*I received a free ARC of this novella in exchange for an honest review.*
Blurb: Siren Stories presents: The Mystery of Ms. Riley, a Schildmaids Novella.
Alice Anders and Rakesha McKenzie are members of the Schildmaids, the legendary New York crime fighters. And when Alice sees visions of Nina Riley, a young New Yorker carrying a deep, hidden pain, the two heroes fight to determine what has caused that pain, and how to save Ms. Riley from a prison she cannot even see.
The Mystery of Ms. Riley is a harsh yet hopeful story about self-doubt, about ordinary, everyday oppression, and about the kind of love that defies the testimonies of everyone around you.
This is the latest novella in the Schildmaid’s saga, following events back in New York whilst Emily, Theo and the gang are off chasing her roots and taking on a Big Bad or two in Not Even Stars. It can be read as part of the series or as a stand-alone story.
I really enjoy these less-dramatic, more domestic cases that Alice and Rakesha work, because it feels like we’re getting to see the bread-and-butter of the Schildmaids organisation. Not every case can be a massive threat to the safety of the universe: at the heart of the Schildmaid’s philosophy it is about saving as many women as possible, even one at a time.
The case of Nina Riley is one of the most sickening I’ve read, from an author whose heroes fight human trafficking. It’s not just what happens to Nina, but the selfish, personal motivation behind it and the lengths that the ‘baddie’ will go to to make it stick. Even I, the reader, doubted Nina’s sanity, so she had no chance at all. Except she did, because here we see some of the strength of Alice Anders, which has been developing as the series progressed. Her faith in herself and her growing powers is a good small-scale mirror of Emily’s journey in the full novels.
In terms of character growth, we also see some self-restraint and a more contemplative side to Rakesha, even as she is faced by the very trafficker who stole her life away. And we see Isaac continue his transition from an AI with an Artificial Personality enhancement, to a person with his own thoughts and morality.
My personal favourite in this installment was Professor Bloom (somewhat reminiscent of Ronald Saveloy in Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times). McKinney is particularly skilled at showing us the heroism that lurks in even the most ‘ordinary’ heart, and to see Bloom set out timid but determined, without any superpowers, just because someone had to… a true superhero there! Plus as an added bonus, Isaac talking him through the action bits reminded me strongly of an old-school computer game.
Another great addition to the Schildmaid’s canon!
Alice now leaned forward, looking earnestly at Nina. ‘You’re Nina Riley, and you’re in pain. You feel trapped.’
Nina was suddenly gripped by a cold terror. ‘How’d you girls know my name?’
‘Because we’re Schildmaids,’ Alice said. ‘We find women who are suffering, and we help them. Women who the police can’t help, or won’t help. We’ve saved more lives, rescued more girls than you could possibly believe.’
– Jonathan McKinney, The Mystery of Ms Riley
You can find a compilation of short reviews of Jonathan McKinney’s previous writing here in my Siren Stories post.
The Siren Stories website is here and their most recent novels are on sale today, to coincide with the release of Ms Riley!