This is a collection of short stories by Kelley Armstrong, drawing upon her various worlds as well as several stand alones.
There are a lot of stories that draw from Kelley Armstrong’s various world series – and some of these I haven’t read. For me this was particularly a problem for the short stories based on the Cainsville series since I hadn’t read them. In some ways I think the order of the stories was off, if Devil May Care had come first rather than last, the world would have been much more explained and developed and, with that, I would have had more investment and understanding when reading The Screams of Dragons, Gabriel’s Gargoyles and The Hunt. But, if I had read Devil May Care first, I don’t think the same sense of mystery and alienness would have pervaded these books.
Thematically and in terms of tone all of these are very good at invoke the other, the very otherworldy feel of the fae but all with a strong sense of subtlety. They are unseen and mysterious and it’s all a lot of look-out-the-corner-of-your-eye-or-you’ll miss it etherealness that really real worked. They were creepy, they were low key, they were subtle and they were about normal or seemingly normal people caught up in this mysterious place with its mysterious people who are just ever-so-slightly off. I think that wouldn’t have carried the same weight if I’d read Devil May Care first even though I enjoyed it more, since that book is very up front and clear about what Cainsville is and why. It would have destroyed the mystery and the eeriness. I do think I am missing out a lot by not recognising any of these characters and not appreciating any new angles it my bring
I also haven’t reads the Darkes Powers/Darkness Rising universe and I’m now both eager to read them and quite frustrated by having read this first. Kat and Branded both seem to take familiar themes from The Otherworld universe but the world building goes in a very different direction – with the same supernatural creatures I know so well eventually leading to a complex and rich dystopia. In Kat we see the beginnings of this and Branded takes the extreme several years, perhaps centuries, afterwards. I’m a little frustrated in fact because I think I’d love to read this series but now I know where it’s heading I think I will miss much of the suspense of the characters facing the pending dystopia. I loved both stories not just for the world setting but also for the characters with Kat we saw strong female friendships, family and dedication and Branded showed a level of cunning and ruthlessness from a female protagonist that was absolutely applause worthy. It’s a terrible, dark, lethal world – and she does what she must to survive and thrive in excellent, terrifying fashion.
The main reason I was interested in this book was for those stories set in the Otherworld universe – I’ve read them all, I love this series and miss it now it was over, so it was nice to hark back to it. Though I have to say, in some ways, they clashed badly with the other stories in this book. The other stories have desperate, abused children, alien, cruel and downright creepy fae, several brutal dystopias and some downright disturbing standalones. Then we have the Otherworld stories which are a bit silly and great fun. I like them, but they’re theme bombs and derail the overall feel of the book
Learning Curve and The List are told from Zoe’s point of view. I’ve always liked Zoe, firstly for being an Asian lesbian vampire in a series that needed more POC and LGBT people, but also because she had so much fun. She’s ideal for short stories because so many of the other Otherworld characters are involved in such epicness all the time while she never has been. This is her life and the enjoyment she gets out of it – whether it’s having an amazingly fun time educating a terrible Britanny the inept vampire slayer or tackling some vampire-wannabes, she has a good time and I love her stories.
Another excellent one from the Otherworld Series was Bamboozled going back to werewolves of the old west with an excellent female protagonist. It was a great display of portraying prejudice, the misogyny of the time and the contempt against her as an actress while at the same time challenging it marvellously. It also works well at challenging the single-special-woman syndrome that has plagued some of theOtherworld Series (yes, cryptic for spoilers).
I was as big a lover of the zombie, brothel werewolf story with Nick and the young wolves in VPlates. Partly because it reminds me how frustrated I am that this series ended and I’ll never get to see this rebuilt pack. Seeing Nick who has both grown a lot but is still not-all-that wise (hence taking new werewolves to a brothel to lose their virginity) but is trying. The whole story could have been terrible, but in it way it nicely shredded the ineptitude of the extremely male-dominated, uber-masculine, sex-driven, testosterone world of the werewolves and, even without zombies, how it was all a little silly and wrong headed, which was definitely needed.