Mysteria
by Mary Janice Davidson, Susan Grant, P.C. Cast & Gena Showalter
(Berkley Sensation, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-21106-1
***
Mysteria would be just another small town nestled in the Colorado mountains were it not for magical creatures and humans happily coexisting. Demons, witches, werewolves, fairies, vampires, naiads, and non-magical beings galore live, work, and love in this paranormal melting pot. Some of their stories are told in this light-hearted and humorous anthology.

Susan Grant opens the collection with "Mortal in Mysteria," which relates the fall and rise of the town's founding demon. Because the Demon High Lord of Self-Doubt and Second Thoughts once gave into his merciful instincts and helped a band of lost settlers, he has been exiled from hell. He lands in the garden of woefully single and sorrowfully insecure Harmony Faithful. Pastor of Mysteria's church and daughter of a minister of some renown, she is having a hard time following in her father's footstep. Sunday after Sunday, her church remains empty, until Damon decides to help her in more ways than one. But Satan isn't ready to give up his minion, and when Harmony's family unexpectedly shows up, things really start to explode.

Mary Janice Davidson's "Alone Wolf" features a bewildered werewolf and an alien with a very short lifespan. The love story, or what passes for it, didn't do much for me. Call me self-righteous, but I don't think seducing a man to get pregnant is very romantic. On the other hand, Cole Jones's search for his identity and his people is touching, and a wonderfully smart-mouthed ghost made this otherwise disappointing story enjoyable.

My least favorite story is Gena Showalter's "The Witches of Mysteria and the Dead Who Love Them." Genevieve Tawdry has been chasing after Hunter Knight forever. He reciprocates the attraction. But since his psychic abilities tell him it could only lead to his death, he won't let her get near him. Even he can't resist her sister's latest spell. Inevitably, his worries come true, and they have a few more hurdles to jump over.

If you like heroines who cause traffic jams to capture the interest of their love object, Genevieve is your gal, not mine. As for her two sisters, one is paired up with a werewolf, the other with some unknown creature. "There was an unspoken rule in Mysteria: if you can't tell, don't ask," says Hunter about his mysterious best buddy. Which is well and good for them, but a little frustrating for the reader. Neither sister shares much more than the title and a few bumbling spells with Genevieve.

A forty-year-old non-magic high school English teacher and her twenty- something former student get the billing in P. C. Cast's "Candy Cox and the Big Bad (Were)Wolf." Candy is as dissatisfied with her job as with her many failed marriages. Then, a meeting with a gorgeous amber- eyed male promises to bring a new, shall we say, bite to her life. Still, she is reluctant to pursue something with a younger man, especially once she learns of Jason's reputation as the sluttiest werewolf in town. The Big Misunderstanding threatens their relationship, and its predictable path diminished my enjoyment of the story but, in the end, magic, romance and love triumph in a charmingly poetic and picturesque way.

Some stories may be less appealing, but all four display sparkling writing, witty banter and quirky (but not forced) humor. The uniformly engaging style and bubbly tone carry this anthology, making it a pleasure to recommend.

--Mary Benn


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