Sunday, 21 April 2013

Women of the Otherworld

So, you're sick of Sookie sleeping, and Anita Blake rubs you up the wrong way by rubbing up against absolutely everything, so where's a girl to get her paranormal fix? TheShitWizard has two words for you: Kelley Armstrong. 

In case this isn't old news to you, Armstrong has a couple of paranormal series to her name - Women of the Otherworld and its YA sister, Darkest Powers - and they're fantastic brain candy. Women of the Otherworld, in particular, shows how much fun this genre can be when you put your mind to it (and don't use your heroines as your fantasy avatar). 

A series of thirteen books (all published, so there's no waiting if you're instant gratification girl like me), virtually all of them (bar the last couple) have self-contained stories which slowly build a great, believable world (I realise that probably sounds mental when we're talking about supernaturals, but never mind) and feature a wealth of brilliant heroines, none of whom are vapid or wear terrible clothes which are described for pages (hint, hint Harris and Blake!), and who manage to be feisty without making you want to slap them. Their personalities don't consist of being clumsy and lacking in self-esteem, nor are they supermodel types who every man instantly lusts after the moment she walks into a room. They're normal, every day women who dress normally, behave normally and just happen to have some powers - which can cause as many problems as they solve. 

And the men? A nice variety awaits us and, while some of them may fit the alpha male type, they're not controlling freaks who make you think more of abusive relationships than sexy times (I'm looking at you Cullen, the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the douchebag duo from Anita Blake). Like the strong, calm and nurturing type? Armstrong's got you covered. Fancy a sensitive intellectual? Got that too. Or would you rather a doggedly (fnar!) loyal, smoking hot werewolf with a temper as hot as he is? Let me introduce you to Clayton Danvers... 

...Sorry, I'm back. Got lost thinking about Clayton there for a while. Where was I? 

Oh yeah, sex. Naturally, in a series of stories about awesome women and their men, sex does figure but it fits each of the stories well and is only an element of the plot - which actually serves to make it sexier when our peeps finally do get down and dirty (something Laurell K. Hamilton may want to take into consideration). 

There are some minor niggles along the way, there is a slight tendency to go for the happy-ever-after so you're never truly worried for the characters, but they're so small as to be inconsequential in comparison to how much I enjoyed them. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get your teeth into these: 

Bitten - Introducing us to Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in the world and one of my favourite paranormal heroines ever. The series highlights are always around Elena and her pack, their dynamics and behaviour, and this book does a fantastic job of introducing us to the Otherworld without drowning us in it. I tore through this in a day while waiting for a plane, then rushed straight to the book store on the other side for the follow-up. 

Stolen - The second book starring Elena goes in for a bit of world-building; a group of scientists/rich bods are collecting supernaturals for research into improving the human race (which always goes well) and features witches, sorcerers, shamans, vampires and half-demons, showing the potential for growth in the Otherworld. 

Dime Store Magic - Moving away from Elena and allowing us some time with young witch Paige Winterbourne and her even younger ward, 12 year old Savannah. This gave us a fresh new perspective as well as exposing us to Cabals (think Mob, but with magic and nicer headquarters), who we'll be coming across more and more in the series. 

Industrial Magic - Paige is drawn into a case where the Cabals need her help and although I don't like her half as much as I do Elena, it's still interesting reading things from her point of view, especially as she doesn't live in such a closed environment as the wolf pack and instead interacts with a wide range of supernaturals. 

Haunted - This time our heroine is already dead, but that's not about to stop her from being badass. Introducing us to the Fates and showing us some nice flourishes when it comes to the ghost world, the series starts to show here that it might be a little bigger than just a few, self-contained stories. 

Broken - We're back with the pack, who inadvertently open a portal to Victorian London after stealing the Jack the Ripper 'From Hell' letter, with complications arising from cholera, killer rats, zombies and more... 

No Humans Involved - This time we're in the company of Jaime Vegas, celebrity spiritualist (though a far more likeable one than Derek Acorah) and real necromancer, who is shooting a TV special hoping to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe but stumbles across something far more disturbing. 

Personal Demon - One of the weak spots in my opinion, with Hope the half-Expisco demon in the lead. I liked the added moral ambiguity in this one - Hope's power (visions of chaos, and feeding off chaotic energy) means that we're not dealing in black and white - but I found Hope a little too passive a character to really get behind. 

Living With The Dead - The other weak spot in the series, this one shares narration between a few characters, along with a civilian to give us the 'human' view of our supernaturals, and I found it fairly unmemorable. 

Frostbitten - Wolf pack time again (yay!) as they try to track down some man-eating mutts and find themselves in Alaska, which is home to more than just werewolves. 

Waking the Witch - While the witch instalments aren't my favourites, thankfully by the time we get to this one Savannah is all grown up and ready to take on her own book, and we get our first cliffhanger ending...

Spellbound - Following from exactly where we left off in Waking the Witch, and it's becoming more apparent that a supernatural war is brewing. While I squee'd at some of the cameos in this instalment I did also find myself frustrated at ending with another cliffhanger. 

Thirteen - And finally, the last book of a series that had interesting plots and sub-plots that had all been leading us here, with our women banding together to face off the biggest threat the supernatural world has seen yet. Action packed and terribly exciting, I tore through this while knowing I'd be gutted as soon as I'd finished it.

It's probably also worth knowing that several short stories have been published dealing with some of our characters at other times in their lives, so if you didn't get enough from the thirteen above, you should start Googling now.

Sadly it's time for me to bid goodbye to the Otherworld. I'll miss you...

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