Led Astray: A collection of Kelley Armstrong short stories

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLed Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong by Kelly ArmstrongLed Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong by Kelly Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has published several series of urban fantasy and paranormal novels, including her WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD contemporary fantasy series, in which werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures live alongside humans, and the CAINSVILLE series, focusing on the lives in and around a town with mysterious supernatural elements. Her latest book, Led Astray, is a collection of twenty-three short stories, many of them set in the worlds created in her series, although several stories are stand-alone. This is an eclectic collection, primarily urban fantasy, but running the gamut from high fantasy to ghost stories to horror, with a few non-fantasy tales thrown in for good measure.

Some of the standout stories are:

“The Kitsune’s Nine Tales” (from the AGE OF LEGENDS universe): Alvar Kitsune, the former marshal of the imperial army, is sentenced to death by the emperor as a traitor. The guard Senri is charged with taking Kitsune from the capital city to the Forest of the Dead to meet his fate. Kitsune had been Emperor Tatsu’s closest friend before his betrayal, and the emperor warns Senri:

“You know his clan’s totem?”

“The nine-tailed fox.”

“Yes. The kitsune. The trickster. There are many ways Alvar will attempt to escape, and before you leave, I am going to tell you every one.”

A fascinating game of psychological cat-and-mouse ensues, as Senri and his group of guards attempt to make certain that Kitsune doesn’t escape his fate.

“Last Stand:” A stand-alone tale set in the zombie apocalypse, with sympathetic characters and an interesting twist. Things aren’t always as they may seem.

“The Door:” Another stand-alone short story, in which a husband and wife and their two daughters live in isolation in a home with two doors:

When Momma or Daddy went out, they’d go through the first one, and then they’d close it before she’d hear them open the other. That was the real door. The one that led to terrible things, and she had no idea what those things were, nor had her parents even said they were terrible, but she knew. She just knew.

Armstrong effectively creates an atmosphere that includes both tension and poignancy, as the parents scramble to hold on to a little bit of happiness for their family, and the older daughter gradually begins to understand the costs involved.

“Suffer the Children:” Addie, a half-wild twelve year old orphan, lives in Chestnut Hill, a small town in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world. A diphtheria epidemic has just decimated the town, killing thirty-six people: one-third of its inhabitants and the vast majority of their children. Two strangers come to town, promising miracles… for a price. Addie and her adoptive father, the town preacher, feel that there’s something unwholesome about these two men, but most of the folk in town are so dazzled by the strangers’ promise to bring some of their children back to life that they shut their ears to any who try to voice a warning. There is magic in this tale, but its strength is in the psychological exploration of the various inhabitants of Chestnut Hill.

Several of the stories in Led Astray are superficial and a little simplistic, a little light on the world-building and characterization, although they may appeal more to readers who are familiar with Armstrong’s universes in her various book series. Some of the stories relied too much on the twist factor to make the tale, and could have used some additional depth. There is also a fair amount of gore and disturbing content along with a few sexual scenes, although relatively little of the typical paranormal romance appears in these pages. This collection should have a strong appeal for Armstrong’s fans and other readers who like a mix of paranormal fantasy and light horror. I found the standout stories intriguing enough that I’m interested in checking out some of Kelley Armstrong’s novels.

Publication date: August 17, 2015. Welcome to the many worlds of #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong (Otherworld, Cainsville). As her SyFy channel series, Bitten, enters its second season, Armstrong continues to breathe new life into city-dwelling vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Now travel even further with her, to a post-apocalyptic fortress, a superstitious village, a supernatural brothel, and even feudal Japan. In Led Astray, you’ll discover the stories of new characters from within and outside Armstrong’s popular novels. Here you will find two original tales from Cainsville, plus journeys to and beyond the worlds of Darkest Powers, Age of Legends, Otherworld, and more. Bold and humorous, passionate and heart-stopping, here is Kelley Armstrong at her versatile best.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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One comment

  1. I am definitely going to have to read this collection!

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