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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kelley Armstrong: OTHERWORLD Series

Author:  Kelley Armstrong
Plot Type:  Romantic Urban Fantasy (UF)
This post was revised and updated on 3/13/15 to include a review of "Forsaken," a novella narrated by Elena. That review appears immediately after the list of series titles below and is followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the final two novels and the first of Armstrong's anthology volumes set in the Otherworld.
___   _____   ______   _______   ______   _____   ___

From the author's web site, here is a complete timeline of OTHERWORLD novels, novellas, and stories, along with their narrators:  
   “Rebirth” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld narrator: Aaron)
   “Infusion” (2009, story in Men of the Otherworld, narrator: Malcolm)
   “Savage” (2009, story in Men of the Otherworld, narrator: Clay) 
   “Ascension” (2009, story in Men of the Otherworld, narrator; Clay)
   “Bewitched” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Eve)
   “Demonology” (free online story, narrator: Talia)
   “Birthright” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Logan)
   “Beginnings” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld narrators: Clay and Elena) 
   "Becoming" (2011, graphic novella)
    “The Case of the Half-Demon Spy” (free online story, narrator: Adam)
   “Expectations” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Lucas) 
   “Truth and Consequences” (free short story, narrator: partly Elena)
   “Territorial” (online story, narrator: Karl)    
   Bitten (2001, novel 1, narrator: Elena)
   "Ghosts" (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Jeremy) 
    "Escape" (free online story, narrator: Eve) 
    Stolen (2002, novel 2, narrator: Elena)
    Dime Store Magic (2004, novel 3, narrator: Paige) 
    Industrial Magic (2004, novel 4, narrator: Paige)
   “Wedding Bell Hell” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Paige) 
    Haunted (2005, novel 5, narrator: Eve) 
    “Adventurer” (online story, narrator: Kenneth)
   “Chaotic” (2006, novella in Dates from Hell, narrator: Hope) 
    “Bargain” (free online story, narrator: Xavier) 
    Broken (2006, novel 6, narrator: Elena)
   “The Case of El Chupacabra” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Lucas) 
    No Humans Involved (2008, novel 7, narrator: Jaime) 
    “Framed” (free online novella, narrator: Nick)
   “Twilight” (2009, in Many Bloody Returns, narrator: Cassandra) 
   “Stalked”  (2007, in My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon, narrator: Clay)
    Personal Demon (2008, novel 8, narrators: Hope & Lucas) 
   “Chivalrous” (2011, in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2, narrator: Reese)
   “The Ungrateful Dead” (2008, in Blood Lite, narrator: Jaime) 
    Living with the Dead (2009, novel 9, multiple narrators, 3rd person)
   “Kitsunegari” (2009, story in Men of the Otherworld, narrator: Jeremy)
   “Paranormal Romance Blues” (2009, story in Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance, non-series narrator)
   “Zen and the Art of Vampirism” (2009, in A Fantasy Medley, narrator: Zoe) 
    "Angelic" (2009, e-book novella, narrator: Eve)
   “Life Sentence” (in The New Dead, non-series narrator) (2010)
   “Learning Curve” (2010, in Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, narrator: Zoe)
   “Lucifer’s Daughter” (2010, in Blood Lite 2: Overbite, narrator: Hope) 
   “Young Bloods” (in The Bitten Word, non-series narrator) (2010)
    “Checkmate” (free online story, narrator: Elena) 
    “Recruit” (free online story, narrator: Elena) 
    Frostbitten (2010, novel 10, narrator: Elena)
   “The List” (Fall 2011, in Evolve 2: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead, narrator: Zoe)
    "Hidden" (12/2011, e-book novella; Christmas at the Claytons) 
    "Forbidden" (2012, novella & hardcover; Morgan Walsh's story)
    “Counterfeit Magic” (2010, e-book novella, narrator: Paige) 
    The Hunter and the Hunted (2012, e-book containing "Off-Duty Angel" [Eve] and "Stalked" [Clay & Elena])
   “V Plates” (2012, in Blood Lite 3: Aftertaste, narrator: Nick)
    "Amityville Horrible" (2012, novella & hardcover, narrator: Jaime Vegas)
    Waking the Witch (2010, novel 11, narrator: Savannah) 
    Spell Bound (novel 12, 2011, narrator: Savannah) 
     Thirteen (2012, novel 13, multiple narrators) (FINAL NOVEL)
    "From Russia with Love" (2014, story in Otherworld Nights, narrator: Elena)
    "Vanishing Act" (2014, story in Otherworld Nights, narrator: Savannah)
    "Brazen" (2014, novella & hardcover, Nick and Vanessa
    Bounty Hunt (sold-out limited edition graphic novel telling Reese William's story)
    "Forsaken" (1/2015, e-novella & hardcover, narrator: Elena)
    "Life and Theft" (10/2015, novella in Otherworld Secrets, narrator: Hope)
    Gifted (2014, e-book containing "The Puppy Plan" [Logan] and "Gabriel's Gargoyles" [from CAINSVILLE SERIES])

     Otherworld Nights (10/2014)  
     Otherworld Secrets (10/2014)

               NOVELLA:  "Forsaken"               
     It has been three years since Elena Michaels took over as Alpha of the American Pack, and she is still fighting for acceptance and respect from the European Alphas. Most of them believe that she is just a figureheada puppet being manipulated by Clay and/or Jeremyso they don't listen to her and they refuse to negotiate with her. Some of them want her territory, and others fear Clay's infamous temper. As the story opens, Elena and Nick Sorrentino are in London for talks with the British Alpha, Hollis Parker. Parker patronizes Elena, constantly interrupts her, and generally earns the nickname given to him by Nick: Lord Asshole. Unfortunately, Elena needs Parker's support as she tries to pull together an alliance of protection against the Australian Pack, which is still in an uproar over the Reese Williams episode. (Note: Reese's story is told in "Chivalrous," which is included in Otherworld Nights.) While in London, Elena gets several anonymous phone calls saying "It's six o'clock…Do You know where your puppy is?" Elena has no idea what the calls are about, but I correctly guessed what was going on almost immediately, and I think that you will, too.

     Clay and the twins (Kate and Logan, now eight years old) are awaiting Elena at their vacation home in Vermont, an isolated cabin surrounded by acres of heavily forested land. Lately, Kate has been being a brat, whining and arguing and stomping around as if she had already reached adolescence. The source of Kate's problems was predictable for me, but I'm not going to reveal it because I don't want to give any spoilers. Anyhow…When Elena returns to the U.S., she gets a call from Logan telling her that Kate is missingthat she walked off into the woods and Clay can't find any trace of her. Clay and Logan have not sniffed out any evidence that strangers or enemies are in the woods, but Elena is worried enough that she takes some backup and heads immediately for the cabin.

     The rest of the story plays out in a series of plot twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way through to the end. Stress levels rise when Elena, Clay, and Jeremy get a whiff of Malcolm Danvers' scent in the woods, and the Pack goes on high alert. According to the GPS tracer that the Pack put on Malcolm, he is still in Hungary, but his scent trail in the Vermont forest says otherwise. Knowing that Malcolm's main goal in life is to hurt and/or kill them, Elena and Clay strategize on how to protect themselves, their children, and Jeremy.

     If you are an OTHERWORLD fan, you'll definitely want to read this book because of its intricate plotting, its update on the Danvers family, and its interesting ending, which opens the door to some relationship changes. Oh, yes…You'll also enjoy learning exactly what is going on with Kate and Logan.

     This novella (264 pages) has been published in two formats: an e-book ($5.99) and a deluxe hardcover. The hardcover edition has four full-page color drawings by Xaviere Daumariea lovely book, but expensive ($22.54 on The e-book does not contain the artwork. Click HERE to go to the book's page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

     The series tells the stories of a diverse group of strong, smart, and skillful supernatural women and their equally talented mates. The primary couples are Elena Michaels and Clay Danvers (werewolves); Paige Winterbourne (witch) and Lucas Cortez (sorcerer); and Jeremy Danvers (werewolf) and Jaime Vegas (necromancer). Other major players include Eve Levine and her daughter Savannah (both witches). Various other supernaturals play main and supporting roles in later books in the series. 

     Each couple’s obstacle-strewn romantic story is told in the context of many suspenseful and danger-filled adventures. Most of the romances play out over the course of several books, because the physical and emotional factors that keep them apart are not easily surmounted. The women (and a few of the men) are put in jeopardy again and again but always make it through, although they sustain some relatively serious injuries along the way. 

     Plots include murderous, power-hungry werewolf “mutts”; a serial-killing vampire; mad parapsychologists; bloodthirsty ghouls; evil Cabals (think supernatural Mafia families); and a serial-killing black-magic cult. In the later books in the series, all of the characters are pulled into a huge war for power that involves earthbound supernaturals as well as demons and angels from the afterworld.

     Armstrong provides some extras on her web page. Click HERE for links to free online OTHERWORLD  stories, a guide to OTHERWORLD's demon hierarchy, and detailed descriptions of the major OTHERWORLD characters. Click HERE to go to Armstrong's chronological listing of the books in the OTHERWORLD series.

     Click HERE and HERE to read my two reviews of Bitten, the TV series based on OTHERWORLD

               NOVEL 12:  Spell Bound               
     Spell Bound carries on the story told in the previous book (Waking the Witch), in which Savannah Levine, a powerful young witch, took on her first real investigative job and was soon in over her head. As Spell Bound begins, Savannah is still feeling guilty about the deaths that occurred during that experience and about the young girl whose mother was been wrongly imprisoned, partly as a result of Savannah's actions. Savannah is the daughter of a witch and a sorcerer (now both dead), who has been a part of the series since she was a child of twelve. Now Savannah is in her early twenties, and her past is full of tragedy. Savannah's mother was killed by mad scientists in an earlier book, and Savannah herself killed her own father in yet another book in the mistaken belief that he had murdered her guardian (Paige). 

     As Spell Bound begins, Savannah mysteriously loses her powers after she has a fleeting thought that she would give anything to reunite that little girl and her incarcerated mother. No one can determine just who took away her powers, and Savannah has a great deal of trouble reconciling herself to the fact that she is now just a normal human. Savannah has always been treated like a little princess, and she has always used her considerable witchy magic to make her life as easy as possible. For the past few months, she has been working as an investigator with Paige and Lucas's agency, where her partner is her long-time crush, the fire demon, Adam. Unfortunately for Savannah's libido, Adam still views her as the little girl whom he has known for a decade. She is, and always has been, in love with him
but she's afraid to let him know. Now that her powers are gone, she believes that she is worthless, and she's scared to death that she will lose not only Adam, but all of her supernatural "family." 

     Beyond the ups and downs of the Savannah-Adam relationship, the plot centers on their search for witch-hunting assassins who are after Savannah. This search soon leads the couple to a group that is fomenting revolution. They want to unleash their powers and take the world away from the human population. Unfortunately, the unknown force behind this group is located somewhere within the hellish inner circle of the demon lords, which means that it could include Lucifer, Asmondai, and/or Balaam, all formidable opponents. Added to this plot is an attempt by some of the same people to achieve immortality. Eventually, all of the plot threads converge into a final apocalyptic battle that threatens the lives of Savannah, Adam, and some of their friends. The ending has a cliff-hanger aspect in that this is just the first battle of a supernatural war that will continue on in the next book (or books).

     Armstrong is a great story teller and romance writer, so, as expected, the plot is compelling, the characters are well developed, and the romantic journey is extremely rocky. The book can be read as a stand-alone, even if you haven't read any of the previous books, but you'll enjoy it more if you read it in the context of the rest of the series. This isn't my favorite book in the series. My preference is for the early books that followed Elena, Clay, and Jeremy and their werewolf pack in upstate New York. Those stories were more realistic and less mystical, and, for me anyway, more enjoyable. If you haven't read the earlier books that follow the extremely tumultuous romance of Elena and Clay, you're missing a great read.

    The humor is wry and ironic and includes a great deal of sarcastic banter among the characters. Here is an example, in which Savannah gives her first impression of the Karma KafĂ©:

     "There was nothing in it you wouldn't expect, from the Buddha flowerpots to the wallpaper decorated with symbols that probably said, 'If you bought this just because it looked pretty, may Buddha piss in your coffee, you culturally ignorant moron.' Even the servers were decorated with symbols. I have no idea what they said, but I'm sure there was a henna artist down the street laughing her ass off every time they stopped by for fresh ink. I ordered coffee. Oh, sorry, 'koffee' made from fair trade beans grown in some place I'd never heard of—probably Hindi for New Jersey. From the taste of it, my guess on the wallpaper message was right." (Spell Bound, pp. 91-92)  

               NOVEL 13:  Thirteen               

     The final book continues the story arc that began back in Waking the Witch, when Savannah comes into her own as a strong and capable woman of the Otherworld. As this book begins—just hours after the climactic battle that ended Spell Bound, the good guys are regrouping and the bad guys are all hiding out as they continue their evil machinations. The biggest and most powerful group of villains is SLAMthe Supernatural Liberation Movement—led by Giles Reyes, whose laboratory the good guys blew up at the end of Spell Bound. Then there is the anti-reveal movement, which is causing its own kind of trouble. Finally, there is the Nast cabal, which spends most of its time working against the good guys of the Cortez cabal.

     SLAM wants to reveal the existence of supernaturals to the world. In preparation, Reyes has developed a vaccine for immortality that he plans to release selectively into humans in power positions so that he can control them. He has already injected Savannah's brother, Bryce, with an experimental version of the vaccine, and Bryce now lies at death's door. 

     All of this unrest in the supernatural world has leaked into the afterworld as well. The veil between the mortal world and the afterworld has thinned, so various ghosts, demons, hellhounds, and other demonic spirits are crossing over and creating havoc.

     Early on in the book, Jaime and Savannah are captured by SLAM and are in the hands of a sorcerer from the anti-reveal team who summons Savannah's mother, Eve, from the afterworld. To Savannah's shock, Eve appears in corporeal form bearing a huge glowing sword. Eve has made spiritual appearances over the ten years that she has been dead, but this time, she comes back in her human form, and she and Savannah have a heart-warming reunion. 

     As the story moves along, each of the women in the series gets a chance to appear in the spotlight—mostly in unpleasant circumstances. The primary narrator is Savannah, but we also have scenes from the points of view of Jaime, Paige, Elena, Hope, and Eve. 

     By the time the requisite showdown comes between Savannah and Reyes, Armstrong has ensured that just about every loose end is tied up and that all of the good guys get their HEAs (just as we knew they would from the very beginning). This book has many of the weaknesses of "final" books. It is crammed full of plot and characters, which means that there is one action scene after anotherwith each of the Otherworld women getting beaten, stabbed, or otherwise injured at some point along the way. I'm not sure that Armstrong could have done it any other way. She says in her preface that she had always planned for Savannah to wend her way into the lives of all of the other characters, so, naturally, all of them had to be included in the big finale. The ongoing sarcastic humor that is a hallmark of the series is dialed way down in this book because the characters are up to their necks in some type of trauma in almost every scene. Even though this is not the strongest book of the thirteen, you'll want to read it if you've been keeping up with the series. If you haven't been reading the series, don't even try to read this book because there is way too much history behind each character, and you'll never understand the nuances.

     One last point: The romance between Savannah and Adam in this book is, for me, one of the least passionate of all of the love stories told over the thirteen books. In fact, it seemed to burn brighter in previous books when Savannah was in the "crush" stage with Adam. In this book, the spark between them just doesn't seem to be there.

               ANTHOLOGY:  Otherworld Nights               
     According to Armstrong's introduction, this is the first of three volumes of OTHERWORLD short fiction. Armstrong states that, "For this first anthology, the focus is love, in its various formsbetween lovers, between friends, between parents and children." Except for the last story, all of these have been published previously in print, online, or as e-books. The stories are arranged chronologically and have been selected so that when you meet a character early in the book, there's a good chance that you will meet up with him or her in another story that takes place decades later.  

     This is a nice selection of stories, some of which I had read before (but enjoyed re-reading), and I recommend it for anyone who has loved this terrific series over the years. (Better to read this book than to watch the sub-par TV series based on the series.) If you need to refresh your memory about any of the characters, click HERE to go to the OTHERWORLD wiki and search for that character. Here is a list of the story titles along with a brief comment and a short quotation from each:    

“Demonology"  (19 pages)
Key Quotation:  "Talia hated that phrase: what was wrong with Adam."
Adam's mother discovers what he is in this story that was originally an online story. Adam is eight years old, and his mother, Talia, has been taking him to a series of physicians and psychologists to find out why Adam is different from other children and, particularly, why he is so fascinated by fire. In this story, Talia meets Robert Vasic, her future husband.

"Twilight"  (26 pages)
Key Quotation:  "Another life taken, Another year to live." 
This is a Cassandra DuCharme story previously published in Many Bloody ReturnsIn the mythology of this series, a vampire must drain one human dry every year before the anniversary of his or her change or "begin the rapid decent into death." This year, Cassandra believes that her long life is on the decline and plans to skip her anniversary feeding, giving in to the inevitable.

"Stalked"  (28 pages)
Key Quotation:  "When you're bored on your honeymoon, you know it's not going well." 
This is a Clay/Elena honeymoon story previously published in My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon and The Hunter and the Hunted. At this point in time, the twins are two years old, and Clay and Elena are finally taking their long-delayed honeymoon in St. Louis, only to be interrupted by the appearance of a misbehaving mutt whose libido is focused on Elena.

“Chivalrous"  (31 pages)
Key Quotation:  "Reese's parents had spent the last twenty years hiding in the outback, farming and raising their son." 
This is Reese Williams’ back story from Subterranean Press’s long sold-out Tales of Dark Fantasy 2.
 Reese is attending college in Melbourne when he meets a beautiful girl and begins planning their future, only to have his hopes dashed in the worst possible way.

“Lucifer’s Daughter"  (21 pages)
Key Quotation:  "Nothing gets my blood pumping like a museum. Millennia of murder and mayhem gathered under one roof."
This is a Hope/Karl story from Blood Lite 2.
 Hope's grandmother has sponsored a museum exhibit in her namea display of supposedly magical ancient artifacts. The situation gets out of hand almost immediately when Karl, an incorrigible and unrepentant thief, accidentally unleashes a demon from its imprisonment in a golden box. 

“Hidden"  (131 pages)
Key Quotation:  "So we did lie. We lied to bring magic to their lives and we lied to protect them. When we finally told Logan and Kate the truth about what we were, would they understand my reasons? Or would they only understand that I'd lied?"
This is an Elena/Clay novella previously published by Subterranean Press in 2011. The twins are four years old, and Clay and Elena have rented an isolated cottage in the Canadian woods for the Christmas holidays. Once again, their vacation is interrupted by a misbehaving mutt, but this time one of their children is endangered. The subplot focuses on whether it is time for Elena and Clay to tell the twins about their werewolf heritage.

“From Russia with Love"  (23 pages)
Key Quotation:  "We've got a tail...A car followed us off the highway. It was hanging back. Lights off."
This is an Elena bonus story that was included with the hardcover edition of Thirteen. During the crisis involving Gilles de Rais, Elena and Clay sent the twins to stay with the Russian pack. Now, they have traveled to Russia to pick up the kids, but as always, a supernatural miscreant turns up to throw a wrench into the reunion.  

"Vanishing Act"  (62 pages)
Key Quotation:  "I can definitely explain about Cabals. In three words: supernatural corporate mafia." 
This is a brand new Savannah/Adam novella set after Thirteen. When a teleporting half-demon teenager turns up in Portland, Savannah Levine tries to rescue him from a life of enslavement in her uncle's Cabal. The sub-plot focuses on problems in Savannah and Adam's love life. 

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