I really enjoyed this collection of Kelley Armstrong short stories. Some were part of her existing worlds, while others were standalones. Almost all were winners for me and I think any fan would enjoy this.
Rakshashi – This standalone short gives us a peek inside the life of an immortal woman, bound in servitude, to act as a hand of justice to her masters. It’s supposed to be temporary, until she can balance the scales of her wrongdoing in life, but her actions line the pockets of those who could free her. After hundreds of years, she is ready to make her move. So how far will she go in her bid for freedom? I enjoyed this and would happily read more in this universe.
Kat (Darkest Powers/ Darkness Rising Universe) – I’ve never read any of Armstrong’s YA stuff, so I was a little worried that I would be lost with stories related to those series. But I wasn’t. In fact, I found this story to be quite engaging. It follows Kat, a teenage girl, and her vampire guardian on the run from some mysterious baddies who are tracking them. It’s cool to see Kat’s true nature come to light, just as she makes a bid for freedom.
A Haunted House of Her Own – Another standalone and I liked this one even more than the first. Tanya is looking for a haunted house to open as a bed and breakfast with her husband Nathan. She gets way more than she bargained for. This one is suspenseful and little scary, with a great twist at the end.
Learning Curve (Otherworld story. Narrator: Zoe) – I had read this one before. It was initially published in the Evolve anthology. Wannabe vampire hunters are stalking Zoe and she turns the tables on them. Pretty short.
The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville Universe) – Wow. That was one dark story. Set a bit in the past, it centers on a boy named Bobby who has something different about him. He has strange dreams about meadows and castles… and dragons. He makes the mistake of telling his grandmother about them and she never looks at him the same. It sends him on a path that ultimately destroys his life. Good story, but pretty twisted.
The Kitsune’s Nine Tales (Age of Legends Universe) – The Emperor has sentenced his former marshal to exile and has sent a young soldier to accompany him. The Emperor warns the young man of the nine tactics his old friend will use to try to secure his freedom. There’s a little twist at the end, but I found this story a little boring, especially after the oomph of the one before.
Last Stand – This standalone reminded me a little of I am Legend, though only in the sense that it leaves you questioning who the real monsters are when life isn’t all black and white. It’s set after a zombie apocalypse, only the zombies are people too and the uninfected are determined to eradicate them. Do the Infected deserve life after death? It may take a tactic they never wanted to resort to.
Bamboozled – Set in the Otherworld Universe, this story doesn’t feature any characters we know. It’s set in the old west and features a werewolf bounty hunter and his mate. We follow Lily, Cooper and their gang as they hunt a half demon, but the job goes a bit sideways. I enjoyed the twist here.
Branded (Darkest Powers/ Darkness Rising Universe) – I’m thinking I may be reading this series, based on the short stories I’ve read here. This was quite good. Rayne and Braeden both live in the Fortress that keeps pure humans away from the supernaturals of the world. Rayne doesn’t want the life of a whore she is expected to have and it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out Braeden is really a werewolf. So they concoct a plan to escape and ensure their survival in the harsh world outside the walls.
The List (Otherworld story. Narrator: Zoe) – This one was initially published in Evolve 2. It kicks off at the same bar Zoe always frequents. It’s been a year since “Learning Curve” and now Zoe has sort-of befriended Brittany, the teenage would-be vamp hunter from that story. Someone has created a list of so called “real vamps” in the city, so Zoe and Brittany go to check the guy out, only to find the real danger is from his groupies.
Young Bloods – There wasn’t much to this Otherworld universe story. It’s really short and features an older vamp who crosses paths with two younger vampires who bite off more than they can chew.
The Door – This is a sad little standalone about a little girl who grows up isolated with her family in her home. She can’t ever go outside… beyond the door… until one day, she has no choice. And she learns the secrets that her parents have been hiding for her entire life.
Dead Flowers by a Roadside – Yikes. This one is rough. A man who can see ghosts longs to see his dead wife and daughter again. Short and depressing.
Suffer the Children – Another dark, dark standalone. This one is set in a secluded village, where diphtheria has killed most of the children. Two strangers come into town, offering to bring back the children, but for a very steep price. I wasn’t very surprised by the way it played out, but it was still disturbing.
The Collector – What a cool surprise to get a Hellraiser story in here! That was always one of my favorite horror movies when I was younger! Sarah is a puzzle enthusiast and collector. When an online contest brings her to solve a particularly spectacular puzzle box, the story takes a cool turn. (Though probably less so for those who haven’t seen the movie.)
Gabriel’s Gargoyles (Cainsville Universe) – I’m not sure what the thing is with the gargoyles in this town –or why unfortunate kids keep visiting there, but maybe that would be less of a mystery for fans of the series. This story follows Gabriel, son of a drug addicted mother, whose Aunt Rose lives in Cainsville. He really wants to save up to get her some special tarot cards, and to find all the gargoyles. Not quite riveting.
Harbinger – I’ll give Armstrong props for the fact that this story did not resolve the way I expected. College co-ed Jenna is seeing the ghost of a drowned girl. Then it becomes two… then three. I thought for sure I knew what they were trying to warn her about, but I was wrong. The real explanation was less dramatic than the more obvious route would have been, though, and felt a little out of left field.
V-Plates (Otherworld story. Narrator: Nick) – This story was originally published in Blood Lite 3. Reese wants Nick to help Noah lose his virginity. So they go to a brothel. But it’s not what they bargained for when zombies enter the equation. It contains, perhaps, my favorite line in the anthology, “The last zombie hooker I met didn’t look like that.” LOL.
Life Sentence – This was a great Otherworld universe story. The narrator is Daniel Boyd, a sorcerer diagnosed with cancer. He uses his wealth and influence to search for a supernatural path to immortality. He cuts corners with people’s lives. He does whatever it takes. That ruthlessness gets him the answer he seeks, but it also gets him something else he doesn’t expect.
Plan B – Nothing really supernatural here. Gregory is a horrible man who doesn’t just want to leave his wife, he wants to kill her. And leaving his mistress to take the rap is a solid plan B if their getaway goes awry. It’s a twisty tale of double cross and triple cross, with a little racy scene or two thrown in to spice things up.
The Hunt (Cainsville Universe) – Probably the shortest story in the bunch… like 5 pages. A serial killer signs on for a hunt to add something extra to his next murder. But the tables are turned.
Dead to Me – Just when you think you know how a story is going to play out, Armstrong pulls a switch on you. It seems this woman’s husband just doesn’t want to let go, now that he’s taken a tumble down her stairs. No matter how many times she tells him that he’s dead, he doesn’t want to listen. But it’s not so simple as a haunting. I liked the ending on this one.
Devil May Care (Cainsville Universe) – This was a satisfying way to wrap up the anthology. It’s a good story and long enough to really sink your teeth into. Patrick is an old member of the fae, who loves living life as he sees fit: with no responsibility. Until he starts having dreams of an old tragedy, destined to repeat itself through the ages. And he will play a part, whether he likes it, or not. Now I know why there was a Gabriel story earlier in the book. Good stuff.
Overall Rating: B/B+
*ARC provided by publisher
Click to purchase: Amazon
Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: August 17, 2015
Publisher: Tachyon Publications