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.
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.
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