A review of Kelley Armstrong's Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

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Kelley Armstrong's short story collection Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong will be published by Tachyon Publications in September 2015.

Information about Kelley Armstrong:

Kelley Armstrong is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the thirteen-novel urban-fantasy series Otherworld (Bitten, Broken, Dime Store Magic), the six-book YA series Darkest Powers (The Summoning, The Awakening), and the Nadia Stafford crime series (Exit Strategy).

Click here to visit the author's official website.

Information about Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong:

With her signature twists and turns, #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong (Otherworld, Cainsville, Darkest Powers, Age of Legends) always gives a fresh spin on city-dwelling vampires, werewolves, and zombies. She is equally exciting when traveling further afield, to a post-apocalyptic fortress, a superstitious village, a supernatural brothel, and even feudal Japan.

Here is the first time that urban fantasy, young adult, mystery, and crime author Kelley Armstrong has had her stories collected from the Otherworld and beyond. From humorous to heart-stopping, and including two original tales, Led Astray showcases Armstrong at her versatile best.

A REVIEW OF KELLEY ARMSTRONG'S LED STRAY: THE BEST OF KELLEY ARMSTRONG

Most urban fantasy readers probably know who Kelley Armstrong is, so she needs no introduction to experienced readers. However, if there happen to be readers out there who have never heard of her, I can mention that she is the author of the popular Otherworld, Cainsville, Darkest Powers and Age of Legends series.

Reading Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong was an interesting and pleasant reading experience for me, because I hadn't yet read anything by Kelley Armstrong (I was aware of her and knew who she is, but unfortunately I hadn't had an opportunity to read any of her novels or stories). I'm glad I could read this collection, because I found myself enjoying it and was fascinated by the stories.

I don't normally read urban fantasy, because I consciously tend to avoid it due to the sad fact that a lot of urban fantasy novels and stories are simply not worth reading. I've often been more or less disappointed with the low quality and poor entertainment values of many urban fantasy novels, because it's very frustrating to read about shallow happenings and Barbie-and-Ken-like characters who fall head over heels in love with supernatural beings and have all kinds of sex with them without any kind of sense or style. Fortunately, this collection turned to be entertaining and was worth reading, because the stories were good and interesting.

Led Astray contains standalone stories and stories that are connected to the author's Darkest Powers, Otherworld, Cainsville and Age of Legends series, so there's something for everyone in this collection. No matter what your taste in fantasy or urban fantasy is, you'll most likely find something to enjoy in this collection. There are even a couple of horror flavoured stories in this collection that will please horror readers.

I think that this collection can be used as a tool to access the author's existing fantasy series, because it gives a taste of what's in store for the readers. The use of a few non-series narrators gives readers a good glimpse into the series.

This collection contains the following stories:

- Rakshasi (standalone)
 - Kat (Darkest Powers universe, non-series narrator)
 - A Haunted House of Her Own (standalone)
 - Learning Curve (Otherworld universe, Zoe)
 - The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator)
 - The Kitsune's Nine Tales (Age of Legends universe, non-series narrator)
 - Last Stand (standalone)
 - Bamboozled (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
 - Branded (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
 - The List  (Otherworld universe, Zoe)
 - Young Bloods (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
 - The Door (standalone, original to this collection)
 - Dead Flowers by a Roadside (standalone)
 - Suffer the Children (standalone)
 - The Collector (standalone)
 - Gabriel's Gargoyles (Cainsville universe, Gabriel)
 - Harbinger (standalone)
 - V Plates (Otherworld universe, Nick)
 - Life Sentence (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
 - Plan B (standalone)
 - The Hunt (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator)
 - Dead to Me (standalone)
 - Devil May Care (Cainsville universe, Patrick, original to this collection)

I enjoyed reading all of these stories but, in this review, I concentrate mostly on writing about the standalone stories that are not connected to any of the author's existing series. These standalone stories were so good and well written that I'm compelled to say a few words about them.

Here's information about the standalone stories and my thoughts about them:

Rakshasi:

- A story about the beautiful Amrita who's a Rakshasi, a demon. She has done penance for her crimes as a human for two hundered years and works for her master.
- A well written story about what happens when Amrita isn't given back her freedom and she takes matters into her own hands.

A Haunted House of Her Own:

- This is an interesting story about Tanya who's opening a bed-and-breakfast with a haunted house theme, but gets more than she bargained for.
- An intriguing take on a haunted house theme with a nice twist at the end.

Last Stand:

- This is a story about a group of people who have survived a zombie infection.
- A thrilling and well written zombie story.

The Door:

- A story about a girl and a door that separates them from the outside world.
- An excellent and beautifully written story.

Dead Flowers by a Roadside:

- A short but thrilling ghost story about a man who has lost her wife and daughter and tries to contact them.
- A well written story with a good atmosphere.

Suffer the Children:

- In this excellent story, an acute diphtheria has killed many children in an isolate village in the nineteen-century Ontario. Then a stranger arrives to the village and says that he can bring the children back to life, but his services have a price...
-  In my opinion, this is one of the best stories in this collection.

The Collector:

- A gripping story about an experienced puzzle solver whose interest in solving puzzles leads her to solve a Lemarchand's Configuration, the solving of which will summon the sadomasochistic and pain-loving Cenobites.
- This story will please fans of Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart", because it is set in Clive Barker's Hellraiser universe.

Harbinger:

- An interesting story with a surprise ending about a student, Jenna, who's able to see dead girls.
- A short, but good ghost story.

Plan B:

- An intriguing story about Deanna and a charm bracelet.
- A nice short story.

Dead to Me:

- A delightfully weird story about a woman and his husband who is dead to her.
- This is an interesting take on a ghost story.

These standalone stories are shamelessly entertaining and offer excellent entertainment to readers who enjoy well written stories. I positively surprised by all of them.

With these stories, the author demonstrates that she's capable of writing light stories, but also darker stories that will intrigue readers who are interested in macabre and delightfully twisted stories. She's also capable of combining lighter elements with dark elements, which is nice, because it takes talent to write entertaining fantasy with dark undertones. "A Haunted House of Her Own" is a good example of the author's ability to write about ghosts and hauntings in a way that thrills and entertains the reader.

"Last Stand" will be of interest to zombie fans, because the author delivers a good story about a group of post-zombie infection survivors. I have to confess that I'm fairly difficult to please when it comes to zombie fiction, because most of it is below average in terms of prose, story and characterisation, but this story was to my liking due to its entertainment values.

"The Door" is an excellent combination of touching elements and harsh realism. The protagonist in this story lives with his little sister and parents in a safe place where the door keeps the outside world away. They know that something bad has happened outside and going outdoors is dangerous.

Because I've always loved the darker and weirder side of speculative fiction, I was very impressed by "Suffer the Children" and its menacing atmosphere. It was a well-told story about a village in which many children had died because of an outbreak of diphtheria. When the stranger came to the village and offered to bring the children back to life and required an exchange - a soul for a soul - the story took a turn to a wonderfully macabre territory that thrilled me. The author wrote well about the happenings from different perspectives.

"The Collector" was also a story that impressed me, because it was set in Clive Barker's Hellraiser universe. The author delivered a good horror story that was something a bit different (because I've been a fan of Clive Barker's dark fantasy flavoured horror novella/short novel "The Hellbound Heart" for a long time, it was interesting for me to read a story set in the same universe). The author wrote well about the protagonist's passion to solve puzzles and what happened when she began to solve the Lemarchand's Configuration.

Here's a bit of information about the fascinatingly dark Cainsville stories and my thoughts about them:

The Screams of Dragons:

- An excellent story about Bobby. Bobby is a strange, cold and distant little boy who dreams of screaming dragons. His grandmother believes that he is a changeling and he has to endure abuse by her.
- This story is a prequel story to the author's first Cainsville novel, Omens.

Gabriel's Gargoyles:

- This is an intriguing story about Gabriel Walsh and his gargoyle hunting.
- It's amazing how well the author writes about Cainsville and Gabriel.

The Hunt:

- A story about William and The Wild Hunt.
- A short and well written story set in the Cainsville universe.

Devil May Care:

- This is a fascinating and exceptionally good story about Patrick and his life.
- I haven't read any of the Cainsville novels yet, but after reading this story and "The Screams of Dragons" I'm tempted to take a look at them, because I enjoyed both of these stories.

"The Screams of Dragons" is an excellent and well written story. It was fascinating and disturbing to read about how Bobby was treated by his grandmother. His grandmother was convinced that he was a changeling and used well-known methods to prove that she was right about him. His parents ignored the abuse and did nothing about it. Even Bobby's sister, Natalie (Bobby calls her "the Gnat"), delighted in his abuse. The only place where Bobby felt loved and safe was Cainsville, a town where his mother's family came from. In Cainsville, Bobby was not treated like a freak. It was fascinating to read about how the ongoing abuse had an effect on Bobby and he began to wreak vengeance upon his abusers and those who bullied him.

"Devil May Care" is also an excellent story. It's a story about Patrick and his life. In this story, the author writes about the protagonist in an entertaining way. She also reveals interesting things about the unusual town of Cainsville and its inhabitants. I enjoyed reading about what the author wrote about Patrick and the fae.

Now that I've read this collection, I have to mention that I'm convinced of Kelley Armstrong's writing skills. She's one of the few urban fantasy authors who seem to be at home in many different sub-genres of speculative fiction, which is rare. She knows how to entertain her readers and delivers good and addictive stories that easily hook her readers.

Kelley Armstrong has a nice way of surprising her readers with unexpected twists and turns. I was pleasantly surprised by the twists in these stories, because the author had added interesting twists to many of her stories. For example, "A Haunted House of Her Own" has an interesting twist at the end that works well.

What separates Kelley Armstrong from many other urban fantasy authors is her ability to add good characterisation to her stories. Her characters are interesting and they have lives and problems of their own that are of interest to the readers.

I give this collection strong four stars for its entertainment values. (To be honest, some of the stories deserve five stars, because they're excellent.)

If you enjoy reading entertaining urban fantasy, you will most likely enjoy Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong, because it contain entertaining and fascinating stories. It will be of special interest to fans of Kelley Armstrong, but also to readers who enjoy urban fantasy and works by such authors as Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison. If you're into urban fantasy and want to read entertaining stories, I think that you'll enjoy this collection. It's a collection with an emphasis on entertainment and style.

My final words are:

Led Astray is a good short story collection for readers who enjoy reading urban fantasy novels and stories. It's excellent escapism for urban fantasy readers!