Many authors of novel series, or books set in the same universe find that there are stories that they want to tell about their characters that either don’t fit into the structure of a novel, or do not have the complexity to make a whole book. Then they write a short story. Some ideas are explored in short stories before the fully fledged novel is produced. However it is done, there may well be stories with well loved characters out there that have appeared in various places. Eventually there may be enough to put them together in a book.
Otherworld Nights is a collection (not anthology as it says on the cover), of stories set around a small group of supernatural characters that fans of Armstrong’s work will be very familiar with. This can be a problem. These readers will know exactly how the eight stories here fit into the larger scheme of things. Others are likely to feel that they are missing out. All of them fit within the series of novels referred to as ‘Women of the Otherworld’.
The first, ‘Demonology’, is the story of how Adam’s mother discovered what he was, the son of a demon. Adam, as adult, features in the series and although this provides background context it is the least successful of the stories here. It gives hints about his supernatural powers but for those who are unfamiliar with his character will find it unsatisfying. While Adam is half-demon, Cassandra in ‘Twilight’ is a vampire. To add to the jeopardy vampires face, Armstrong has added her own twist to the lore. While he vampires are able to exist most of the time on small feedings of blood, once a year they must kill, or die. Cassandra has left it to the very last moment because she hasn’t lost her humanity by embracing life as a vampire and the idea of killing someone who may have useful life ahead of them, however low they may currently have fallen, makes her uneasy. Finding a victim is not the problem, it is choosing one that her conscience will allow her to live with.
‘Stalked’ introduces two of the werewolves featured in these stories. Clay and Elena have both become weres by being bitten. Female werewolves are exceedingly rare. They don’t know of any other than Elena so all the other males consider her fair game. In this story, they decide to visit St Louis on ‘honeymoon’ despite not being married. Elena attracts the attention of a mutt – a werewolf outside the discipline of a pack. Not wishing to spoil her holiday, Clay endeavours to get rid of it, initially by intimidation.
‘Chivalrous’ is the back-story of one of the young werewolves in Elena and Clay’s small pack and who appears as a peripheral character of several other stories in this volume. Werewolves normally grow up as part of a pack within which there are strict rules, especially who can mate with whom. Reese’s parents broke those rules and have brought him up on an isolated farm. The pack, however, doesn’t forget and eventually they trick Reese into giving away the location of his home.
Hope is another half-demon and Karl’s partner. He is an expert thief. In ‘Lucifer’s Daughter’ they are at the opening of an exhibition when he is attracted to a small box and lets out a demon. Hope has to persuade it back into its prison before it does irrevocable damage. The story shows the relationship between the two characters and the way that each of them work to achieve the desired result.
In novella length, ‘Hidden’ allows space for the development of a more complex plot considering more than one issue. Clay and Elena have taken their children to an isolated cabin with the intention of spending Christmas as a family rather than as part of a pack. Soon after arriving, they discover that there is a mutt in the area and reports of a young man whose body has been found chewed on by animals. They have to decide whether to ignore this, or investigate because if there is a werewolf in the area that is killing humans, he will have to be stopped. The other issue Elena has is when she should tell the children that their parents are shape-changers. This makes for a good, thoughtful story with room for action and the occasional twist.
‘From Russia, With Love’ stays with Elena and Clay and is, as might be expected from the title, in Russia. They are there to re-connect with their children who had been sent there for safety after a cult had tried to snatch them in an earlier novel. Part of the story here is a change in the relationships in the pack and is more an incident than a complexly plotted incident.
The final story, ‘Vanishing Act’ is set after the 13 the last novel in the series and returns to Adam but many years after the first story in this volume. Part of the plot involves his relationship with Savannah, a witch. They both work for an agency which deals with supernatural events. The start of this tale is a phone-call telling Savannah that someone is trying to raise a demon. She is inexperienced and makes mistakes before the crises can be resolved.
Readers of the series involving these characters will enjoy and appreciate every story here. Those who are not familiar with them will find the longer pieces more satisfying because they depend less on previous knowledge. Importantly though, these are stories of supernatural beings such as werewolves, vampires and demons with a romantic bias and if you prefer your action grittier and without hope, try elsewhere.