Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tachyon via NetGalley
in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning: Some of the stories contain violence against women.
This latest anthology by Kelley Armstrong, author of the Women of the Otherworld series, is an eclectic mix of stories from the Otherworld and Armstrong's other series including the Cainsville, Darkest Powers and Age of Legends series and several standalone stories. There's a lot of variety in subject matter and tone and I enjoyed some stories more than others. I wasn't as interested in the Cainsville stories, but they might appeal to fans of that series. My favourites of the collection were some of the standalone tales. Here is a brief rundown of each story.
This story was a little something different. It's about a Rakshashi, a female Rakshasa, risen from the dead and enslaved until she has balanced out the sins she committed in life. I dug the premise and I enjoyed the way it played out.
A young woman named Kat is on the run with her vampire companion. This one is a Darkest Powers universe story. I haven't read those books but it seemed quite similar to the Otherworld series.
A Haunted House of Her Own
An woman who doesn't believe in ghosts wants to buy a supposedly haunted house to turn into a bed and breakfast trading on its reputation. It was creepy, but the ending was predictable.
An Otherworld story in which Zoe, the only vampire in Toronto, is hunted by a would be vampire slayer. I found it a little cutesy for my taste.
The Screams of Dragons
This one was a Cainsville story and I wonder if parts of it are lost on me not having read the Cainsville series. It's a sort of fairytale about a young boy who dreams of golden castles and the screams of dragons. He is bullied horribly by his grandmother, who believes him to be a changeling, and begins to do increasingly unpleasant things to appease the dragons in his head.
I can't say too much about this one for fear of spoilers. It was probably my favourite in the collection. I'm a fan of zombie stories and it presented an interesting twist on the usual tropes of the genre.
This was an Otherworld story set, but for a change it is set in the Old West. The heroine is riding with a gang of con artists looking to rip off unscrupulous men who try to take advantage of young women. It's a bit of fun.
The Kitsune's Nine Tales
I haven't read the Age of Legends books, but if this sample is a good indicator I will probably enjoy them. It reminded me of a story I heard on Podcastle called The Run of the Fire Horse by Hilary Moon Murphy, which was based on a Chinese legend as this one is on a Japanese one.
This story stands out from the rest of the collection due to its different setting. A young girl lives in isolation with her parents and younger sister. Life in her home is idyllic but she has been warned never ever to open the front door. I found the story surprising and sweet.
Dead Flowers by a Roadside
Another standalone, this one was the sad tale of a man who lost his wife and child in an accident. It didn't really grab me.
Suffer the Children
This standalone story is creepy and brilliant. It's about a preacher, his wife and adopted daughter who live in an isolated farming community devastated by diptheria, which has killed almost all the town's children. A stranger comes to town claiming to be able to bring some of the dead children back to life, but at a terrible cost.
This story was written for an anthology that was a tribute to Clive Barker and set in his universe. The narrator is addicted to solving puzzles, and is lured to a puzzle shop with the promise of a $5000 prize if she can solve a mysterious puzzle box. Much of the horror in this story comes from things that are hinted at rather than shown, and it is very disturbing.
Another Cainsville story, this one is about a boy called Gabriel taking part in Cainsville's annual competition in which the town's children try to find all the gargoyles in town. It's a holiday themed tale and more warm and fuzzy than the other Cainsville ones.
A university student is haunted by visions of dead girls who follow her around the campus. The imagery is strong and it has a killer opening line, no pun intended.
I love post apocalyptic/dystopian stories and the Otherworld universe, so this was my jam. It's about a young woman living in a fortress where humans hide and live out their lives in the middle of a wasteland full of dangerous animal human hybrids and people with supernatural powers. When she discovers her boyfriend is a werewolf, an offence for which the punishment is branding and being cast out of the community, she has some hard choices to make.
This one is another Otherworld story featuring the vampire, Zoe. I liked it a lot more than Learning Curve. The idea of real vampires showing up as part of the audience for a talk on vampirology just for fun appeals to me.
This is an Otherworld universe story featuring some of the younger pack wolves including he Australian, Reese. As an Australian I noticed that Ms Armstrong's attempt to use Aussie slang was a swing and a miss. We don't talk about “cutting” grass, we mow it, and people live in, not “on” the Outback. Language aside, I found the premise offensive. Noah, the teenage werewolf is being teased by his friends for being a virgin. Rather than attempt to reassure him that there's actually nothing wrong with being a virgin at eighteen, his pack mate Reese decides that they “need to buy him a hooker.” Apparently it's dangerous for a young male werewolf to go without sex and “one couldn't overlook the convenience factor” of paying for it. This is a spoiler, but I'm doing you a favour. I really wish that the zombie prostitute trope wasn't a thing. Attention all paranormal authors, knock it off, it's gross!
This is an Otherworld story, which is a fairly short, satisfying read. A powerful leader of a sorcerer cabal finds himself dying of cancer. Determined to avoid death he attempts every supernatural method money can buy, eventually settling on becoming a zombie.
This story stood out because it's not about anything supernatural. It's a tale of love, intrigue and betrayal, with plenty of double crosses. It reminded me of the movie Wild Things (1998). There is a sex scene in this one and it's hilariously bad. I went to art school and one of the first things they said to us in the health and safety unit of the course was “don't eat paint”. As little as they apparently thought of us artistic types none of my teachers ever felt the need to add “and don't stick paint brushes covered in paint up your lady bits.”
Two “hunters” (murderers) of women go out hunting with strangers with unexpected results. I was a bit underwhelmed by this one.
Dead To Me
A strange, funny ghost story that reminded me a little of the writing of Poppy Z. Brite.
Devil May Care
Another Cainsville story., this one is quite long. It one tells the origin of Gabriel, and how he is fated to be important to Cainsville and the fae.
Led Astray is a diverse, fun collection that acts as a sampler of the Kelley Armstrong's different series for someone new to her writing, with plenty for fans to enjoy. Not all of the stories were to my liking, but that's always the thing with anthologies. It did make me want to go back and read more of the Otherworld books.
Published: September 15 2015
Rated:★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆