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The Shattered Vine by Laura Anne Gilman

Rarely does a series end leaving me so completely content.

My fascination with the Vineart War (Flesh and Fire, Weight of Stone, The Shattered Vine) is with watching its characters grow. The grand quest of a fantasy novel carries the story onward, but it is the strength of the characters fumbling their way through what the world is throwing at them that makes the Vineart War so compelling. That strong characterization really shines in The Shattered Vine. Jerzy has been wavering on the line between slave and Vineart throughout the entire series, but it is in Shattered Vine that he really comes into his own. But its not only the main character that evolves throughout- his companions do a fair share of growing themselves, and together it is a pleasure to read.

The politics and mysticism of the world that Gilman has built remains strong to the end, providing a fascinating framework on which the events of the Vineart War build to and equally strong crisis point. What really makes the conclusion of the series stand apart is its ability to end. There is no drawn out aftermath necessary to pull the reader through loose ends being tied together. It may come off as abrupt- I was initially astounded at the lack of wrap up- but as I sat digesting the events of the series, I found my lips curling into a rather content smile. By the end of Shattered Vine I knew the characters well enough that I was able to sit back and appreciate the ending and everything it implied.

I would not have wanted it to end any other way.

If you are looking for a wonderfully unique fantasy with engaging characters and a deeply interesting world pick up the Vineart War books.

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Dragon Virus by Laura Anne Gilman

“They say the end is nigh. I think we’re living in the aftermath already (Dragon Virus, pg. 69).”

It looks like such a small book- unassuming, taking up so little shelf space. But it is a trick. As soon as you start to read it will spread through your brain, unavoidable as the spread of the virus the book tracks. It is a cascade in six parts, a staggering move through religion and science before settling firmly into a desperate dig at humanity itself.

There have been many looks at mutation, but there has been nothing ever written that hits like this. Ms. Gilman cuts through to the bare bones of what it is to be human, lays it there for all of us to examine and accept or reject as we see fit. No punches are pulled amidst her beautifully stark prose. Dragon Virus is a book that is saying something.

But the reader has to decide whether or not they are willing to listen.

It starts with the little uncomfortable things- visions of apocalypse, Raptures full of dragon wings. And then the dragons become all too real. It is an unexplained mutation, the Long gene, dragons come down to warp the basic recipe of humanity. Babies die, born with mutations that could not support life. No known cause. No treatment.

But then babies start to live, the mutations becoming viable, and the real problems start.

Dragon Virus is a stunning book, weaving words into image and emotion that will kick you in the gut and pull you through page after page- desperate to see just what sort of resolution will be reached. It is beautiful- the harsh beauty of everything grand and dangerous in nature. And just as enthralling.

After Hours: Tales From the Ur-Bar edited by Josh Palmatier and Patricia Bray

Imagine an eternal bar managed by Gilgamesh himself. It has existed everywhere and when, and always has exactly what its patrons need on tap (which sometimes differs from what they think they want). What started as an idea a group of authors came up with while in their cups translated magnificently into a collection that is the perfect combination of humorous and haunting. Each story has something new to offer- a bit of insight, a cunning use of Gil and his bar- and they all come together to build a beautiful look at humanity as a whole, the good and the bad. Snatches of life from a barkeeps eyes, without all of the cliché. It was a fun, often surprising, read from a very talented group of authors.

Benjamin Tate sets the scene in his “An Alewife in Kish”. Here we meet Gilgamesh, and find out how exactly he came into possession of the bar. Immortality always come with a price and bargains seldom are without a catch.

S.C. Butler lays out just “Why the Vikings Had No Bars”. Odin sees an opportunity to gather a good handful of warriors in Gil’s bar. Drinking and hailing and berserking ensues.

Jennifer Dunne reminds the reader of the dangers in dealing with Gods in “The Emperor’s New God”. Mars is not a deity to be trifled with.

“The Tale that Wagged the Dog”, by Barbara Ashford, is a brilliant look at Tam Lin and his selkie lover. I would suggest not drinking while reading this one. The biting humor will most likely lead to choking.

Maria V. Snyder writes a darker tale about a woman’s place in Japanese society in “Sake and Other Spirits”.

In “The Fortune-teller Makes Her Will” Kari Sperring moves us to 17th Century Paris and weaves a haunting story involving an innocent young girl who speaks with the voices of angels and the Poisons Affair.

“The Tavern Fire”, by D.B. Jackson gives us a possible explanation for the fire that started at Boston’s Brazen Head tavern in 1760, and its lack of casualties.

Patricia Bray reflects on the dangers of unicorn vomit as well as how rough a life of hunting the supernatural actually is in her story “Last Call”.

In Seanan McGuire’s “Alchemy of Alcohol” we meet the King of Summer and his Lady and their very unique problem.

“The Grand Tour” by Juliet E. McKenna walks the reader through the tensions of pre-World War Europe, through the eyes of two youths who experience the worst and the best strangers have to offer.

Dreams of glory are not all that they seem in “Paris 24” by Laura Anne Gilman.

“Steady Hands and a Heart of Oak” by Ian Tregillis looks at a talented sapper in WWII London and his drive for recognition (and penchant for womanizing).

“Forbidden” by Avery Shade is an eerie look at the 1980’s from a far future point of view.

In “Where We Are Is Hell”  Jackie Kessler somehow managed to roll a story about loss and redemption into a couple thousand words without leaving anything out. (And managing a very ‘Lady or the Tiger’- style ending.)

Anton Strout winds up the anthology with “Izdu-Bar”- a cunning combination of alcohol and zombies.