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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Kim Harrison's "Into the Woods" (Anthology)

Author:  Kim Harrison    
Title:  Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond (Anthology)    
Plot Type:  UF   
Publisher:  HarperCollins (10/2012) 

     In the novellas and short stories in this anthology, Harrison fills in the back-stories of several primary characters in her HOLLOWS series. In addition, she includes four stories that are set outside the HOLLOWS world. On Harrison's web site, she explains that these four stories contain "ideas of what I might want to work with after the HOLLOWS are put to rest." 

     All four of the non-HOLLOWS stories are new and never published. "Million-Dollar Baby," one of the HOLLOWS novellas is also brand new. Here's how the math works out: Of the 513 pages in this chunky anthology, 71% are HOLLOWS stories and 29% are non-HOLLOWS stories. The five never-before-published works comprise 44% of the book. 

     Even though most of the HOLLOWS stories in this anthology have been previously published in various venues, this is still a nice background collection for any true fan of the series, and "Million-Dollar Baby" (the new story) is definitely a must-read. "Grace" is the best of the non-HOLLOWS stories. Click HERE to read my review of the HOLLOWS series.

                    THE HOLLOWS STORIES                     
J uu"The Bespelled" (short story, 15 pages)
Principal Characters: the demon Algaliarept (Al) and Ceridwen Merriam Dulciate (Ceri)
Previously published as an addendum to the mass market edition of The Outlaw Demon Wails (Book 6, 11/2008)

     This is the story of how Al takes Ceri as his familiar. Ceri has been summoning Al for many years, and he has been trying all that time to trick her into breaking her summoning circle so that he can drag her off to the ever after as his familiar. This summoning is his last chance with Ceri because it takes place on her wedding day, and in her culture, a married woman must stop summoning demons forever. The story takes us inside Al's crafty little mind as he desperately tries to figure out how to capture Ceri. Al's feelings for Ceri go far beyond what he has felt for any other familiar. 

J uu"Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" (novella, 83 pages)
Principal Characters: Rachel and her family (Mom and brother Robbie) and Pierce in his first summoning by Rachel (also her first summoning)
Previously published in the anthology, Holidays Are Hell (10/2007)

     When Rachel's brother, Robbie, comes home to Cincinnati for the Solstice celebration, Rachel enlists his aid in persuading Mom to allow her to apply for a runner's job with Inderland Security (IS). Rachel gets Robbie to agree on the condition that Rachel must prove her witchy abilities by summoning their father's spirit in the hopes that he will go along with Rachel's plans. Rachel's spell works almost perfectly, but its major misfire is that the spirit who answers the summons is not Dad. It's Pierce, a witch who was murdered more than a century ago by witch-hating humans. In this story, we look back at Rachel's heartbreaking childhood and her teen-age years, during which she tried to overcome her physical weaknesses and prove to herself and her family that she can succeed in her chosen profession. In other words, we see exactly what she had to do to become the strong, driven character that we see in THE HOLLOWS. 

J uu"Undead in the Garden of Good and Evil" (novella, 76 pages)
Principal Characters: Ivy in her pre-Rachel days and her lover, Kisten; Mia the banshee also plays a small but crucial part
Previously published in the anthology, Dates from Hell (3/2006)

     In this novella, we get a full explanation of the difference between the living vampires and dead vampires who populate the HOLLOWS series. Ivy and Kisten are living vampires: "Having been born with the vampire virus embedded into her genome, Ivy enjoyed a measure of the undeads' strengths without the drawbacks of light fatality and pain from religious artifacts...Her hearing and strength were beyond a human's and her sense of smell was tuned to the softer flavors of sweat and pheromones. The undeads' need for blood had been muted from a biological necessity to a bloodlust that imparted a high like no other when sated...addictive when mixed with sex." (p. 105) Living vamps are at the mercy of dead vamps, who put out powerful sexual pheromones that pull living vamps under their sexual control. "Bloodlust in living vampires was tied to their sex drive, an evolutionary adaptation helping ensure an undead vampire would have a willing blood supply to keep him or her sane. Being 'bidden for blood' imparted a sexual high; the older and more experienced the vampire, the better the rush, the ultimate, of course, being blood-bidden by a powerful undead undead." (p. 109) This is what happened to Ivy at an early age when Piscary, her powerful dead vampire master, subjected her to years of mental and sexual torture that addicted her to his "charms." In her introduction to the story, Harrison says, "The depth of her mental abuse is touched upon here, and it is also here that it's easiest to see why she stays with Rachel, who is both her crutch and her saving grace." (p. 103)

     This story follows Ivy as she tries to keep herself from succumbing to sexual blood lust generated by her IS partner, Art, a sleazy dead vampire who is determined to seduce her. At this point in the series, Ivy and Kisten are sex-and-blood-sharing roommates living above Piscary's restaurant. (It's great to see Kisten again; my heart is still broken over his demise.) As Ivy turns the tables on Art, her actions result in great satisfaction for her, but cause the IS to punish herdemoting her and forcing her to partner up with a troublesome new witch named Rachel Morgan. Click HERE to read my reviews of Harrison's HOLLOWS graphic novels, which are told from Ivy's point of view during her early days with Rachel.         

L    uu"Dirty Magic" (short story, 19 pages)
Principal Character: Mia the banshee 
Previously published in the anthology, Hotter Than Hell (6/2008)

     In the world of the HOLLOWS, banshees are not the creatures of traditional legends. Instead, they are more like succubi or psychic vampires because they survive on the energy (strictly limited by law) that they draw from other living beings. "The image of a mysterious weeping woman foretelling death had given way to the reality of a sophisticated predator: a predator who could feed well upon office arguments started between co-workers with a careful word or two, gorge upon the death-energy a person released when dying, but barely survive upon the ambient emotions around her that the law allowed." (p. 183) 

     Mia, who gave Ivy some crucial advice in the previous story, is the main character in this one. One rainy day, Mia visits her human lover even though she has drained him to the point that he is so weak that he no longer has the strength to hold a job. All through their scene together, Mia tries to keep from absorbing his energy, but he loves her and pours all kinds of emotions over her. The ending is unexpected and not wholly supported by the previous words and actionsunless one considers Mia to be an unreliable narrator who lies even to herself (and I guess that's what she is). This is my least favorite of all the stories. Mia turns up as a major antagonist in Black Magic Sanction (book 8 of the HOLLOWS).

K uu"The Bridges of Eden Park" (short story, 19 pages)
Principal Characters: Rachel and Kisten
Previously published as an addendum to For a Few Demons More (11/2007)   

     Poor Kisten was never able to develop into a strong life partner for Rachel, even though they loved one another very much. Harrison calls this story "my way to say good-bye" to Kisten. In a park on a sunny summer day, Kisten and Rachel are enjoying an alfresco lunch when Kisten's sister shows up with the bad news that her former lover (a dead vamp who is the father of her son) is coming after her to take the boy for himself. In moments, the scene goes from loving bliss to an armed stand-off. It's up to Rachel to save the day with her witchy ways. This little story comes at the end of the novel in which Kisten loses his life forever, so in that context, it's bitter sweet

uu"Ley Line Drifter" (novella, 64 pages)
Principal Characters: Jenks, Rachel's resident pixy, and Bis, her gargoyle
Previously published in the anthology, Unbound (8/2009)   


     This story takes place shortly before the death of Matalina, Jenks' wife, and Jenks is given some print space here to philosophize about their life together with all of its sad and happy moments. When Vincet, a young pixy male, shows up in Jenks' garden to ask for his help, Jenks is flattered, so he takes the job. It seems that Vincet and his family have settled in a park near two stone statures, one of which is somehow attacking Vincet's children during the night. Jenks enlists the aid of Bis the young gargoyle, and they all head off to Vincet's park to analyze the situation

     Jenks figures out that Sylvan, a dryad, is imprisoned inside one of the statues, and he wants out. In his desperation, Sylvan's spirit is jumping into one or another of Vincet's children in order to have a voiceto plead for help. In the midst of all this, a being calling herself Daryl, Goddess of the Woods, shows up to stop Jenks and his crew from helping Sylvan. Jenks doesn't know which one to believe, and the situation soon goes from bad to worse. The primary value of this story is not so much the main plot as it is the family scenes with Jenks, Matalina, and their kids

J uu"Million Dollar Baby" (novella, 78 pages)
Principal Characters: Trent and Jenks
New story, never before published

     If you read Pale Demon (Book 9) and have been dying to know exactly how Trent and Jenks rescued Trent's baby (Lucy) from her mother's castle stronghold, this novella holds all the answers. Basically that's what the story is all about. At this point in his life, Trent is afraid that he is becoming as much of a monster as his father was. Trent is quick to kill his enemies (rather than just incapacitate them). He kind of enjoys going in for the kill, and he hates that part of himself. As he and Jenks make their way to the castle in a series of adventures that are frequently improvised, Trent wonders if he is doing the right thingif he has it in him to be a good fatherif his daughter can ever love a man like him. Jenks, with his direct manner and to-the-point comments, helps Trent make peace with himself. The scene in which Trent sees Lucy for the first time is lovely, even under the strained conditions in which it occurs.

                     BEYOND THE HOLLOWS STORIES                     
K uu"Pet Shop Boys" (short story, 33 pages)  
     The supernatural antagonists in this story are fey (fairies) with vampire characteristics (i.e., sharp teeth, a taste for blood). They can also shape-shift. The protagonist is Cooper, a graduate student who works in a small pet store. On Winter Solstice night, a little girl appears in the shop wanting to buy a kitten. When the child's attractive, apparently wealthy mother, Felicity, turns up to admonish her daughter for wandering off, she and Cooper have a brief conversation and she invites him to a party to be held that very night. The rest of the story follows Cooper to the party, where he learns that Felicity and her family are not at all what they seem to be. He also learns that his boss, Kay, is even more of a mystery. This world could easily be the setting for an urban fantasy series. Cooper has all the qualities of an urban fantasy hero (intelligent, good-looking, willing to believe in magic), and the cold-hearted, blood-loving fairies would make a great set of villains.

J uu"Temson Estates"  (short story, 16 pages) 
     This is another dryad story, but these dryads are the traditional ones, living within the trees of a dense forest in England. Here's the situation that kicks off the conflict: Arthur Temson has died and his estate is entailed, limiting inheritance of the wooded lands surrounding the estate to a male heir of his lineage. That heir is William (Will) Temson, an American who is thrilled with his unexpected good fortune because he plans to sell the property and use the money for graduate school. The loser in this situation is Arthur's sister who has a strong attachment to the woods. At the reading of the will, Ms. Temson is accompanied by her caregiver, Diana, who despises Will for his inheritance and for what he plans to do with the land. Ms. Temson invites Will to the estate for a picnic in those very woods, and what he finds there changes his mind about everything. Although the final scene needs some divider markings to indicate a huge jump in time and place, the story itself has a set of relatively well-developed characters and a nicely built plot. This story seems more like a stand-alone than a series starter.

J uu"Spider Silk"  (novella, 45 pages) 
     This is yet another dryad story, but this time the tree spirit is a man: Penn, a scary, bloodthirsty, shape-shifting boy/man who is trying to get his soul back by tempting young human girls into running off with him. As Penn explains, "The gods took my soul from me when I disobeyed them, giving me the power to feel the world only when I existed within a tree, hoping that I'd stay in one. It's a sad thing, to feel only what comes your way. I want to be whole again, not just for a night, but forever. I need a soul...A soul is pure creation energy, and only a woman, even one just born, can divide a million times and never be less, only more." (p. 448) 

     The human characters are Em, her daughter Lilly, and her grand-daughters Meg and Em (her grandmother's namesake). They live in a rural area near a stream and a lake and surrounded by woodlands. When Grandmother Em realizes that Penn has escaped from the tree in which she imprisoned him decades ago and is after her grand-daughters, she tries to warn Lilly, but Lilly believes that her mother is becoming senile. When Lilly follows her mother into the woods and finds a strange, red-haired man abusing her, she begins to believe that her mother's stories are true. Are they true? Or are they just shared delusions? The actions that Lilly and Em take bring the story to a twisty, violent ending. This is a frightening story, full of suspense and hold-your-breath moments. In her introduction, Harrison says, "Though the story is told from first the grandmother's and then the mother's point of view, Meg is the character that I'm most interested in, the one that I'd follow if I ever took the next step, curious to see how she handles twenty when the curse falls upon her fully." (p. 419) This is a great, spooky story that makes for uncomfortable, shivery readingin a good way.

JJ uu"Grace"  (novella, 49 pages)
    Of the four non-HOLLOWS stories, this is the one that would make the best new series for Harrison. In this world, some humans are born with the ability to "shift the balance of energy existing naturally in the human body." These people are called "throws" (because they throw energy). They are similar to the boys in the film, Chronicle, except that their talent is innate rather than externally generated. In order to live among other humans, throws must first learn to control their talent. Here is an example of a throw's power: "A sparkle of black raced from Boyd's outstretched hand....It hit the pipe and jumped to Zach....A boom of force exploded from it, knocking Zach from his bike and shattering windows. In the distance, a car alarm went off. Even farther away, an industrial klaxon began honking." (p. 473)

     Throws are governed and controlled by a government organization called the Strand. When a throw is born into a family, that child's parents are required by law to have him or her tested. "Most parents brought their kids to a Strand 'party' to be assessed after they shorted out the TV one too many times, charting their life for service in the Strand if they had enough control and/or aptitude, or quietly adjusted to remove the ability if they didn't." (p. 467)

     The heroine of the story is Grace, a powerful throw who works for the Strand as a collector, tracking down and capturing unregistered throws. Sometimes, parents hide their children's abilities until the child loses control and causes enough damage to attract attention. Then, a collector is sent out to talk with the family, collect the child, and take him or her in for testing. Grace has always yearned to become one of the elitesthe top level of Strand enforcementbut so far she has been overlooked, and her applications for advancement have been denied. Part of the reason for this is that she was seventeen when she was finally caughtone of the oldest unregistered throws on recordand some of the higher-ups have reservations about her control of her powers. 

     Beyond the background information on the mythology, the story follows Grace and her partner, Boyd, as they attempt to collect Zach, a teen-age male throw who is determined that he will not be caught. As this sad conflict plays out, Grace's partner deals with huge changes in his life, and Grace must face a reunion with her former lover, Jason, who is now an elite.

     This is my favorite of the non-HOLLOW stories, and I would love to see Harris turn it into a series. Grace is a great urban fantasy heroinestrong, driven, conflicted, and totally bad-ass.

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