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The Brass Bed
      The Velvet Chair
Jennifer Stevenson
      Jennifer Stevenson
Ballantine Books, 301 pages
      Ballantine Books, 301 pages

The Brass Bed
The Velvet Chair
Jennifer Stevenson
Jennifer Stevenson grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and earned her BA in English and music at the University of Iowa. She married theater technician Rich Bynum and spent six years in New Haven, where he went to Yale Drama School and she took her advanced degrees. She now lives in a suburb of Chicago, writing, doing the books for the family business, Hawkeye Scenic Studios.

Jennifer Stevenson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Trash Sex Magic

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

I have to admit this isn't precisely the second novel I expected from the author of the first-rate 2005 Chicago-based urban fantasy, Trash Sex Magic. On the other hand, Blood Engines wasn't quite the second novel I expected from Tim Pratt after The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. Come to think of it, there's a lot in common between the two cases -- a fairly serious urban fantasy debut (in trade paperback) followed by a rather more commercial urban fantasy series in mass market. Well, a writer has to pay the bills. And to say that is a bit unfair to the series books -- Pratt's books, and, as we shall see, Stevenson's books, do what they aim to do nicely enough.

Indeed, the marketing of this series of novels reminds me of another recent success: Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels. The first three novels in Jennifer Stevenson's new series about Chicago cop Jewel Heiss were released in successive months earlier this year, just as with the first three of Novik's books back in 2006. SF readers may have to look around in the bookstore to find them: they are labelled "paranormal romance," and indeed they are a combination of comedy, urban fantasy, romance, and mystery. (I eventually found copies in the Romance section of the bookstores I tried.)

I have the first two Jewel Heiss novels to hand, The Brass Bed and The Velvet Chair. I noted that her first novel was a Chicago-set Urban Fantasy, and the same description applies here. But the books are very different to that one. Jewel Heiss is the heroine, a cop of sorts in a slightly alternate Chicago. I say "cop" but in fact Jewel works for the Department of Consumer Services, so she is restricted to investigating fraud and out of date licenses and so on. Oh, and magic -- or as it is called, "the hinky stuff". In the case of the latter, her main job is to suppress evidence of any "hinky stuff" -- after what happened to Pittsburgh, "Da Mayor of da City that woiks" is determined not to let his city lose control to magic. As to her personal life -- as the series opens, Jewel, a big 25-year-old farm girl from Wisconsin, hasn't had a date in 6 months (having worked through every guy in the office, and having scared herself by her attraction to kinkier sex), and her best friend is probably her boss Ed's wife Nina.

In The Brass Bed she finds herself in a tricky situation. Ed has ordered her to investigate Nina, who seems to be having an affair. (Of course, Ed is not perfect in this area himself.) Nina is happy to tell Jewel what's up -- she's seeing a sex therapist, who she swears does not have sex with her. Nina insists Jewel see the therapist, Clay Dawes, and Jewel finds him attractive enough. But all he does is tell her to go in and take a nap on the brass bed in the hotel room he's renting. Jewel does so and has the most fantastic sexual dream of her life. Does Clay Dawes have an accomplice? But no one could have done the things the man in Jewel's dream did!

The novel rattles on from there. It turns out the brass bed harbors a sex demon -- actually, a cursed Earl named Randy, whose angry mistress, a witch, imprisoned him in the bed until he learned to satisfy women -- one hundred women, to be exact. It seems Jewel is number 100, and Randy is free. But not exactly -- he remains attached to Jewel, and anyway what can a guy from 1811 do in the present, and what do with Clay Dawes, who is damned attractive as well, and who has his own problems dealing with his con man dad, and then there's the problem of Ed and Nina, not to mention Jewel's job, which depends on keeping Ed happy and on keeping magic out of the public eye ...

Things work out nicely enough, with the problem of the brass bed solved, and with Ed and Nina more or less straightened out... and, as we enter The Velvet Chair, the only issue is that Jewel is trying to juggle two guys she likes in (perhaps) different ways. Clay is her new partner, and shows signs of being a partner she can keep; while Randy is living with her and satisfying her every night. Which turns out to be not always satisfying, in a way ... and it's a problem for Randy too, who doesn't have a real job or even a contemporary identity.

Then Jewel and Clay get two assignments. One is to track down the source of a mysterious potion that is causing beauty parlors lots of trouble -- the women who use it don't seem interested in beauty parlors anymore -- nor indeed in personal hygiene much at all. The other is to nail a con man for fraud -- he has a chair that he claims makes anyone who sits in it (and gets the appropriate treatment) sexually irresistible. That's bad enough -- worse is that the owner wants to run for Mayor, which doesn't make the current Mayor any too happy.

Things are more complicated, however, for Jewel and Clay, because the owner of the chair is now trying to sell it to Virgil Thompson -- who is, we know from the first book, Clay's father and a lifelong con man. Virgil is running a con of his own, and in so doing is worrying his longtime companion, Griffy, Clay's personal favorite of his father's many mistresses. Jewel and Clay recruit Randy to help them go undercover at Virgil's house, posing as a psychic investigator and his skeptic friend... If this all seems a bit overcomplicated, I rather think it is.

The story rattles along, with Jewel apparently getting the treatment from the velvet chair and finding herself uncomfortably irresistible to men. Meanwhile both Jewel and Clay are trying to make Virgil treat Griffy right. And Jewel is trying to solve both cases to her boss's satisfaction... and trying to work out her feelings for both Randy and Clay... and so on. The book starts slowly, but the last part is quite fun, with a pretty nicely worked out resolution.

On the whole, I'd say these novels are being marketed properly -- to the romance field, that is. As fantasy they are not without interest, but not particularly special either. And the mystery/crime elements are not all that intriguing. But Jewel and her two love interests are interesting characters, and the stories move nicely enough (if as I said a bit too slowly at the beginning of book two), and the comic elements are amusing, and we do care about Jewel and Randy and Clay. These aren't great books, but they are pleasant enough.

Copyright © 2008 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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