My overall rating (3) is for the book as a concept and based on the two (of four) stories I've read. This is a theme collection for stories set in mod...moreMy overall rating (3) is for the book as a concept and based on the two (of four) stories I've read. This is a theme collection for stories set in modern fantasy series and I don't read the other two series, so jumping in with these stories seems unwise.
I'm not sure I'll ever get around to reading the other two stories, so here are comments on the two I did read, Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel by Kim Harrison (in the Hollows series) and The Harvest by Viki Pettersson (in the Signs of the Zodiac series, or whatever it's called).
The Kim Harrison is why I was loaned this book (and why I'll buy my own copy). I love the series and I'm always happy to see more of it and a Halloween ghost story fits in well with the Hollows setting.
Like the short in Dates from Hell, this takes us back before Dead Witch Walking and shows us how Rachel joined the I.S. Rachel and her brother Robbie wind up escorting a 140-years-dead ghost across town chasing a powerful vampire while Rachel tries to convince Robbie to sign papers for her to join the I.S. and do this kind of thing for a living. It's a fun story and the background it gives us on Rachel's family is especially interesting since the recent books are including more and more of Rachel's mother. I'd probably give this story alone a 4.
I have a love/hate relationship with Vicki Pettersson's Zodiac series. I think they have definite potential and the second book was so much better than the first that I'm glad to read more, but I didn't expect much from the short story. I was wrong. Maybe Pettersson is a better short writer than novelist or maybe this is another sign of the series and the author growing.
This story also gives us a family-oriented flashback. We go to before the first book (Scent of Shadows) to see Joanne's mother, Zoe. Zoe is a fabulous character in abstentia in the books: she abandoned Joanne at the most vulnerable time in her life, she's considered a traitor by some of the "heroes," and she fascinates, repulses, and attracts the villains in equal parts. But since she's gone, we don't get to see her directly (making her all the more interesting).
Fortunately, The Harvest doesn't ruin Zoe's mystique. We follow Zoe working to keep Joanne's daughter alive and safe from the Shadows. Along the way we get some good interaction between Zoe and Warren, showing once again how much the agents of Light are just as arrogant and evil as the Shadow agents, but also giving some context to his abuse of Joanne. It's a good story and it's well-told. I'd give it a solid 3, maybe a 3+.
The theme of the anthology, setting the stories on various holidays, works well. It ensures that each story has some cultural backdrop to draw from. Pettersson uses tradition to set up the context (we get a discussion of the origins and meanings of the cornucopia, for example) while the meaning of Halloween in Harrison is idiosyncratic to the series, but both work well. These theme anthologies for this "group" of authors (probably inspired by the Legends series) is working out quite well.(less)
Overall, I'm giving Many Bloody Returns three stars, but that's for the general quality of the three stories I read, the value of the theme, and the c...moreOverall, I'm giving Many Bloody Returns three stars, but that's for the general quality of the three stories I read, the value of the theme, and the collection of popular authors. Since all of these stories seem to be set in continuing series, I only read the ones for series I read, since these are unlikely to be good introductions.
Reviews of the stories themselves:
Charlain Harris contributes a rather mediocre Sookie Stackhouse story set on Dracula's Birthday. The story is passable, but it revolves around characters (Sookie and Eric) acting out of character and ends with a contrived and predictable "quirk" (like a poor imitation of Tales from the Darkside, itself a poor imitation of The Twilight Zone). The story is fun enough, but if you're not a Sookie fan already please don't judge the series by it.
The story itself involves Eric slavering to throw a birthday party so sincere that the great pumpkin, or at least Dracula himself, will attend. The action is the predictable is-he-or-isn't-he game of whether Drac is present. You get two guesses and the first two don't count.
Jim Butcher's Dresden Files story is much better, at least because it brings the action and the humor. It should work passably if you haven't read the series, but it's far from a perfect introduction.
Harry Dresden, our wizard hero is trying to deliver a birthday present to his half-brother Thomas, a vampire, and they fall into the usual sort of shenanigans that dog both of them. Along the way, we learn what Thomas is doing for work these days (shortly before his work in the last two books) and uncover a hilarious secret about Thomas' recreation. The secret leads to a large number of innocents for the pair (well, the three, since Molly, Harry's apprentice, is also present) to save.
The action is fun, with chases, hunts, magic, fight scenes, Harry's trademark "I only have to plan ahead 1 or 2 minutes" trickery, and a wonderful bit with an old client of his. The only serious fault is Harry repeatedly using a trick (involving manipulating gravity) that is both far overpowered for his usual magical technique and which never appears again in the two books set after the story; it feels like a plot device from the moment it's introduced. On the plus side, we get some nice brotherly interaction that reminds us how much the two mean to one another. It could actually choke you up a bit. Not that it did that to me, of course. Honest.
I started Rachel Caine's "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life" thinking it was a Weather Warden story. Instead, it turned out to be a good, short piece set in her Morganville Vampires universe. I had never heard of this series (it's shelved as YA) and the story is a very nice introduction to one of the secondary characters (and a recurring and amusing minor character as well). Not a lot happens in the story, but the effects are profound for the protagonist.
The story flashes back to Eve's 18th birthday, when she had to decide whether to sign with a vampire or risk being independent. It's a hard choice and the kids taking her out for some fun are torn between their bravado that they'll go it alone and the reality that they won't. Eve is different, of course, and the events of the night lead directly to her decision and her arrival at the Glass House.
It was a great introduction that got me to read the first three books in the series (and eagerly await the fourth).
The book has six more stories, but I can't say anything about them until/unless I try out their series (if they have one) and give them a look.(less)