otherness, along with her doubts about her own strength and control. We meet the two main characters in the full-length novel A Taste Of Crimson, but this story works well without any background knowledge of the series. It's a good read with some interesting points but may have benefited from being longer so that Toni's relationships with her schoolchildren, with Wong, and with the werewolf community of which she is now a part could have been more deeply explored.
The final story, "Dark Awakening" by Patti O'Shea, is significantly shorter than the rest. It follows Kimi Noguchi, a young lady who has a crush on Nic, a demon and the half-brother of her cousin, Mika. Nic seems to be avoiding her, but she discovers eventually that he has been warned off her. Kimi is aware that she is a kijo, a special type of human, and that she will gain some extra powers through training, but she doesn't realize that being a kijo is dangerous for her. At this stage of her life, a demon could strip her of her powers - and Augustin, a Bak-Faru demon, is planning to do just that. Kimi enlists Nic's help to protect her from the demon, but how can he do so when Augustin has already killed Nic's father and bested the son?
This is an enjoyable little story about the differences between humans and demons and the evil nature of some demons. Nic is aware that he could be dangerous to his soul mate as well and has been avoiding her to keep her safe from himself - although he breaks his own rules in due course. In such a short story, it
isn't really possible to fully explore the character of the protagonists, but we do see Kimi growing up and beginning to understand what her status as a kijo means. This story works on its own, although the names and types of demons could be confusing initially. It's an interesting read, but the denouement between Kimi, Nic and Augustin seems
to end too quickly.
These stories are all worth reading but all also suffer from the disadvantages of the short story format - it's hard to really find depth in, understand and sympathize with characters whom we barely get to know before the story ends
- particularly as the sex between the main characters always seems to take up an inordinate amount of the word count, leaving much less
room for actual plot and characterization. This book is probably one for the fans of the Crimson City series, although it is also a great way to sample the writing of these four very different authors.