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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kelley Armstrong: OTHERWORLD Series

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Author:  Kelley Armstrong
Series:  OTHERWORLD (formerly WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD)
Plot Type:  Romantic Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor3-4 

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)
   “Demonology” (free online story, narrator: Talia)
   “Bewitched” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Eve)
   “Birthright” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld, narrator: Logan)
   “Beginnings” (2010, story in Tales of the Otherworld narrators: Clay and Elena) 
    “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)
   “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)
   “Lucifer’s Daughter” (2010, in Blood Lite 2: Overbite, narrator: Hope) 
    “Counterfeit Magic” (2010, e-book novella, narrator: Paige) 
    Waking the Witch (2010, novel 11, narrator: Savannah) 
    Spell Bound (novel 12, 2011, narrator: Savannah) 
    "Hidden" (12/2011, e-book novella; Christmas at the Claytons) 
   "Becoming" (2011, graphic novella)
   “V Plates” (2012, in Blood Lite 3: Aftertaste, narrator: Nick)
     Thirteen (2012, novel 13, multiple narrators) (FINAL NOVEL)

     This post was revised and updated on 8/21/12 to include a review of Thirteen, the thirteenthand FINALnovel in the series. That review appears at the end of this post, following an overview of the world-building and a review of novel 12.

        WORLD-BUILDING        
     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 and Clay (werewolves); Paige (witch) and Lucas (sorcerer); and Jeremy (werewolf) and Jaime (necromancer). Other major players include Eve 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.


        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 himbut 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 beginsjust 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 Movementled by Giles Reyes, whose laboratory the good guys blew up at the end of Spell BoundThen 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.