Tuesday, March 23, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Men of the Otherworld'
The Book: Men of the Otherworld
The Author: Kelley Armstrong
How I Found It: I knew it was out, but didn't want to buy it in hardcover (I was also still in my lapsed Otherworld fan stage at that point). When I saw the paperback at a good price over the weekend, I figured I'd go for it.
The Review: Okay, so this weekend was mainly reacquainting myself with Kelley Armstrong. The good thing about this book was, even though the stories in it had been on Armstong's website when I initially became a fan of hers, I had never read them. The only e-novella of hers I read was "Beginnings", which is going to be printed in the next Otherworld anthology (out in a few weeks).
The stories inside it are "Infusion" (one of her 2005 online short stories, some of which I read in 2005); her first e-novella, Savage, which concerns Clay being bitten as a child and becoming a werewolf, with Jeremy taking him in; Ascension, her second e-novella, which concerns Jeremy's rise to Alpha; and a new story called "Kitsunegari" (Japanese for "fox hunt"; thank you, The X-Files), which concerns the mystery of Jeremy's parentage on his mother's side. With the exception of "Kitsunegari", all of the stories are prequels.
Since the book is four separate sections, I'll review each of the stories separately, with a brief overview of Armstrong's universe (which'll probably spoil some things if you're not acquainted with the series and wish to be; you've been warned).
The four stories all concern Jeremy Danvers, one of the series' central characters. Ten books in the series out now and four have focused on the werewolves, who are pretty much the grounding force of the series, even if they're not always the focus. (The four werewolf books are Bitten, Stolen, Broken, and Frostbitten.) Jeremy is the current Alpha of the American Pack, although this allegedly changes in Frostbitten, which I haven't yet read (so I don't know who becomes his successor, though I think it's kind of obvious). Jeremy has always been somewhat of a mystery, because even though he is a werewolf, he had unexplained psychic abilities. Armstrong finally answers those questions in this anthology.
"Infusion": This story concerns Jeremy's conception and birth, and is told from his father Malcolm's point of view. Malcolm is one of the only werewolves in the Pack to have not fathered a child-- particularly, a son-- by now. (In Armstrong's 'verse, only males carry the werewolf gene; females only become werewolves if they are bitten and survive. The only female werewolf is Elena, narrator of the four werewolf books, and possibly her infant daughter Katherine, since Clay and Elena were two werewolves who mated.) Malcolm begins a relationship with a Japanese girl just after World War II, and discovers a few months after that she is pregnant. Now, he has to wait to see if he has a son.
This one was short and a decent story-- because it was a short story initially on her website, I hadn't been expecting anything lengthy or profound. It serves its purpose, to tell us how Jeremy came about, and it gives us an early introduction to Malcolm as an unlikeable character, which will be a big thing later on. It was good, but not as good as the other short stories Armstrong put out that year. It was intriguing, though, and raised the question of what Jeremy is on his mother's side. It raised my interest, so it was pretty good.
Savage: Clayton Danvers is six years old and an abused child. Knowing he saw a werewolf by his family's campground, he asks for a bite as a way to escape his awful life. However, he gets more than he bargained for, as being a child werewolf is a difficult existence. After being on his own for some time, Jeremy finds him and domesticates him. The novella chronicles Jeremy's attempts to have Clayton be part of the Pack and Clayton's early childhood as a werewolf.
I'll admit that I was never really a big fan of Jeremy, or of the werewolf novels in the series in general. Nothing against them; I just didn't find them as engaging as the witch novels. My opinion changed so radically after reading these, and that's a good thing. I fell in complete love with Jeremy. Before this, I don't think we ever got a clearer picture of the way Jeremy loves and protects Clay. It was really heartwarming how well he took care of Clay and how fiercely Clay came to love him.
That was the strength of the novella, I think-- seeing how the gradual bond formed between Clay and Jeremy. I have a much better understanding of them now, and I liked that so much. Clay was a good narrator; having not read "Beginnings" since 2005 or so, I'd forgotten his narrative voice. A lot of his lines made me laugh, and I liked how well Armstrong captured his reactions to things we take for granted (since Clay, having been a feral child for years, has to be re-educated about human life). For me, Savage was definitely the best of the four.
Ascension: This one concerns Jeremy's rise to Alpha and how Clay protects him against the growing threats of the other Pack werewolves and "mutts" (non-Pack-affiliated werewolves).
For me, this one felt rushed, and I don't think it was Armstrong's best work. She skims over periods of Clay's life in order to get back to the action. Things like Clay's college years and Nick's first Change are turned into tidy little paragraphs. I would've liked to see how Clay adjusted to socializing in college, since he was so bad at it in high school. I think this one just suffered because of the amount of times Armstrong had to skip over something.
I've never been a fan of Pack politics, though, so it was a little bit boring at times. The suspense is also gone, since we know Jeremy is indeed the Alpha. But it was nice seeing characters like Peter that become red-shirts in Bitten, so I enjoyed that part of it.
"Kitsunegari": This one deals with Jeremy finally learning about his heritage.
This one made me really like Jaime and Jeremy as a couple, and even though I saw plenty of them in No Humans Involved, that one mostly concerned the development of their relationship. I liked seeing who they were now. They were fun and flirty, and I liked that Jeremy helped Jaime deal with her insecurities about men in general. Jaime provided a lot of the humor, and I really liked that.
The exposition on the Kitsune themselves felt rushed, and I don't know when they'll play into the story again. It felt like a giant info dump in the last few pages of the story. I hope they do come into play again and aren't only in this story.
Overall, the book itself was very even and paced well. I really, really liked reading it and seeing things I hadn't before, which greatly improved my opinion of characters like Clay and Jeremy. The stories were compelling and kept me turning the pages; Armstrong works as well with short fiction as she does with novel-lengths. I'm so excited for the next anthology. Recommended for fans of the Otherworld series and perhaps a beginning reader of it who might want a good place to start.