Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn

Rating 8.5/10
I appreciated the chance to glimpse into the origins of some of the main characters.

Having read and loved all but the most recent book of the Hidden Empire series (Queen of Nowhere is waiting on my TBR pile), I couldn't wait to grab a copy of this novella length anthology, with four stories set in the familiar setting of Kesh – home of the Angels. Not only did it expand on a fascinating world and set of characters, but also some background to the two main characters from Principles of Angels, the first book in the Hidden Empire series. For me, I really enjoy tie-ins like this that help build a bigger picture of the author’s universe, and I appreciated the chance to glimpse into the origins of some of the main characters.

Collateral Damage - When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. Written in first person (which is not my favourite POV but that soon becomes irrelevant), this short covers the meeting of a new Angel and an unhappy woman in a bar that fast becomes a peculiar friendship. But there’s a real twist in the tail, and Malia soon learns the hard way that even an Angel can be played. I loved this additional insight into the life and ‘creation’ of an Angel, having encountered them all too briefly in Principles of Angels. And this story also ties into one of the main characters in PoA, giving us some background on their very early life.

Death on Elsewhere Street - The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a 'removal' by the Angel Thiera. Loved this one, especially because we see a glimpse of Nual before she meets Taro in Principles of Angels. Geal has the misfortune to encounter a rogue Angel on a mission of vengeance, and gets way too close to the action for her liking. This is a heart-wrenching story, again told in first person, but the touches of skilful world building and use of downsider dialect giving a real depth and flavour to the story. You can’t help but sympathize, even with the rogue.

Angel Dust - Downside, Isha's brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. This story follows on from the previous one but introduces water-trader Isha, and told from her POV in first person. We meet Nual again, and the mysterious, omnipotent Minister of Kesh. Once more, this builds on the whole floating city of Kesh where the Hidden Empire series begins.

The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier - Larnia Mier, a talented topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up. This was a big shift from the previous stories – I kept waiting for an Angel to appear! I also wasn’t sure, even after reaching the end, whether Larnia was totally delusional and had imagined the whole thing, or whether had read more into her strange pupil than there actually was to him. Whichever, this short wove around the sense of loss and disconnection as a singer learns she may lose her talent (reminiscent of Anne McCaffrey’s Killashandra Ree in The Crystal Singer) and the power (or possible illusion) of faith. It depends on your perceptions when it comes to religion. I’m not religious myself, so I immediately found her refusal to accept medical aid due to her religion irritating. And yet, of the four stories in the anthology, this struck the deepest chord, if you’ll pardon the musical pun. Her struggle between following her faith and holding onto the only real passion of her life captured my attention and held it for the whole of the story. Faced with such a choice, she has to balance her beliefs with her desires.

Disclaimer – I won a copy of this novella from the author herself.

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