Monday, March 7, 2016

LED ASTRAY: A BOOK REVIEW

Led Astray Anthology
Written by: Kelley Armstrong
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Language: English
September 2015
Genre: Anthology/Urban Fantasy/Horror

Two brand new tales anchor this wide-ranging collection from one of urban fantasy's most successful authors. Here is the first time that best-selling fantasy, YA, and crime author Kelley Armstrong has had her stories collected from Otherworld and beyond. With her signature twists and turns, Armstrong gives a fresh spin on city-dwelling vampires, werewolves, and zombies, while also traveling further afield, to a post-apocalyptic fortress, a superstitious village, a supernatural brothel, and even to feudal Japan.

With tales that range from humorous to heart-stopping, these are the stories that showcase Kelley Armstrong at her versatile best.

- Rakshashi (standalone)
- Kat (Darkest Powers universe, non-series narrator)
- A Haunted House of Her Own (standalone)
- Learning Curve (Otherworld universe, Zoe)
- The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator)
- The Kitsune’s Nine Tales (Age of Legends universe, non-series narrator)
- Last Stand (standalone)
- Bamboozled (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
- Branded (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
- The List (Otherworld universe, Zoe)
- Young Bloods (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
- The Door (standalone, original to this collection)
- Dead Flowers by a Roadside (standalone)
- Suffer the Children (standalone)
- The Collector (standalone)
- Gabriel’s Gargoyles (Cainsville universe, Gabriel)
- Harbinger (standalone)
- V Plates (Otherworld universe, Nick)
- Life Sentence (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
- Plan B (standalone)
- The Hunt (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator)
- Dead to Me (standalone)
- Devil May Care (Cainsville universe, Patrick, original to this collection)


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My mind has been a bit scattered of late. It’s been busy over here in our little adventurous Wonderland. When I get busy I tend to reach for Anthologies. One: They are episodic. Instead of binging on the entire season (which I haven’t been able to do as much), I catch up on a couple of episodes when I have the time. They are also great for when you are waiting for appointments (of which we have also had a lot of lately). Two: Anthologies and the short stories within are no less entertaining than a full length novel. In fact, sometimes I like them even better. Sometimes they help accentuate an existing character or universe you love. More often they just let you escape and that is why I love books.

I like Kelley Armstrong ever since I read Bitten when it first came out many moons ago. While I haven’t read Cainsville or the Darkest power books I knew this anthology would be the perfect place for me to get a quick taste. I will say this an eclectic collection, but it also gave me a bit more appreciation for Armstrong because of it. Like all anthologies there are some great stories and some less than great stories, but I didn’t skip a single one. Sometimes I do, so that says something. I do want to read more stories involving a lot of the characters I just met. However this now means my To Be Read pile is about to get a little larger.

The Stories: I will try not to give too many spoilers. These are short stories and I feel like you should discover them for yourself.

RAKSHASHI: Amrita has been doing penance for her crimes for over two hundred years. In that time she has grown to understand that the balance between good and evil is not so simple. She also has come to understand that what she wants, she must take. A great way to kick off the Anthology. I loved the last line as well. “Live,” I said. “I intend to.”

KAT: As I said I have not read any of the Darkest Powers series, but this made me curious. In this story Kat and her protector Mags are trying to keep one step ahead of those that are pursuing them. If only that were so easy. Kat is different than most girls her age, then again so is Marguerite who is a vampire. An origin story of sorts. I liked it. It left me wanting more and I would like to read the Darkest Powers series.

A HAUNTED HOUSE OF HER OWN: Tanya and Nathan just bought their dream home. It may be haunted, but that is the point or at least the illusion of being haunted. Tanya has always wanted to run a haunted Bed and Breakfast. But what happens when the haunting gets a little too real? I actually really liked this standalone and it’s one of the more memorable stories. I think it would also make a great Tales from the Darkside episode.

LEARNING CURVE: Zoe Takano has been stalked by her very own vampire hunter. Except they are not very good at their job and Zoe has a few lessons she wants to teach. I like Zoe. This was fun and light, but not the most amazing. That’s fine though. It was nice to have something a little lighter after ‘Haunted House..’

THE SCREAMS OF DRAGONS: Set in Cainsville and a prequel of sorts. Bobby is an interesting young man. He hears the screams of dragons and hearing the screams have consequences. Dark, brooding, and unsettling. It was a great creepy little story though I wish I knew more about the world of Cainsville before going in.

KITSUNE’S NINE TAILS: Part of the Age of Legends universe. Kitsune follows Alvar Kitsune, the former marshal of the imperial army. Sentenced to death by the emperor, Senri is bringing the traitorous Kitsune to the Forest of the Dead to answer for his crimes. But Senri and the other soldiers should know that their prisoner will try nine things before their destination. I hope they are prepared. I haven’t read the Age of Legends series, but I was intrigued. I think because I know nothing about the universe this too was a little dense for me to enjoy. Again I wish I knew more about the universe and the characters, but I imagine this is a wonderful companion piece.

LAST STAND: Monica is making her last stand with the other survivors on an old farm. They know they need to fight to survive, no matter the cost. This might be a zombie tale, but there is more to the story than that. Another stand out in the Anthology I loved the twist, the dystopian setting, and I loved the characters despite spending such a brief time with them. Really great story.

BAMBOOZLED: Set in the Otherworld universe in the Old West, Bamboozled is about a band of thieves who aren’t what you think. Hijinks ensure. A nice little western with werewolves. Looks like Elena isn’t the only one of her kind. It was okay. A little uneven for me.

BRANDED: Another Otherwold story where humans have locked themselves away from the supernaturals that live outside their walls. When a young man is outed as a werewolf, two of the residents lives will never be the same. Another alternate universe and a bit post-apocalyptic, I liked this idea of what the Otherworld might look like if humans weren’t the majority and supernaturals didn’t hide. I also like the yearning to see what life is outside the walls, to see if your entire life has been based on fear and lives. What would you be willing to do in order to truly live?

THE LIST: We return to Zoe, Toronto vampire and teacher to Brittany (whom we met earlier). There is a list going around and there are some who are unhappy that they haven’t made the cut. Another lighter read, but great to see the characters again with a quick flash forward.

YOUNG BLOODS: You should always respect your elders. After all, you never know who the man sitting on public transit might be. I really liked this one. Short but well worth the read.

THE DOOR: When Mommy and Daddy leave there are two doors. One of them is real and that one leads to the unknown. Heartbreaking and beautiful, this was one of my favorites in the anthology. Love the post-apocalyptic vibe, love that I don’t know what is really beyond that real door, and love that childhood ends one way or another. Especially once you look behind the curtain. Sweet, sad, and like I said, really beautiful.

DEAD FLOWERS BY A ROADSIDE: A necromancer loses his wife and daughter in a car accident, a car he was driving. There are some things you cannot bring back and some voices you cannot hear. Just sad.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN: Addie and her adoptive father and mother are living as best they can in frontier Canada. It’s been a hard year as many children have been taken by disease that ran through the town. When two strangers come to town promising miracles, Addie and her dad know that there is always a price. But there are some who don’t understand how high that cost could be. One of the longer entries in the Anthology. Its creepy and disturbing with some great characters.

THE COLLECTOR: Puzzles can be interesting, but they can also be very very deadly. As someone who grew up with Hellraiser, I really enjoyed this one. In fact, I think I need to go and find some of the other stories that were inspired by Clive barker’s creations.

GABRIEL’S GARGOYLES: We return to Cainsville again and follow young Gabriel and his quest to find the last gargoyle. What I loved about this story was Gabriel and the different sides of him that came out through friends, or Rose, or his terrible, terrible mother. His character was intriguing enough that I really want to read more. I like him. I want to know more. Great story.

HARBINGER: Jenna can see the dead girls. They follow her everywhere. These drowned girls seem to be trying to tell her something, but she might find out too late. Not one of my favorites, but I can appreciate the idea behind it.

V-PLATES: Reese wants Nick to help Noah lose his V plates. What better place for a young man to lose his virginity than at a brothel in the city. Except the ladies at this establishment are not what they appear to be. Oh Nick, always getting into trouble. A great story. Horrific, but funny. I can see Elena shaking her head.

LIFE SENTENCE: This entry from the Otherworld universe focuses on the Cabals and just how evil they are. It follows one man’s search for immortality no matter what the cost. As the Cabals are kind of the Big Bads in this universe I knew this was going to be a little darker, but I am okay with that. What I really appreciated was that if you are a part of an organization that tries to buy, scheme, and do whatever don’t be surprised when things don’t turn out your way.

PLAN B: One of the must mindane of all of th stories Plan B focuses on Gregory and Deanna. They are having an affair and Gregory wants to get rid of his wife Abby. However you should be careful when there is a Plan B involved. More mystery/thriller than fantasy this was a nice addition just because of the change of pace. Full of surprises. Like the twists.

THE HUNT: William and Teddy want to go on a special kind of hunt, one with a very particular prey. Be careful what you wish for. A Wild Hunt meets Most Dangerous Game sort of story. Quick but fun.

DEAD TO ME: A woman lives with the ghost of her dead ex-husband, except he keeps saying that he isn’t dead. Who is telling the truth? A great story. Another one I could see as an episode from Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt.

DEVIL MAY CARE: This final story takes place in Cainsville. This is the story behind Gabriel and his parents. I so need to read the series.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. Or at least pick it up from the library and give it a go. While some of the stories are a little too simplistic for me as I think they rely on the reader having met the characters or worlds described, I thought overall this was a great Anthology. If you are a Kelley Armstrong fan it is definitely worth having on your selves.

Part of: Standalone Anthology though many of Armstrong’s series are featured within.

Also Recommended: of course I recommend Kelley Armstrong’s other works, my favorite being Bitten. For more great Anthologies please check out Strange Brew edited by PN Elrod, Mean Streets edited by Jim Butcher, and Powers of Detection edited by Dana Stabenow

3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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