** spoiler alert **
Kim Harrison's Hollows novels are my favorite urban fantasy stories. This collection of short stories provides additional background for the novels, and also allows readers to enjoy some of Harrison's writings outside the Hollows.
Most of the short stories set in the Hollows have been published before, but it's great to have them all in one place. Here the stories are arranged chronologically, starting with the story of how Ceri came to be Al's familiar in the Ever After many many years ago. We also see Rachel as a kid when she first meets Pierce, the ghost who reappears in the series; watch as Ivy sets in motion a series of events that will end in Kisten's death; have the bittersweet opportunity to see Kisten again as he and Rachel work together to save his nephew; see a softer, yet still scareyside of Mia, the banshee who wreaks havoc later in the series; and meet Daryl, the dryad/goddess who reappears in A Perfect Blood. Of course, the main selling point of the collection for Hollows fans is the novella Million Dollar Baby, the tale of Trent and Jenks adventure to rescue/kidnap his daughter Lucy, which is mentioned in Pale Demon.
These stories are all great, although as an Ivy fan my favorite is Ley Line Drifter. Since these stories are, in some way, supplemental to the novels I'm not sure how well they stand on their own for those not familiar with the series. On the other hand, this may be the perfect way to introduce yourself to a great series.
In addition to the Hollows stories, Into the Woods contains four other tales, two short stories and two novellas. While all four are worth reading, two of them really stood out to me: Grace and Pet Shop Boys.
Grace is set in a world somewhat similar to the Hollows in that there are people with special powers living among humans, and Grace, like Rachel, is working as a sort of detective helping to make sure that those with special powers don't abuse them. The similarities end there, since the powers here are nothing like the witches, vampires, elves and demons in The Hollows. This could easily become a series I would love to read.
Pet Shop Boys is shorter, so the world less well-defined than in Grace, but again we see glimpses of a world where non-humans take advantage of humans. This story unfolds as the narrator slowly comes to see what lies behind the veil of normalcy in his world. While the story has a satisfying conclusion, it also ends with many questions unanswered and also could be the opening to a great new series.
The other two stories, Temson Woods and Spider Silk, work more as standalone stories. Both are quite good, but I particularly like the darkness at the end of Spider Silk, where the character realizes that she has mistakenly killed her ex, and leaves the reader wondering just what did happen in the cave.
This is a must-have book for Hollows fans, and the non-Hollows stories prove that Harrison has lots of other worlds and characters to explore once she finishes the Hollows series.