The Witchlands #2: Windwitch

The future’s in the air, I can feel it blowing everywhere, with the Windwitch of change. Let’s breeze through Windwitch, by Susan Dennard.

Synopsis:

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

If you’ll recall, the first book of The Witchlands set down quite a few plot threads. Truthwitch Safi is fleeing the Emperor who wishes to use her power for political ends; Weavewitch Iseult is being pursued by Bloodwitch Aedun; Cursewitch Corlant has taken over a town; Weavewitch Puppeteer is commanding an army of Cleaved; Windwitch Merik is trying to prevent his sister from turning their nation’s fleet to piracy; and there’s a prophecy about the Cahr Awen coming to purify the Origin Wells and cleanse the corruption of magic which causes Cleaving.

How does the sequel handle this profusion of characters and subplots? By adding even more! In addition to the previous villains, there are now two loosely-allied pirate factions, a group of nine-fingered criminals, a corrupt councilor, and a powerful shadow man (he’s got friends on the other side…). In addition to the previous allies, there’s now Empress Vaness, a group of Hell-Bards, and a child with a psychic bond with a mountain bat. In addition to the previous POV characters, there’s now Merik’s sister Vivia. Can’t stop, won’t stop! Wheee!

Okay, I’m jesting, at least a little. The book does begin tying things together by implying that many of the antagonists are in fact pawns of a single greater villain. The pirates are working for Ragnor; the Nines are working for the shadow man who is working for the Puppeteer who is working for Ragnor.

This book can be divided into four main plotlines. Prince Merik, nearly killed in an assassination attempt, returns to his nation and adopts the guise of the vengeful deity known as the Fury in preparation for overthrowing his sister, who he believes responsible for the attempt on his life. Princess Vivia tries to control the nation in the stead of her ailing father, dealing with problems including famine, a refugee crisis, traitors in the council, and possibility she might inherit her mother’s mental illness. Safi and Empress Vaness, also barely escaping an assassination attempt similar to the one on Merik, are taken prisoner and forced to fight pirates and Hell-Bards for their freedom. Aeduan and Iseult, traveling to meet up with Safi, run into pirate forces and rescue the girl they call Owl.

Of these various plotlines, what I found most interesting was the contrast between Vivia and Merik’s points of view. In the first book, only Merik was a POV character, and we only saw Vivia through the lens of his biases and preconceptions. As a result, she came off as a monster, a scheming tyrant oppressing her people and leading her nation to destruction. Now that we get her POV, however, it becomes apparent that she is actually a much more nuanced and human character. She struggles with finding a way to feed her famished nation, with working with a council that doesn’t respect her, with her anxieties about succumbing to the same mental illness which claimed her mother, and with a love she fears cannot be requited.

Okay, I admit it: when it was revealed that Vivia was a lesbian with a crush on her threadsister Stix, I immediately assumed that the book was going to end with her dying tragically. I’ve been burned too many times before, handed out too many Dead Lesbian Penalties, to dare hope. When Vivia went to go stop the fireship from breaking the dam, I thought “yep, here were go, the old heroic sacrifice.” So when Vivia actually succeeded, survived, and was vindicated in Merrick’s eyes, I was ecstatic; even ebullient.

I really enjoyed this book, and have no problem calling it an improvement over the first one. Here’s hoping the sequels continue this trend.

Final Rating: 4/5

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Women of the Otherworld 13.3: Otherworld Chills

So, here we are. After thirteen novels and four short story collections, we have at last come to the final installment of the Women of the Otherworld series. So, after saying our final farewells, let’s shiver to Otherworld Chills, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

Embrace the obscure. New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong once again opens the gates to the Otherworld. This collection of rare and never-before-published novellas and short stories brings the clever wit, dark twists, and intense suspense Otherworld readers have come to expect. Favorite characters return, secrets are revealed, and several important storylines reach their conclusions.

These stories cover a whole range of characters from the Women of the Otherworld, and answer many mysteries and questions from the series. A vital and fantastic collection of stories, many of which are be brand-new, while others have only appeared on the author’s website.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

It’s the end of an era: we have at last come to the conclusion of Women of the Otherworld. And though there are plenty of other urban fantasy series out there for me to read, parting is still such sweet sorrow. Let’s look at the final crop of stories and see if they are a worthy conclusion to the series.

The first story, “Brazen”, starts off with a lot of potential but ends up unsatisfying in the end. While Thirteen mostly closed out the series’ lingering plot threads, it did open up one new one by revealing that Jeremy’s father Malcolm was actually alive, having been turned into a supernatural Winter Soldier by one of the Cabals. With him escaping custody at the end of that book, it was something that really needed to be addressed before the series finished. And this story seems to do that… only to end with Malcolm still alive, still at large. In other words, nothing was really resolved at all. The story’s other antagonist is someone who has been hiring bounty hunters to eliminate werewolves. That also seems like it might make for an interesting story – but it is also left unresolved. The bounty hunters are defeated, but we never actually find out who was hiring them or why. If this collection came in the middle of the series, I’d assume it was a plot hook for a future antagonist; but this is it, the end. That’s a newly introduced plot thread which is going to be left dangling for all time. On top of which, since this is Nick’s final story, I was correct in my fears that his revenge subplot would never get any resolution either.

Well, fine. If the book series isn’t going to provide answers, I’ll make them up for myself. Malcolm anticlimactically dies offscreen after his wounds get infected, Khal Drogo-style. The bounty hunters were hired by Vincent Doonan (from The Unbelievable Gwenpool), who hates werewolves along with everything else supernatural on principle. Nick tracks him down and then hires the Agents of MODOK to kill the werewolves who killed his parents, thus completing his revenge. There, loose plot threads all tied up. On to the next story.

“Chaotic” is a lot better, telling the story of how Hope and Karl first met. It’s exciting, well-written, and fills in Hope’s backstory from before she got her job for the Council. No complaints about this one; it’s probably the best in this collection.

After that comes “Amity Horrible”, a Jaime story and probably the second-best in the collection. It features a good mixture of humor horror, and features a clever twist for the conclusion. If I have a complaint, it’s that Jeremy’s kitsune/kogitsune/kitsunegari (I can’t keep track of the specific nuances of each term) heritage is once again brought up, reminding me that those fox maidens who appeared in that one other short story represent another dangling plot thread which is never going to be dealt with.

Alright, headcanon time again. The fox maidens give up on Jeremy and decide to emigrate to the universe of the Felix Gomez series, where characters are far more willing to engage in gratuitous sex scenes on the flimsiest of pretexts. Boom, done. Next story.

“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is the Zoe Takano story of the collection, and the biggest disappointment. It’s the shortest story in the book, and just revolves around Zoe tricking Cassandra into giving her an apology for a past incident between them. Drama? Tension? Suspense? Look elsewhere, my friend. And it really hurts the most because, despite its brevity and non-plot, it nonetheless indicates to me that Zoe had the potential to be an awesome character who could easily support a book of her own. For instance, when Cassandra, arrives at Zoe’s apartment, she has a failed vampire slayer named Brittany crashing with her. A very few lines of dialogue manage to imply a whole rich story about how Brittany decided to be Buffy, came to Toronto to hunt Zoe because her reputation as a pushover made her seem like an easy target for a beginner, and Zoe ended up not just talking her down but convincing her to give up vampire slaying altogether. Doesn’t that sound like an interesting story? Why can’t I read that story? Oh, Zoe Takano; you will forever in my heart represent the greatest missed potential of the Women of the Otherworld series.

“Off-Duty Angel” was a decent Eve story. Nothing spectacular, but there wasn’t anything really wrong with it, either. I suppose that it does solve one problem I had with Waking the Witch, in that this story includes the reveal of Leah’s escape from her hell dimension and foreshadows her eventual return as an antagonist; so if I’d read this story first, her reveal as the antagonist of that novel wouldn’t have seemed so out of left field. Obviously, this collection wasn’t published until six years after Waking the Witch, but devoted Kelley Armstrong fans could have read this story when it was first written… two years after Waking the Witch. Okay then, never mind; its “foreshadowing” is fully retroactive and Leah’s return in that novel really was as out-of-nowhere as I initially assumed. Welp, so much for that.

“The Puppy Plan” did not interest me at all. Zoe’s story was the biggest disappointment because I had high hopes for it due to my love for her characters; but I expected right from the start that “The Puppy Plan” would be my least favorite story of the collection and it fully met my expectations in that regard. Logan finds a puppy, and tries to keep it secret from his family. I’m pretty sure this is a fairly cliche plot on Saturday morning cartoons. It ultimately boils down to an extremely awkward, ultimately stakeless waste of time.

And finally, “Baby Boom” – a Paige and Lucas story, and a weak ending to the collection so far as I’m concerned. Well, it does resolve the lingering issues regarding the futures of the Cortez and Nast Cabals, so I can’t really fault it in the providing closure department, but I didn’t enjoy it the way I did “Chaotic” or “Amityville Horrible”.

And so ends the Women of the Otherworld series. It’s been a long road, with not nearly enough Zoe Takano along the way, but ultimately I found it to be a usually good and sometimes great series with only the occasional misstep. I wouldn’t exactly call Otherworld Chills a strong finish to the series, but I enjoyed the journey while it lasted.

Final Rating: 3/5

Felix Gomez #6: Rescue From Planet Pleasure

Someone, please rescue me from this series. …It’s alright, the end is in sight. Let’s get this over with. Let’s escape from the Felix Gomez series with Rescue From Planet Pleasure, by Mario Acevedo.

Synopsis:

Planet Pleasure. The one place in the galaxy you seriously want to avoid, but it’s the next stop for Felix Gomez, detective-vampire and undead enforcer. His mission: rescue the bodacious vampiress, the hyper-sexual Carmen Arellano, from the clutches of ruthless warrior aliens. Her captors have doomed themselves by honing their military prowess at the expense of their libido, and Carmen is their last chance in regaining their mojo before they die out. Felix can’t waste any time because Phaedra, the ruthless bloodsucking ingénue–now with extra-superpowers–is making good on her threat to destroy the Araneum and take over the undead underworld. Luckily, Felix is not alone in his quest to save Carmen and stop Phaedra. That redheaded whirlwind with a gun, Jolie, has got his back. Also lending a hand is everyone’s favorite down-and-out trickster sage, Coyote, and he’s brought along his mom…la Malinche…aka La Llorona! Here it comes, ground zero of a mega-ton story bristling with action, interstellar double-crosses, skin-walkers, Hopi magic, and trigger-happy goons. Exactly what you’d expect from Felix Gomez.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I hope, dear reader, that you understand the lengths to which I go in order to write these reviews for you. Quite understandably, no reputable library wishes to sully its name by carrying a book with a title like Rescue From Planet Pleasure. There, in order to bring you this review, I was actually forced to buy this book with my very own money. I will have to see similar trashy books in by Amazon “based on your recent purchases, you may also enjoy…” section for who knows how long, and reflexively cover my computer screen in shame in case anyone is looking. I will have to see Rescue From Planet Pleasure on my bookshelf, and I don’t think that I’ll be able to but help imagine is slowly infecting the books around it, like a library virus out of The Rabbit Back Literature Society. (Accordingly, I’ve wedged it in between Murder on Ceres and The Black Sun since, as you might gather from my previous reviews of those books, no big loss there).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The beginning of the book actually gave me hope that the Felix Gomez series might finish on a high note. Before the novel proper was a short story, “A Rainy Night in Commerce City”, which showed the side of the series I like: Felix dealing with gritty, down-to-Earth problems like settling a score with a drug dealer on behalf of a client. See now, as bad as the series has been in places, it’s also possible for it to tell good stories. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? From there, the book proper leapt straight into a plot centered around Phaedra declaring war on the Araneum. You remember, right, how that was a thing which happened in the third-to-last book of the series? It didn’t ever stop being a thing that happened, though you may be forgiven for forgetting it since it was never at all brought up in the second-to-last book of the series – where everyone was all concerned about war with the werewolves, apparently completely forgetting that Phaedra was in the process of conquering the world. In any case, there was potential for an actually interesting story to be told, with Felix having to confront the monster he unwittingly created and slay Phaedra to save the world.

But, of course, the illusion of decency cannot last long. Based on the title, it is a foregone conclusion that there’s going to be aliens in it. And, as is usual for the Felix Gomez series, the part where aliens get involved is the moment everything starts going rapidly downhill.

Of course, Carmen’s abduction by aliens way back in… was it the third book? Anyway, it was a major dangling plot thread; and this being the book intended to close out the series and tie up all the loose ends, of course it needs to include a subplot about rescuing her from, yes, Planet Pleasure. Which I might have been okay with, if it was a minor subplot about Felix performing a quick commando raid to bust her out… but instead, Felix gets himself captured as well during the attempt, and the subplot blooms into a huge cancerous tumor which fills up about a third of the novel. Back on Earth, Phaedra must be tapping her foot and looking at her watch, waiting for this whole grand battle for the fate of the world to kick off, and meanwhile Felix is getting roped into gratuitous human-alien sex scenes.

This part is bad. Really, really bad. And I’m not saying this merely because the sex scenes, though they are in fact described in horrible, stomach-churning detail – and to be clear, we are not talking about green-skinned space-babe type aliens where they look basically like humans with a few prosthesis and it’s still quite clear how Tab A fits into Slot B, but about completely inhumanoid creatures forcibly grinding their quite incompatible sexual organs against Felix in a display of pulsating organs and oozing fluids that had previously only been witnessed by man within the deepest, darkest nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft. I mean, yes, obviously that’s a part of it, but it manages to be bad in a bunch of mundane ways at the same time. Dumping a huge amount of exposition on us about this particular alien race which we’re only just now meeting and, this being the last book, know isn’t important because we’ll never meet them again. Introducing a bunch of new alien characters, and expecting us to gave a single solitary damn about their individual hopes, struggles, and dreams when we’re really just waiting for Felix to get back to Earth and fight Phaedra already. And, just in case you do manage to somehow develop some emotional attachment to the aliens, jokes on you: as soon as Felix and Carmen make their actual escape from Planet Pleasure, the alien characters are killed off and the whole research project of theirs which we received endless exposition about comes to nothing. Which only emphasizes the fact that it all could have been cut out and nothing of value would have been lost.

Once Felix and Carmen return to Earth, the book makes a final last-ditch effort to get the plot back on track and get us psyched up for the huge climactic battle with Phaedra… but by this point, it’s too little and too late. Even a really good climactic fight scene isn’t going to make me forget all the horrible, painful problems the book has had up to this point. And the fight scene itself is kind of facing an uphill battle on turning out even moderately decent, given how the whole middle section of the book just killed every last bit of momentum the plot had, stopping the narrative progression dead in its tracks so it could treat us to a bunch of alien sex scenes. You can’t just leap straight from that back into the big fight to save the world.

Anyway, obvious outcome is obvious: Felix wins, Phaedra dies, world is saved. Big surprise.

And yet, despite its best efforts, Rescue From Planet Pleasure almost managed to eke out a not-quite-bottom-tier score of two from me. Largely, it’s because I just don’t care enough about it to be offended. When an otherwise really good series like Wild Cards has a terrible installment like Down and Dirty, I take it as a personal affront. I get mad, because I know the series is capable of better. But Felix Gomez being really bizarre and pointlessly vulgar? Par for the course, baby. If it had been a completely gratuitous book tacked on to the end of the series, somehow failing to resolve the floating plot points of Carmen and Phaedra from the previous novels, that would be truly deserving of a one. But since it at least does a decent job in wrapping up all the loose ends… it’s not even exceptionally bad. It’s just plain ordinary dross.

Then I decided, nah, fuck it, I’m giving it a one anyway. I didn’t enjoy reading it, I’m certainly never going to read it again, and I had to spend money on this shit. It’s definitely the worst of the Felix Gomez series, and I was already being kind of generous in giving some of the previous books scores of two… You didn’t quite manage to reach rock bottom on your own merit; but for you, Felix Gomez, I will break out my shovel and dig down that last final bit. And then I shall hit you over the head with it, dump you in the hole, and fill it back in; as is only appropriate for the literary equivalent of toxic waste.

And so ends my look at the Felix Gomez series. Now, hopefully, I’ll be able to devote my time to reading better things.

Final Rating: 1/5

Allie Beckstrom #1: Magic to the Bone

Muggle-ness may be skin-deep, but magic goes all the way down to the bone. Let’s x-ray through Magic to the Bone, by Devon Monk.

Synopsis:

Everything has a cost. And every act of magic exacts a price from its user – maybe a two-day migraine, or losing the memory of your first kiss. But some people want to use magic without paying, and they Offload the cost onto innocents. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell’s caster – and Allison Beckstrom’s the best there is.

Daughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune – and the strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magic Offload that has her father’s signature all over it, Allie is thrown into the high-stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic.

Now Allie’s out for the truth – and must call upon forces that will challenge everything she knows, change her in ways she could never imagine … and make her capable of things that powerful people will do anything to control.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

In my continuing quest to read every urban fantasy novel under the sun, I have begun reading a new series: the Allie Beckstrom books.

The plot and characters are pretty much standard as far as these things go. Allie has a rich and powerful father, but is estranged from him and trying to make her own way in the world even if it means struggling with poverty and doing unpleasant work rather than enjoying a cushy position in the lap of luxury. She takes a seemingly simple job, then realizes she’s in over her head when it turns out to be the tip of a conspiracy. Zayvion is the enigmatic but charming man who will become her love interest despite his infuriating habit of being needlessly secretive with vital information. Nothing I haven’t seen before. Honestly, I found Cody Hand to be the most intriguing character, because he was the only one who seemed fresh and unique.

So what made me decide to pick up this series, if not the characters or the plot? The setting, which I think has a lot of potential for telling interesting stories. Magic has just recently been discovered and commercialized, and the law is still struggling to catch up with regulating this burgeoning new industry. Using magic carries a cost, but the unscrupulous can Offoad that cost onto innocent civilians and only professional Hounds can sniff out these criminals.

In short, this series definitely has potential; I just hope going forwards that it can break out of the cliches of the genre and carve its own path.

Final Rating: 3/5

Greywalker #5: Labyrinth

You remind of the babe. What babe? Babe with the power. What power? Power of voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what? Remind me of the babe. …Okay, now that we’ve gotten the obligatory David Bowie tribute out of the way, we can walk into Labyrinth, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

Harper Blaine was your average small-time P. I. until she died-for two minutes. Now she’s a Greywalker, walking the line between the living world and the paranormal realm. There are others who know about her new powers-others with powerful tools and evil intentions, and now that the man who “killed” her has been murdered, the police are also paying close attention. That means Harper has to watch her step while searching for the ghost of her “killer”-who could be a valuable clue in the puzzle of Harper’s past and her father’s death, as well as a key to figuring out who’s trying to manipulate her new powers and why. But with her growing powers pulling her into the Grey, Harper might not be able to come back out…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

For the past few books, Wygan has been plotting in the background, scheming to use Harper as a pawn in his master plan. Now, free from all other distractions, Harper is finally ready to confront him head-on… and it’s actually kind of boring.

The problem is that Wygan is just too generic to serve as an interesting antagonist on his own. In the past, Harper has faced interesting and tricky foes like Alice the politically cunning vampire or a powerful poltergeist being wielded as a murder weapon by a seemingly innocuous human. Even that three-headed snake monster, as bizarre and unfitting to the tone of the books as it was, was at least a unique supernatural threat with interesting powers and requiring a creative approach to defeat. But Wygan – Harper assumes his plan is something cliche like “gain immense magical power, throw world into chaos”; but since she doesn’t know exactly what he’s planning to do or how he’s planning to do it, she spends most of the book stumbling around in the dark without any clear idea of how to oppose him. And then, when she finally does learn the details of Wygan’s plans, it turns out that it really is as simple and boring as “gain immense magical power, throw world into chaos”. Yawn. Goodman actually seemed like a more interesting antagonist for a time, when it was implied that he was actually pursuing his own agenda and planning to betray Wygan, but that never ended up going anywhere and nothing came of it.

Another thing: the accents in this series are getting out of control. The author has started doing that annoying thing of typing people’s accents out phonetically, which makes reading so much harder. It hasn’t quite reached Feersum Endjinn levels yet, but it’s definitely getting worse. Believe me; I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, so I went back to Greywalker to compare the dialogue. Back then, Mara’s accent was only implied by the way she would occasionally use British-English terms like “lorry”; now she’s dropping the g’s from the ends of words. As for Wygan, I believe he said ‘ello for “hello” exactly once in his first meeting with Harper; but now he’s gone full Cockney. Just… why? You could just tell me that he’s faking an accent, and I’d believe you. But actually writing his dialogue out full of apostrophes for dropped letters makes it impossible to take him seriously as a millennia-old Egyptian deity-turned-ubervamp.

Well, the book wasn’t all bad. It introduced Dru Cristoffer, a potentially interesting new character. And it featured the return of Carlos, who is by far the most interesting character who was introduced in the first book and who continues to acquit himself well. Plus, the actual final battle against Wygan was decent. It’s just that the rest of the book was pretty much a slog, and those interesting scenes were too few and far between.

But hey, this book is the end of an arc; with the deck now cleared of boring old characters like Will, Edwards, and Wygan, and with Harper’s Grey powers having potentially been rebooted into a different form by her latest near-death experience, the series can explore new, interesting directions in its second half. …I hope.

Final Rating: 2/5

Women of the Otherworld #13.2: Otherworld Secrets

Got a secret, can you keep it, swear this one you’ll save? Better lock it in your pocket, taking this one to the grave. Though, in the Otherworld, two can’t necessarily keep a secret even if both of them are dead – what with ghosts and necromancers and such. Let’s expose Otherworld Secrets, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

More than a decade after Kelley Armstrong first opened the doors to the Otherworld, fans are still clamoring for more. In response to their demands—and to coincide with the Syfy Network show based on the series—Plume has signed up three Otherworld anthologies, each of which revolves around a different theme. The second in the trilogy, Otherworld Secrets, features fan-favorites such as Cassandra, Savannah, and Adam in rare and neverbefore- published short stories—plus a brand new novella. Fans old and new will flock to this mystery-themed volume to discover the deepest secrets of this captivating world.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

So here we are, at the second Women of the Otherworld short story anthology released after the end of the novel series. The previous collection was decent, but not great; none of the stories it contained were really outstanding, so it felt a little weak coming on the heels of the novel Thirteen, which was a very strong end to the series. Will this collection fare better? And what of the ever-persevering, never-appearing Zoe Takano, who will at long last be featured as the main character of her very own short story? Let’s dive right in, saving the indefatigable Ms. Takano for last.

“Life After Theft” was great. With Hope pregnant with their second child, Karl is trying to get out of the jewel theft business; but someone blackens his reputation in order to extort him into pulling one last job. Hope and Karl have to both pull off a dangerous heist and figure out how to avoid being double-crossed by their treacherous employer. This story alone was better than any in the Otherworld Nights anthology, so the book got off to a good start…

…A positive trend which continued in “Forbidden”, featuring Morgan from Frostbitten meeting with Elena and Clay about potentially joining the Pack when the three of them get snowbound in a town plagued by mysterious killing which may or may not be werewolf related. In my review of Otherworld Nights, I complained about Elena and Clay not getting anything more interesting to do than fight random werewolves. “Forbidden” shows they can still support a great story when given something interesting to do: rather than just meeting and fighting a rogue werewolf, they have to actually investigate the mysterious disappearances; and the ultimate revelation of what’s actually been going on is far more interesting than just another Mutt would have been. The story has three POV characters – Elena, Morgan, and local sheriff Jessica – and while that seems like a lot of viewpoints for a short story, it juggles them well. Each has a unique and interesting viewpoint to contribute, and they worked well together as an ensemble.

“Angelic” keeps the hits coming, as Eve is fed up with inconsiderate way the Fates have been treating her and comes up with a rash plan to renegotiate her employment contract, while at the same time working a job to deal with some troublesome djinn and expose a traitor angel. By this point, I’m running out of ways to keep saying “yep, it’s good”.

A problem which “The Ungrateful Dead” doesn’t alleviate, because like the others, yep, it’s good. This one’s pretty much a comedy, with Jamie and Savannah giving a very irritating ghost some karmic comeuppance. It’s short, it’s sweet, I liked it.

Keeping the streak alive is “Counterfeit Magic”, where Paige and Lucas are hired to investigate the death of a muggle who was gambling at a supernatural fight club. Do I even need to say it at this point? It was another good one. It’s amazing just how much better I like this collection compared to the previous one. I guess Kelley Armstrong was saving up all her good short stories for this book and wanted to get all the mediocre ones out of the way in the first anthology?

And now, finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for; featuring none other than the elusive Zoe Takano. Before I dive into this one, I feel like I should explain how I ended up building up so much hype for a very minor character with only one prior appearance. Basically, once the Women of the Otherworld series started stretching itself beyond Elena’s perspective to introduce new POV characters, I quickly picked up on the pattern: each new protagonist would be a member of a new supernatural race, and would briefly cameo in the preceding book. So, when vampire Zoe Takano showed up in No Humans Involved, I immediately assumed that she would be the protagonist of the next book; and I got excited about it, since she seemed like a really interesting character. Of course, I ended up being incorrect about that – Personal Demon actually went with half-demon Hope, a character I’d been less enthused about, and it didn’t help matters that it ended up being one of the weakest books in the Women of the Otherworld series. A disappointment, to be sure, but nothing more might have come of it… except that the series kept reminding me that Zoe existed, such as with Jeremy seeing a kitsune illusion of her. By that time, I knew there were a total of thirteen novels in the series, and that Zoe wouldn’t end up being a POV character in any them, so I decided to make her into a bit of a running joke: finding some way to drop her name into each review and lamenting her fate in an “Isn’t it sad, Sacchin?” kind of way. And since she has the same last name as Miyo Takano from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, I decided to do a big rant about her in the style of Miyo’s image song “Bon~Karma”. It was after writing that, however, that I discovered the existence of the three post-Thirteen story anthologies; for some reason, Goodreads lists them as part of a separate series from the main books. In any case, I realized that I would actually eventually read and review a couple of short stories with Zoe as main character. And, while that made me excited, it also made me kind of nervous. I mean, I’d kind of built her up into a big deal; but given the brevity of her appearance thus far, I didn’t actually know that much about her. What would I do if, after all this waiting and anticipation, after all these demands for a Zoe Takano story, I finally got one and it turned out to suck? Thus, it was with both hope and trepidation that I began reading her solo tale.

So, with all that said, the story “Zen and the Art of Vampirism” ultimately turned out be… really damn good! Zoe’s past gets fleshed out, finally developing her into a fully three-dimensional character: converted into a vampire against her will, she began her unlife as a bloodthirsty monster bent on revenge against those responsible and indifferently slaughtering any who crossed her; but as she matured, she decided to reform her ways and adopt a more pacifistic lifestyle. Though she operates as a master thief, she refuses to kill (excepting, presumably, the once-per-year lethal feeding necessary for Women of the Otherworld vampires) and tries to find clever, nonviolent ways around her problems. The story was mostly on the light and humorous side, but nonetheless did a great job establishing Zoe’s character and providing a small supporting cast for her to work with. After reading this story, I’m more convinced than ever that I would have loved a full novel starring Zoe as the main character.

So, in conclusion: this book was great; and despite my fanboying over Zoe Takano originally being a joke, she actually managed to live up to my unreasonably heightened expectations.

Final Rating: 4/5

Women of the Otherworld #13.1: Otherworld Nights

Just when you think you’ve gotten out, they drag you back in. Hot off the final Women of the Otherworld novel, we now dive into the first of three collections of short stories set in that universe. Let’s take a moonlit stroll through Otherworld Nights, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

For every fan of the women of the Otherworld who is longing for more, a suspenseful and sexy new collection of stories and novellas by Kelley Armstrong.

In Otherworld Nights, Armstrong brings together some of her favourite love matches, taking us on honeymoon with her werewolves, Elena and Clay; showing us how her vampires, Cassandra and Aaron, express their unique bond; revealing how Karl proposed to Hope; and illustrating how the young Australian werewolf, Reese, learned the dangers of infatuation, among other stories. By popular demand, shes also included her fan-favourite novella, Hidden.

As an exciting conclusion, Armstrong has written a brand-new novella that takes us beyond the end of 13 to show us what happens after Savannah and Adam save the Otherworld–and realize they do love each other. The trouble is whether they know what love really means–coupled with the little wrinkle of having to figure that out while they battle demons. The kind from hell.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Otherworld Nights contains seven short stories and one novella. Let’s take a look at them, shall we? First up is “Demonology”, a short story about how Adam Vasic’s mother discovered that her son was a half-demon. Now, that seems like an interesting concept: unlike the other races, half-demons’ human families aren’t necessarily in the know about the supernatural, so there’s a story to be told about the process of discovery when they find out. Unfortunately, “Demonology” doesn’t tell that story. It provides all the background and setup you’d expect for that story, but then abruptly cuts off before we actually see Adam’s mother receive and react to this information. Build-up to a payoff that doesn’t happen, in other words.

Next is “Twilight”, a story about Cassandra losing her urge to feed due to her old age and approaching death. And no, there is no need to comment on the unfortunate awkwardness of a story about vampires titled “Twilight”; Kelley Armstrong points it out herself in the author’s introduction. Sadly, that word has likely been ruined for the foreseeable future, at least as far as vampire stories go. In any case, the story itself is good. Despite my common complaints about how I’d prefer stories focused on a certain other vampire who was briefly introduced into the Women of the Otherworld series for one book and then forgotten (you know the one), I do like Cassandra. However, she’s really at her best when she’s playing off Savannah, such as in Thirteen; thus why I can only call this story good rather than great.

Following that is “Stalked”, a story about Elena and Clay fighting a Mutt. Which is… fine, I guess. I mean, the writing is competent enough and the pacing is decently fast, it’s just… this premise has lost its novelty. There was a whole book about Elena and Clay fighting Mutts, called Bitten. And then a whole nother book about it, called Frostbitten. And guess what they’re going to do in the novella included later in this very collection? As someone with a mind of steel once said, “there’s no need to state the obvious outcome”. There’s no suspense in Clay and Elena just fighting another random Mutt. You need to change it up a bit if you want to keep my interest.

Next up to bat is “Chivalrous”, which I did enjoy quite a bit. My only concern is that I want it to eventually get resolution. Now that it’s been set up that Reese is looking for revenge against this group of Australian werewolves, I want to read a story where he actually gets that revenge. See, I actually care, because rather than just being some random Mutt, there are personal stakes. But seeing as how there are only two short story collections left, I’m worried that it will end up like those fox-maidens who were after Jeremy: brought up once, then never resolved or even mentioned again.

“Lucifer’s Daughter”, I don’t have much to say about. Hope and Karl accidentally set loose a demon, then immediately recapture it. With a story this short, it’s hard to build up any tension before it’s suddenly over.

Now we get to the real meat of the collection, “Hidden”, which is a full novella rather than a short story. It deals with Elena and Clay struggling with the decision of whether or not to tell their young children that they might be werewolves when they grow up. Now, this is definitely an issue which the series needed to address; however, I can’t really review it without my own biases coming to the fore. Namely, as I spent quite some time addressing in my review of Greywalker #2: Poltergeist by Kat Richardson, I really hate young children. Pre-adolescent child characters, no matter how well written, can’t help but irritate me – in fact, the truer to life they’re written, the more annoying I find them. Now, it does help some that Logan and Kate behave far more maturely than any actual four-year-old children in the history of the world. Still, scenes of Elena and Clay trying to have sex and getting interrupted by their children barging into the bedroom really aren’t anything I’m interested in reading.

“From Russia With Love”, I read already, as it was included at the end of the copy of Thirteen I read. I mentioned it in my review of that book.

And finally, there’s “Vanishing Act”, which forms a neat bookend with “Demonology” in that it also rises interesting questions but doesn’t bother to explore them. Apparently, the St. Cloud Cabal have been performing some type of genetic experiments to produce supernaturals with enhanced abilities. Want to know more? Too bad, the story refuses to tell you. You’ll just have to take the book’s word for it that some type of experimentation was happening to some people somewhere for some reason. And maybe somewhere there’s an interesting story being told about it, but not here.

Ultimately, I found this collection to be weaker than the last short story collection, Tales of the Otherworld. That one at least had strong showings with “Beginnings” and “The Case of El Chupacabra”, while none of the stories in this one really leaped out to me as exceptional. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to give it a negative recommendation: I mean, if you’ve followed the Women of the Otherworld series this far, it’s not going to do anything to make you give up on it. At least, I’m certainly not going to – not when a little birdie told me that, in the next volume, my many prayers regarding a certain character might finally be answered…

MiyoTakano2

Will it live up to the hype? Be sure to tune in and find out. Nipah~!

Final Rating: 3/5

Greywalker #4: Vanished

Foreign types with their hookah pipes say Wayohwayoh Oohwayohwayoooh: Walk like an Egyptian. Erm, look… I promise this will make more sense as an opening bit once you’ve gotten about halfway through the review. For now, let’s just disappear into Vanished, by Kat Richardson.

Synopsis:

Harper Blaine was your average small-time P.I. until she died-for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker-walking the line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she’s discovering that her new abilities are landing her in all sorts of “strange cases.”

But for Harper, her own case may prove the most difficult to solve. Why did she-as opposed to others with near-death experiences-become a Greywalker? When Harper digs into her own past, she unearths some unpleasant truths about her father’s early death as well as a mysterious puzzle. Forced by some very demanding vampires to take on an investigation in London, she soon discovers her present troubles in England are entangled with her dark past back in Seattle-and her ultimate destiny as a Greywalker.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

If you read the previous book in the Greywalker series, you may remember that it ended with an epilogue featuring an apparent cliffhanger: Harper opened the wooden puzzle box given to her by Will, releasing a bundle of Grey energy, and she wondered what new fresh hell it will bring. Well, you can stop wondering, because the answer is: nothing whatsoever! That plotline is completely dropped, totally forgotten, in no way followed up upon or even mentioned whatsoever. Oh, a puzzle box does play a major role in the story – but it’s a metal puzzle box left to Harper by her father, not a wooden one given to her by Will. I’d call it a continuity error, except that at one point Harper specifically mentions the other puzzle box she got from Will, so it’s not so much a matter of the author forgetting as the author not caring.

In any event, the first part of this book was really quite good. We finally meet Harper’s mother and get to learn about her childhood and her relationship with her family. Her past was previously something of a blank slate, so getting this information really increases her depth as a character. Not to mention, Harper’s investigation into her father’s involvement with the Grey leads to us getting more information on the nature of Greywalkers. Honestly, I could’ve read a whole book based on Harper dealing with local hauntings in her childhood hometown while uncovering family secrets relating to her father’s life and unnatural death.

Instead, it’s only the first part of the book and is quickly abandoned in favor of Harper going on a trip to London, where a bunch of stuff happens with golems and wraiths and super special awesome Egyptian vampires which are way better than your ordinary everyday vampire.

DioEgypt

 

No, not him. …And, come to think of it, not actually all that awesome when compared to him. You know what, never mind what I said before: this series’s Egyptian vampires are actually kind of lame.

Look, all the stuff that goes down in London is basically fine on its own merits, but lacks the major sense of personal connection to Harper’s past which the story had going for it earlier. Even though the stakes are supposed to be higher, I care less because I’m not as interested in the nuances of vampire politics in London as I was in the actual main character’s backstory.

Well, I will give the second part of the book at least some credit: Marsden, the eyeless Greywalker, is a kind of cool new character. I wasn’t expecting him to make it to the end of the book, after he hinted that he had exhausted his Greywalker reserve of extra lives, but was pleasantly surprised when the story ended with him still alive. I actually grew to like him a bit, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him turn up again in another story down the line.

…He’s never going to appear again, is he? Sigh. Figures.

Final Rating: 3/5

Women of the Otherworld #13: Thirteen

Bad luck wind been blowin’ at my back; I was born to bring trouble wherever I’m at. Got the number 13 tattooed on my neck; when the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red. Let’s test our luck with Thirteen, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

War is coming to the Otherworld. A sinister cult known as The Supernatural Liberation Movement is hell-bent on exposing the truth about supernaturals to the rest of the world. Their violent, ruthless plan has put everyone at risk: from werewolves to vampires, from witches to half-demons.

Savannah Levine – fiery and unpredictable – stands at the heart of the maelstrom. There is a new, dark magic inside her, granting her the power to summon spells of terrifying strength. But whether this magic is a gift or a curse, no one knows.

On the eve of battle, all the major players must come together in a last, desperate fight for survival – Elena and Clay; Adam and Savannah; Paige and Lucas; Jeremy and Jaime; Hope, Eve and more…They are fighting for lives.

They are fighting for their loved ones.

They are fighting for the Otherworld.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

What serendipity that I should read this immediately after finishing The Bloodhound Files, because the final entries to the two series stand in stark contrast to one another. Basically, everything Undead to the World did wrong, Thirteen does right. It reads as not just an epic culmination of the series, but a love letter to all that has come before. Nearly every character ever seen shows up to have any last loose ends tied up and to take a bow before exiting. Not only do all the past viewpoint characters get their own small POV section, but a vast number of secondary characters put in appearances as well. There’s even a short story after the end featuring Xavier! I’d forgotten he’d even existed right up to that point, and yet Kelley Armstrong put in the effort to give him one last curtain call so any fans of his would know what he was up to at the time of the finale and how things ended up working out for him. That, my friends, is someone pulling out all the stops to make the conclusion of her series as satisfying as possible.

(Naturally, when I say “nearly every” character shows up, the single character who doesn’t is Zoe Takano; because obviously. Did you think my rants about her in the past four or so reviews were going to culminate in a glorious payoff moment when she finally made a dramatic appearance in this book, thus giving all those non-sequitor portions of those reviews an actual point? Ha! Welcome to disappointment, my friend.)

The plot was good too, of course, delivering on the promise of the heroes having a final showdown against Gilles de Rais; but it was the character focus which really sold it. Sure, not every one of the numerous subplots was strictly necessary to the narrative; but it gave each of the heroines the chance to strut their stuff one final time, and that’s justification enough in my eyes. Stuff I might otherwise complain about as being a meandering diversion or a contrived coincidence, I’ll forgive in this case without a second thought. Did Cassandra need to be in this book? No. But was I happy to see Cassandra, even with the flimsiest of pretenses justifying her appearance? Hell yes.

And so ends or foray into the Otherworld… or does it? Thirteen is the final novel in the Women of the Otherworld series, but not the last book. There are three more short story collections left for me to read.

Final Rating: 4/5