Though I've read lots of different genres lately, sometimes I miss a good old Urban Fantasy. I miss that feeling of starting a series for the first time and discovering and falling in love with the Fantasy world, the creatures and the characters. So starting The Asylum Tales by Jocelynn Drake with the two novellas felt very refreshing and like meeting an old friend at the same time, if that makes sense. And I know this is a series I'm going to follow over the years, because it's got everything I love in my UF books, plus a lot of interesting and totally original traits. I love it!
In The Asylum Interviews, Jocelynn Drake introduces us to Gage, the main character of the series and two other characters who start working with him at Asylum, his tattoo shop: Bronx and Trixie - I have a feeling they all will become close friends and partners in crime for the entire series*. She also gives us some info, details and history of the world she's created. This is a world where humans walk and work side-by-side with other creatures, and we learn a bit about them too: elves, warlocks, trolls, vampires, gargoyles, incubus etc. It's a world of magic, power, mystery, danger and conspiracy.
The Asylum Interviews: Bronx (The Asylum Tales 0.5)
by Jocelynn Drake
Published July 3rd 2012
by Harper Voyager
Format: ebook, 87 pages
In Low Town, where humans walk and work side-by-side with elves, vampires, ogres, and all manner of creature, it's understandable that people occasionally need a little help in their lives. Whether is love, work, or ... other, tattoo artists are there to try to help turn the odds into your favor. When Gage's friend Parker needs help with his love life, tattoo artists Gage and Bronx are only too happy to help. But the incubus ends up getting more than he bargained for with his new tattoo, and his friends are forced to scramble to fix the mess they've created before someone gets hurt.
This story starts with a bang. Gage and Bronx meet in a club, when Gage tries to recover after he was drugged and dumped in the ladies' room. Bronx helps him to get out of there and they both go looking for the one responsible for Gage's state, Parker. Parker is an incubus with love problems, so after some talk and drinks, Gage and Bronx decide to make a tattoo for Parker to help him. Except that doesn't go as planned, and the new tattoo has some serious side effects that only make things worse for Parker and his girlfriend. So Gage wants to do everything he can to help his friend. In order to reverse the tattoo effects, he needs to make a new one with some very hard (almost impossible) to find ingredients. He sets out on a journey full of magic, power and danger to collect everything he needs, and Bronx is right there with him, having his back. But he had a good feeling about the troll right from the start, and having him there proved to be very helpful:
I had vouched for him as a good friend of mine and I barely knew him. Sometimes, I got a feeling about a person. With Bronx, I didn’t have to worry. Sure, he might have something in his past or some ugly vice, but there wasn’t a person in this world that didn’t. And I felt confident that Bronx’s secrets weren’t half as bad as the types of things I was trying to hide.
We get to learn a little more about him and about Bronx, but not much. Gage definitely has a troubled past and lots of secrets, he is a warlock who is not allowed to use his magic, but he is a great tattoo artist, has lots of connection in the supernatural world and always seems to have a trick up his sleeve.
On their adventures, Bronx and Gage become somehow partners and learn to trust each other, but to give each other the space they need as well. In the end, Bronx gets the job as the new tattoo artist at Gage's parlor, because not only he is a badass troll and a great sidekick, but he's also surprisingly talented with the art:
“We both know shit happens in this business. It can’t be helped sometimes. When it hit the fan, you stepped up, you had my back, and you were willing to get dirty to get the problem fixed. I couldn’t ask for a better coworker.”
And like I said, I have a feeling they will be partners in crime many times and they will have each other's support in the upcoming books.
I didn’t know anything about him. Not his past or his secrets, but I did know that I could depend on him, and that was more important than anything he could have told me in the past two days since we met. He could stir. He could ink. He could drink. And he didn’t ask too many questions about me.
I loved this world of magic and tattoos. It's all so fascinating and there's still so much more to discover about it! We learned a bit about trolls, incubus, succubus, warlocks, fae and the way things work in a world where humans and other creatures coexist.
The air vibrated with energy just outside the door to the apartment. The collection of glyphs and symbols scrawled across the wood in black chalk created a pair of barriers to hold in the power that was rolling off Parker.
A great start for a super badass series!
The Asylum Interviews: Trixie (The Asylum Tales 0.6)
by Jocelynn Drake
Published September 4th 2012
by Harper Voyager
Format: ebook, 100 pages
The second of two prequel stories to Jocelynn Drake's Angel's Ink.
Gage's ex-girlfriend is back in town and needs help escaping a master vampire. While not the easiest of tasks, he certainly didn't count of getting help from a mysterious woman with a few secrets of her own.
In this second novella, things get a little more personal and interesting. Gage's ex, Jo, has been away traveling with her band for years. Now she's back in town and she's already in some kind of trouble with her master vampire. Of course, she wants to appear nonchalant and as if nothing is wrong, though Gage himself saw the creepy vamp treat her poorly. We learn more about her, the vampire society and why she is afraid of her master right from the start.
And that's when Trixie steps in: she's a friend of Jo's, and she know a little bit more about the trouble she's in. She says she needs a job as a tattoo artist to get the chance to talk to Gage, when her main concern is Jo and getting Gage's help to free her.
Trixie is very unique, mysterious and she definitely has her own problems and dark secrets. She seems a bit detached and cold, but she cares about Jo and she seems genuinely worried about her:
As she stepped over the threshold, I noticed that there was a double image of her. The first layer was the image of a woman with dark brown hair, a sweet, heart-shaped face, and round brown eyes. From what I could tell, the brunette was lovely. However, the second layer revealed a breathtaking blonde with almond-shaped green eyes, high cheek bones, and the pointed ears of an elf.
And the things with this mater vampire are a little more dangerous and complicated that what he faced in Bronx's story. Jo is Gage's friend and he cares about her, but Chester, her master, is very powerful and has a big role in the vamp political world, so freeing Jo from him will be extremely tricky. He can count on Bronx, once again, but he also needs a solid plan. By the way, that's one of things I really like about Gage - no matter how upset and impulsive he is, he always tries to have a good plan and to consider all the details and drawbacks before getting to action. He's clever and resourceful.
Though I felt like this story was more about Gage and Jo, Trixie shows up enough to make a good impression and to make things fun and intriguing.
There may or may not be something deeper developing between them, but for now, their concern for Jo, their will to make things better for her and even the tattoos bring them just a little closer. Through Trixie's story, we find more about Gage, on a deeper, personal level, too:
“I understand,” she murmured, taking me by surprise. For the first time, she looked at me with sympathy in her eyes. No anger or frustration or disgust. Sympathy. And it warmed some part deep inside of me that I hadn’t realized had grown cold and hard. I needed to say something that would wipe that look of sympathy from her eyes and make her hate me, but I couldn’t make a sound. Right then, I needed that softness more than I needed air.
He had a hard life and he keeps everyone at the arm's length, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care, and, once again, he proves that he will try anything to protect the people he cares about, even if that means he gets into trouble too.
As I mentioned before, Gage has lots of connections and always seems to have some backup plan. Before getting to the big confrontation with Chester, he visits a powerful old man for some ingredients to help him against the vampire and then meets with some gargoyles who have helped him before. The meetings are tense and scary, but also very insightful. With each encounter, a few more layers from Gage's character are revealed and we also learn more about the other creatures and their political structure.
Of course, the specific humor, badass action and glimpses from this awesome world don't miss from this story either:
In this world, it’s usually pretty hard to get a strange look while in the grocery store, even if it is nearly midnight. You can walk in wearing footie pajamas covered in little yellow ducks and pick up a quart of blood, a container of ram hearts, and crackers, and no one will bat an eye at it. However, if you walk in and pick up more than a dozen boxes of cereal and nothing else, apparently the cashier is going to look at you like you’re the local pedophile throwing a slumber party.
Actually, I liked the action a little more in this second novella. Then again, I can never resist a good story with magic and vampires in it, so this was perfect for me. :D
Also, I got more attached to the main character. I really felt for Gage and Jo and I wanted everything to work out between them, hard as it seemed.
What I wasn’t saying was that she didn’t know anything about me either. She didn’t know that I had trained as a warlock, that I lived in the despised Ivory Towers, and that I was more dangerous than her on her worst blood-lust rampage. She didn’t know and it had to stay that way if she was going to remain safe. But it wasn’t fair to her or me. If I wanted a real relationship with Jo or anyone for that matter, they had to know and, right now, that wasn’t an option.
And in the end, even the hard walls he put around himself begin to crack:
You know you can drop the act now,” Trixie nonchalantly announced as she stepped over a fallen log.
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to make it sound like her answer wasn’t the most important thing in my life at that moment.
“The whole acting like an asshole thing.” Her head popped up so she could look me in the eye. “We both know you’re not. You risked your life to help Jo. Bronx also told me how you guys met and how you helped your friend Parker. You’re not the asshole you pretend to be.
I really liked Trixie. With all her mysteries and secrets, she's witty, fun, caring and fearless and a great addition to the gang.
“Without a doubt, but deep down, it’s not who you are. You’re a good guy.”
“Geez, Trix! Here I was trying to be this cold-hearted bad ass, and you’re tearing me down. You’re not good for a man’s ego.”
Trixie laughed as she stepped out of the woods and into the quiet residential neighborhood. It was a light, lovely sound that reminded me of spring rain, making me smile when I really didn’t want to.
Of course, Trixie gets a new job at the Asylum as well. She seems to belong there right away and she gets along with Bronx from the beginning. Things might be a little more complicated with Gage, but there's a good friendship in the making right there.
The mix of her artistic talent, her potion knowledge, and her devotion to a friend made her a perfect choice for Asylum. I didn’t care that she thought I was a complete prick. I was extremely attracted to her, but so long as she didn’t like me, I would remember not to do something totally stupid.
With every new little thing we learn about Gage, more questions arise. There's just so much to his character and I can't wait to read the full length novel to find some answers!
Saving people wasn’t the easy business it had once been. Sometimes the so-called damsel in distress didn’t need your help and the evil villain needed a little saving of his own. I wouldn’t make the same mistake with Trixie and her secrets. Besides, given my history with the Ivory Towers, this world was more likely to see me as the dragon than the white knight.
*As a side note, these two novellas reminded me of the beginning of The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, when Rachel, Jenks and Ivy began working together and started their own crazy adventure and friendship. When they had secrets and weird things to deal with of their own, but they gathered their forces and made a badass team... That made me feel a bit melancholic, considering that the series is getting close to the end... But that's kind of irrelevant here. LOL
Here's hoping this series is going to be just as good and successful - and I think it will be, there's a lot of potential for a long series here! Also, Jocelynn Drake's writing is very engaging and original. The plot is fast-paced and there's no unnecessary info-dump, which sometimes can be an issue in Urban Fantasy series. We learn everything we need to know gradually and at the right moment, so there's no risk of getting overwhelmed and disoriented. Publishing these prequels first was a brilliant idea - we get to know about the world and the characters, get used to the pace and all the elements at a normal pace. It's enough to pick your interest for the upcoming series.
If you like Urban Fantasy, this series is a must have!
The first book, Angel's Ink, comes out on October 16th.
**A review copy of The Asylum Interviews: Trixie was provided to me by the publisher Harper Voyager via Edelweiss.