REVIEW: Urban Enemies edited by Joseph Nassise

Urban fantasy is not my thing, but then, I’ve never really given it a fair go. So I picked up Joseph Nassise’s Urban Enemies and had a crack.

The book contains 17 antagonists from a range of urban fantasy authors, but this time we get to be in their shoes. It’s a concept we at GdM are pretty familiar with and love (check out Evil is a Matter of Perspective to read our pure grimdark fantasy version of this from 2017), so this book, as far as dipping my toes into Urban fantasy goes, was the perfect springboard.

As usual I’ve given each story a review and a score, and averaged my scoring for the book at 3.4/5. Which, when I think on my own biases regarding the fantasy genres I genuinely like to read, is pretty darned good. If you’re a genuine urban fantasy fan, I’d probably take this review with a pinch of salt and add a +20% score modifier because I’m a grimdark fantasy obsessive who has never really given urban fantasy the time of day.

Without further ado, let’s get into the short and the long of this review.

The short of it

Urban Enemies is a great read. While I’ve not read or heard of the greater majority of these authors, each author has hit the theme on the nose and put forward some pretty nasty characters that were fun to engage with. Most of the authors brought their A-game in regards to short story craft and created compelling and exciting stories.

The stories that really stood out to me were Chase the Fire by Jon F. Merz, Unexpected Choices by Diana Pharaoh Francis, Balance by Seanan McGuire, and Everywhere by Sam Witt. I have one of McGuire’s Tor.com novellas, and I’ll definitely be looking into the other three.

One of the most obvious drawbacks for me were a few stories that didn’t work as stand-alones, very obviously working as prologues or requiring pre-reading to understand. Apart from that, Nassise has brought together a range of fine authors to create an engaging, nicely paced anthology full of quality content.

The long of it

Even Hand by Jim Butcher: John Marcone is pure business. Lives, money, loyalty: all fall before business. Except children. And a fleeing Justine, associate of Harry Dresden, has just convinced him to go against all his other principles to protect a child. Not that John would let her know that.

An excellent theme-setter from Butcher. A well-structured story with a nice mix of humour and action, and the insights into the mind and methodologies of Marcone make me want to check out the series. 4/5.

Hounded by Kelley Armstrong: the Huntsman seeks to replace his lost hound by manipulating a bitter innocent into doing something horrible.

I enjoyed the wickedness of this story, the protagonist’s drive to feel like he belonged in his own little pack once more, but the ending I felt lacked wallop. 2.5/5

Nigsu Ga Tesgu by Jeff Somers: Mika Renar has just brought on an apprentice. She knows, beyond doubt in her mind, that her apprentice will kill her one day. But is she right?

Heavily magical and spell casty-stories aren’t usually my jam, but I enjoyed this one. The internal thinking of this clever old blood mage and the society she runs in make for interesting reading. 3/5

Sixty-Six Seconds by Craig Schafer: A demon bounty hunter takes on an apprentice before trying to nab four targets and a bonus fifth in one night. But are his motives honest?

Schafer has a really enjoyable writing style to read. A nice mix of a noir detective feel with some black humour make Sixty-Six Seconds a genuinely enjoyable read. 4.5/5

Kiss by Lilith Saintcrow: under the shadow of WWII Germany, in the last standing city of Berlin, a demon-placeholder for the unfather has gained sentience and is looking for a way to be free to reign in the grim world of humanity where she is o-so happy.

A fun read that had a decent lead into what I assume is the greater conflict of her books. I loved the historical element the story weaves into. 3.5/5

The naughtiest cherub by Kevin Hearne: Loki is free to choose his own fate, thanks to a certain Druid, and he goes to hell to ask the naughtiest cherub for help to win Ragnarok.

An enjoyable light-hearted read that feels more like a lead in chapter to a book than a complete short story. 3/5

The Resurrectionist by Caitlin Kittredge: Grey, a hard as nails enforcer for Louie Montrose, is off to settle a problem with a morphine junkie running his mouth and making trouble.

Gritty detective noir story with plenty of twists and turns for such a short work. 3.5/5

Down where the Darkness Dwells by Joseph Nassise: As the most expendable member of the team, Simon Logan leads his masters into the underworld.

Plenty of cheek and plenty of fun. I really like Nassise’s voice. However, in my mind, there is one glaring problem with a chase scene—one where you could solve the problem before it became a problem with a power our protagonist used to escape a later problem. 2.5/5

Bellum Romanum by Carrie Vaughn: Gaius Albinus, 2,000 year old vampire and former legionnaire of Rome, is driven by revenge on somebody he can’t get revenge on to attempt the impossible.

I loved this story and the way it was woven into historical events I enjoyed reading about during school. While there isn’t a tremendous amount of character interaction, and the ending doesn’t present you with an enclosed short story with a definitive ending (more a teaser for a greater work), my reading enjoyment bias gave it an extra point. 4/5.

Altar Boy by Jonathan Maberry: Alexander “Toys” has gotten out of an old life he’s ashamed of—a life of manipulation and murder, of backing Sebastian Gault no matter the personal cost. He’s hidden himself away trying to do good—not for forgiveness, he is beyond that, but try to wipe some of his stain from the world. Then, she sat on a pew at church next to him.

Really engaging, maybe a bit too much backstory, but some was definitely needed to get a proper understanding of the character and the ending. 4/5

Make it Snappy by Faith Hunter: Leo the Cherokee skinwalker (vampire) has just made a deal with a young woman in return for a feed. It’s a deal that might mean the true death.

A vampire aristocracy style story that was a good read until the end, where I felt it fizzled out a bit by finishing without much of a bang. 3/5

Chase the Fire by Jon F. Merz: Shiraz is going to bring down the vampire Fixer known as Lawson to avenge his family. Brute force disguised as finesse is his method, but is his guile enough to keep him out of the greater machinations of vampire society?

A criminal underworld style of vampire story, less aristocratic and more about forced betrayals and vengeance. Really enjoyed it. 4.5/5

Unexpected Choices by Diana Pharaoh Francis: Shoftiel the angel has made a deal to escape punishment. One week of servitude to a witch. Anything to get out of centuries trapped in the mists.

Engaging and high paced, packed with action and sprinkled with laughs, this story has been the highlight for me so far. 5/5.

Reel Life by Steven Savile: Seth Lockwood wants to break free of an illusion to make sure he doesn’t live years of unlived life through his dimension-hopping. And he’ll step on just about anyone to do it.

This felt like it was a lot longer than it needed to be. Sad and morose, glum and gloomy, but I felt a real lack of any hope for the protagonist or the story. No light in the Grimdark, you might say. 2/5

The Difference Between Deceit and Delusion by Domino Finn: Tunji Malu is on his way to take out a mage with his men. His dark arts make him powerful and dangerous, but is he powerful enough to take on what waits for him in a waterfront house?

This story, I feel, should have been cooler than it was. It had an awesome magic system with an African feel to it and a character I kind of liked (though he did seem a bit evil just for the sake of it) but a story I just wasn’t that in to. 2/5

Balance by Seanan McGuire: a Cockoo is bored, seeking enjoyment during its exit from its territory. Humans make for such easy play things, are so easily manipulated. But are they all?

Absolutely delightful. The protagonist’s perception of humans, who it is and what it does, and the story of how boredom landed it in trouble are just magnificent. 5/5

Everywhere by Sam Witt: The Long Man has failed in his charge to protect humanity. His deputy, the Night Marshall, has turned against him. He’s become what he fought against, and now he’s headed back to the Father’s house to take his place amongst the fallen, or is he?

A fantastic ending to this anthology. Really well written and engaging with an enjoyable premise and collar-grabbing action. Tip of the glass and a satisfied sigh to Sam Witt. 4.5/5

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins is the editor in chief of Grimdark Magazine and knows, like, a LOT about beer, whiskey, and bodysurfing.