As Alastair Reynolds mentions in the introduction of this excellent collection, Jaine Fenn is one of the most important voices of the modern British science fiction scene. I would go even further and say that in my opinion Jaine is as important globally as she is as in Britain. Her Hidden Empire series is truly unique piece of work, with characters feeling real and stories reminiscent of the best Iain Banks books with that extra feminine touch. Needless to say that each new installment is eagerly awaited.
"Downside Girls" is a 80 pages long short story collection set in her Hidden Empire universe and features three old and one completely new story. Best part of the collection is that these stories can be enjoyed by newcomers as well as by weathered veterans of the series and it's the first three stories featuring characters from the series where Jaine's talent shines. All three stories feature Angels (Angel being basically government hitwomen) dealing with situations that reveal their (still human) weaknesses.
Without giving too much away - first story "Collateral Damage" deals with unexperienced Angel being tricked into doing the hit that shouldn't be done. Second "Death on Elsewhere Street" deals with rogue Angel while third and the best of the bunch "Angel Dust" tells the story of wounded Angel needing help of the ordinary downside girls.
What combines these three stories is the human emotion and vulnerability of the Angels. Basically, no matter how strong or special Angels are, sometimes, just sometimes, it's the downside girls who save the day and in the end, Angels are still people. Fantastic stuff.
As for the last story in the series, Jaine goes in completely different direction. "The Three Temptations Of Larnia Mier" tells the story of music teacher Larnia after suffering nasty blow to the head is slowly losing the ability to hear. Enter dashing new pupil, temptations, religion and there's interesting story to tell.
The gist of it is that we can't recommend "Downside Girls" enough and if there's one short story collection you plan to get this year, it's this one.
"Downside Girls" is published by Clarion Publishing