Last year's Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier was one of my favorites, and I was excited to explore more of the fascinating world she created in this anthology which includes four short stories set in the world peopled by werewolves and the people with the Pure magic to make their lives slightly less violent. (Slightly.)
The first story centers on Natividad so readers familiar with her and her voice from the novel will feel like they've come home again. It is a mostly fun, fluffy story about a shopping trip for Christmas presents that involves the unlikely team of Natividad and Keziah-neither of them together by choice but at the order of the Master of Dimilioc. There is some minor violence, but it's really just about the girls getting to know each other a little better, bonding just a little bit, and gaining some more respect for each other. This is a good story, but nothing spectacular.
The second story focuses on Miguel. I enjoyed this as we didn't see as much from his point of view in Black Dog. Being a human who has to live amongst the violent black dogs is no simple thing, and Miguel has to walk very carefully. He is the focus of one of the new Dimilioc Dogs. Etienne likes to practice his feelings of superiority on Miguel. This is about Miguel trying to manipulate things to move Etienne out of his way. He finds an unlikely ally in Cassie, who is a moon shifter who must be carefully contained during the full moon. I liked this story for what it revealed of Miguel and Cassie.
The third story focuses on Thaddeus, a stray who joined Dimilioc in the novel. Since this is the first time to see his life from his perspective, it was fascinating. The story chronicles a trip he is on to Chicago with Grayson, Dimilioc's Master, to round up strays. Of course, if you're on an outing with Grayson, it isn't going to be anything so simple. This is a test of both Thaddeus's strength over his shadow and his loyalty to the Dimilioc Master. The story gives us a glimpse at another fascinating character who I hope we will see return later. I enjoyed this one for Thaddeus's back story, what his actions reveal about his humanity, and the intriguing elements that may come up again later.
These first three stories all take place between the action in Black Dog and the beginning of the upcoming sequel, Pure Magic. I liked each one a little more than the one that came before it, but none of them have anything on my love of the last story. If you are a fan of Black Dog, this book is worth the price simply to read the final story, which is the only one that goes back and takes place not only before the beginning of the action in Black Dog, but before the war between black dogs and vampires.
The fourth story in this volume is told from the perspective of Ezekiel and shows how Grayson became the Master of Dimilioc. It is FASCINATING. Ezekiel is the Dimilioc Executioner. It is what he was trained for from a very young age and he is brilliant at his job. He follows orders well too and doesn't stop to question much. Until suddenly he does, and then he has to make some decisions about what do to with that quickly because the fate of many people are at stake. This story showcases exactly how much control and power Ezekiel actually wields. It also gives insight into the sometimes fraught relationship between him and Grayson. The entirety of the story is fascinating. It does reveal some troubling aspects of both Ezekiel and Grasyon's personalities.
All four stories are good and gave me exactly what I wanted-more insight into this fascinating world and all the characters who inhabit it. It is a good bridge between Black Dog and Pure Magic (which I have read as an ARC and will review later this week), but is not necessary to understanding either. I do highly recommend it though.