At the start of Gilman's convoluted but diverting fourth Retrievers fantasy (after 2006's Bring It On), set in a near-future Manhattan, Wren Valere, a professional thief with magical "Talent," and her demon sidekick, P.B., discover the brutalized corpse of an angel. The gutted angel, or winged nonhuman "fatae," turns out to be just one casualty in a heated conflict between Nulls (humans without Talent) and the powerful human Talents, along with the fatae. Not only are bigoted human vigilantes going after supernaturals, but it appears the Silence, a covert organization that used to employee Wren's partner and lover, Sergei Didier, has become corrupted from within. Several Silence Talent operatives have gone missing, and Sergei is drawn back into the group's politics as a new truce falls apart. Though newcomers to the series might find the plot and multiple cabals a little confusing-with the spy stuff a little too derivative of TV's Aliasand not enough fey-Wren's can-do magic is highly appealing. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Burning Bridges (Retrievers Series #4)by Laura Anne Gilman
Wren Valere used to be almost invisible. But now she's not only being seen, she's getting involved.
Recent attacks against nonhuman Fatae have escalated into hate crimes against magic users in generalhumans included. With the Mage Council distracted by internal power struggles, Wren is guilted into stepping up as spokesperson for the fragilely united/i>… See more details below
Wren Valere used to be almost invisible. But now she's not only being seen, she's getting involved.
Recent attacks against nonhuman Fatae have escalated into hate crimes against magic users in generalhumans included. With the Mage Council distracted by internal power struggles, Wren is guilted into stepping up as spokesperson for the fragilely united Fatae and lonejack communities .
And, because the cosmos deems her without enough complications, her partner-lover Sergei is drowning in his own problems. But not only can't she help himshe's the cause.
With lives on the lineincluding her ownWren's going to have to break the lonejack credo, ditch her long-cherished invisibility and take a stand.
But burning bridges can be deadly .
In the best of times, the Mage Council provides balance and protection for the various magic users and nonhumans now inhabiting the modern world. When a rash of attacks targeting New York's Fatae, both angelic and demonic, endangers the city's mage population, the council pressures human mage Wren Valere to bring the attackers to justice. Set in the same alternate Earth as Curse the Dark, Gilman's latest novel provides a view of magic and magical creatures that is anything but bright and shiny. Valere is a tough, resourceful heroine, a would-be loner who cares too much to truly walk alone. A strong addition to urban fantasy collections.
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January 23rd 6:25pm
Fresh snow could make even the dingiest, most urban part of Manhattan into a magical place. The colors and noises all faded away, the city's usual frenetic pace slowing to a more studied waltz of snow falling, white against the bare black limbs of trees and outlines of buildings. Drifts pushed up against maildrop boxes, covered fire hydrants, and shut down traffic except for the unstoppable city buses and madman–driven taxi cabs zipping through the night.
It might have been lovely, but Wren Valere wasn't paying attention to the scenery. She was a professional working her craft. Or trying to, anyway. Two new high–end locks had hit the market, supposedly proof against the "bump–and–enter" method, and she wanted to make sure she understood how they worked before she actually encountered one in the field, when time might be against her. In her particular profession, you didn't get many second chances, and Wren was pretty sure the past twelve months had used up all the ones she was going to get in a lifetime.
Sometimes, honestly, she didn't know what got into her. For a mind–her–own–business Retriever, she'd spent a hell of a lot of time muddling around in things she should have left alone. Curses and politics and meetings, for God's sake.
Never mind that she'd done it to save her own skin, after the Mage Council tried to use her and her partner, Sergei; never mind that she'd done it to help out her friends among the fatae, the nonhuman members of the Cosa Nostradamus. All of that might have made what happened inevitable, but none of it made it smart.
"Hey, Valere." The voice came from the other side of the room, about three feet to the right and a foot down. And speaking of fatae….
Wren Valere didn't sigh, but she wanted to.
Retrieval wasn't easy. She had studied her craft, learned from masters, and kept up–to–date on all the most recent developments, not only in her own field, but anything that might come in handy. In addition to mastering the current–magic that flowed from within her, she had trained her body, as well; toning and strengthening her muscles, increasing her lung capacity, maintaining her flexibility. She had forced mind and body into partnership, more than once spending hours waiting in a cramped, close situation, anticipating the perfect moment to move on a job. She knew all about patience. About focus. About dedication. by a stubborn client, or impossible mark, or even the weight of the snow outside and what was happening in the city beyond, but by her companion.
She didn't bother looking in the direction of the voice, not wanting to encourage him.
"Valere," the voice said again. "What does this do?" She looked, then, briefly. "Opens locks."
The room's other occupant—and the subject of her irritation—put the tool back down on the small table next to him and picked up another. "And this?"
She reached for patience, found it. "Opens a different kind of lock."
"And this one?"
Patience threw up its hands in disgust and fled the room.
"It gets the gunk out from between my teeth. Damn it, P.B., will you please leave my kit alone? Those extremely delicate tools you're paw–handling cost me a fortune, and half of them are custom–made." She reached up from her cross–legged position on the floor, and snagged the instrument in question out of P.B."s paws. A thin ceramic shape with a non–reflective black coating, it actually did look like something that might be found in a very trendy Goth's toothbrush holder, except that the fiberglass pick at the end was attuned to more delicate vibrations than enamel generally gave off.
"Sheesh. Someone's snappy." The short, white–furred demon settled on the padded bench under the room's single window and stared at her with his dark, dried–bloodred eyes. He wandered over to the corkboard that hung above her desk and tapped one curved black claw on a color pencil sketch tacked there. "This the bansidhe–horsie you been chasing? How long you been working that case?"
"Five years." She refused to look up from her notes, hoping against hope he would finally take the hint and go elsewhere.
P.B. snorted, a wet, vaguely disgusting noise his flattened snout of a nose seemed designed to make. "That's dedication. You get paid for any of that time?"
"Five years ago, yeah," It wasn't always about money. A lot of the time, it was about reputation. The Wren never gave up. Never left a job unfinished. No matter what.
Okay, maybe some of it was about money. Her mother had spent most of her life worrying about money: how much, never enough. Having money–savvy Sergei Didier become her manager when she was a teenager had given Wren the opportunity—and the education—she needed to change that. Over the years, her reputation—and her fees—had grown. If she was careful, and kept working, her savings would be enough to buy her apartment when it finally—inevitably–went co–op. More, Wren was now in the position of being able to have ego spur her to do things, rather than need.
Financial need, anyway.
The demon and the human were occupying the spare bedroom/library of Wren's East Village apartment, surrounded by three stacks of books, a scattering of papers, and the remains of two pizzas. The air was heavy with the scent of pepperoni, cheese, and a dry heat coming up through the building's ancient radiators, making her sinuses itch.
Ego had its own need in it, too. The bansidhe—Old Sally—was the one job Wren hadn't been able to close. Yet. Her clients—descendants of the original owner—had, she suspected, long since written off their initial deposit, but she couldn't let go.
No, the whereabouts of one taxidermied warhorse, no matter that it was a portent of doom, didn't really matter a damn to her. But professional pride was involved. With her last dying breath, if need be, she was going to bring that damn sawdust–stuffed equine doomsayer back in. Someday. When everything else got settled.
The thought made her laugh, bitterly. The Cosa was in the middle of a battle for survival against enemies it hadn't been able to identify, who were determined to wipe them out of the city. Her partner's former employers had screwed them over and left them to hang. The Mage Council was playing their usual we–know–nothing, did–nothing game with the rest of the Cosa. All in all, "settled" wasn't something Wren expected to see anytime soon.
Although these past few weeks of the new year had been oddly if pleasantly calm: nobody had set a psi–bomb off anywhere near her; nobody had tried to bribe, threaten, hijack or otherwise annoy her or any of her friends; Sergei was off on a legitimate business trip for his gallery; and she was actually catching up on her filing, bill–paying, and her exercise routine. The entire city seemed to have come to a pause.
Hell, the entire city had come to a pause, thanks to the weather.
"It's still snowing." P.B. had given up staring at her, now looking out the window, one white–furred, black–clawed paw pushing aside the dark green drape. His short muzzle, which—along with the plush white fur and rounded bear–like ears—had been the cause of his nickname of "Polar Bear," pressed up against the glass, his breath causing the window to fog over.
"It's been snowing for the past seven hours," Wren said as patiently as she could manage. "This isn't a news flash." After two months of winter, snow of any sort wasn't news.
The constant curtain of white was making her stir–crazy, too, but she could live with it. Without the snow, Wren had no confidence that the agreement she helped broker—that the Eastern Mage Council and tristate lonejacks would sit down and shut up and play nice together, at least while they had murdering bigots out for their blood—would have held together longer than a week, much less the month–and–counting.
It helped that attacks by those bigots who had been trying to "cleanse" Manhattan of anything supernatural had all but stopped. She didn't think they were gone, though. The threat of the Cosa finally working together, in however limited a fashion, wasn't enough to work that miracle, no matter what some of her fellow members might want to believe. No, it was far more likely that frostbite was a hell of a deterrent—as was the fact that their prospective victims were wisely staying inside, where it was warm.
No matter. She'd take whatever reason, if it gave them a breather.
P.B. turned away from the window and hopped down off the bench, kicking the pizza box with one clawed foot as he moved. "Hey. There's still a slice left."
"I'm full," he said, by his voice, borderline perturbed by that admission.
"You're full?" That got her to look up. She stood, creaking unpleasantly in the knees, and went over to look out the window, as well. "The Stomach that Digested Manhattan is full? Damn. There's the fourth horseman, riding past."
"Oh, shut up," he snarled, uncharacteristically. "I wanted kung pao chicken, remember? But you didn't want to order Chinese. For the first time ever, speaking of the end of the world."
Wren didn't snarl back at him, but only because she could feel current coil in her core, the power looking for an excuse to get funky. Control. She needed to maintain control. P.B. knew why she didn't want Chinese food. Or he should know, anyway. With Chinese food came Chinese fortune cookies. Fortune cookies, in this city, had an unpleasant tendency to be written by actual Seers. Sometimes, not knowing what was about to fall on your head was a blessing.
Wren counted backward from ten in English, then up again in Russian, the only thing she knew in that language except for a few useful swear words. Stay calm, Valere. He was cranky. She was cranky. Stir–crazy didn't look good on either one of them.
This was the third day of snow this week, snowing hard since dawn the day before, and P.B. had been bunking with her for two days of it. She would have told him to go home, but Sergei had been caught out of town when the airports shut down, and she had been glad enough for the company at that point to tell the demon that he could stay as long as he liked.
Apparently, he liked overnight.
Besides. She had no idea what P.B's home was actually like, much less if it was currently livable. The law said landlords had to provide heat when it dropped below a certain temperature, but the demon was unlikely to call the tenant complaint hotline, much less appeal to a disciplinary board.
"We need to get out," she said. "Do something." Something other than eat and prod unruly paperwork, anyway. She wasn't able to focus properly on the lock schematics, so long as P.B. was restless.
"As you just pointed out, it's been snowing all day. There's, like, a foot of snow out there. This, in case you missed it, is a problem for me."
Wren turned and looked at the demon, all four feet of him standing upright and reaching. The vision of him lost in a snowbank, only the black tips of his claws and the black tip of his nose visible, made her laugh for the first time in days. She didn't think he would appreciate her sharing the image, though.
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