Saturday, April 3, 2010

Men of the Otherworld (book, anthology) by Kelley Armstrong

Even though this is technically an anthology, it didn't really feel like one to me, probably because so much book is composed of just Clay's story, and probably because all three stories are interrelated in terms of characters. The men focused on in this anthology are Malcolm (Jeremy's father), Clay (basically raised by Jeremy), and Jeremy. If you haven't read any of Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld books, particularly the ones that focus on Elena, you'll probably miss a lot, if you don't end up completely confused. If you've read the books and loved Armstrong's werewolves, you'll probably love this book. It had never occurred to me that I might like to read something written from Clay's perspective, although, ever since Jeremy and Jamie became a couple, I've wanted to read something from Jeremy's perspective. Armstrong, as usual, does an awesome job.

Synopsis:

The first story, "Infusion," is Malcolm's story. It's brief, and deals with Jeremy's conception and birth. Malcolm isn't a nice guy. He has sex with a Japanese woman he thinks is attracted to him, because, even though he dislikes the idea of having a "halfbreed" child, even a half-Japanese baby is better than no baby at all. His world is very simple - only the strong deserve to survive, and the strongest are those who win the most battles. Being a manly man, he wants children to mold in his image, especially sons (as far as born werewolves go, only a werewolf's male children will become werewolves). Instead, he gets Jeremy, who, even at birth, unsettles Malcolm with his quietness and calm behavior. After Malcolm kills his son's mother and the woman's grandmother, Malcolm's father (who Malcolm views as a weakling) vows to take care of Jeremy.

The second story (is that even the right word?), "Savage," is from Clay's perspective. It shows how he became a werewolf (he invited a werewolf to bite him, in the hope of escaping his life with drunken parents who didn't care about him), how he was found by Jeremy, and how Jeremy raised him. Jeremy, serious and responsible despite his young age, is patient and does the best he can with Clay. He helps Clay relearn how to speak, control his Changes, and act more like a normal human boy. Jeremy isn't quite so successful with the last part, although he isn't really given enough time - if he can't teach Clay to blend in enough so that he won't pose a danger to the Pack, Clay will have to be killed. Unfortunately, although Clay is incredibly bright, he doesn't realize he shouldn't do things like dissect his kindergarten class's deceased pet guinea pig in order to figure out where its vital organs are. The Pack Alpha thankfully dismisses that incident - although humans might think Clay's behavior indicates a budding serial killer, he's done nothing that makes him seem other than human. In the end, however, Jeremy is forced to break one of his personal rules, never to kill a human, in order to protect Clay and the Pack after a lab technician at a hospital notices something strange about Clay's blood.

"Ascension" is also from Clay's perspective. Clay is now in high school, thinking about college. Jeremy has basically become the Pack's medic - he wanted to avoid, as much as possible, ever having to repeat the events at the hospital that ended the previous story. In the interest of learning how to become a better fighter, Clay accepts Malcolm's offer to teach him how to fight, and Jeremy allows it. Gradually, without Jeremy asking it of him (in fact, he probably would have asked him to stop), Clay begins doing what he can to make Jeremy's life easier. He accomplishes this mainly by becoming Jeremy's scary muscle. He kills mutts that stray into Jeremy's territory, so that there's no risk that Jeremy will have to kill them himself. Eventually, he gruesomely tortures a mutt, takes pictures, and has another mutt, a witness to what he's done, show the pictures to as many mutts as he can, thereby establishing his reputation as the scariest werewolf in the Pack.

There's one thing Clay can't do for Jeremy, however, and that is win the position of Pack Alpha for him. The Pack is fairly evenly split between those who support Malcolm and those who support Jeremy. Unfortunately for Jeremy, Malcolm doesn't fight fair. Those Pack members who could have broken the tie leave, in fear of their lives. Then Malcolm decides to try to kill Jeremy's supporters, or even Jeremy himself. He fails, however, and discovers to his shock that the bond he thought he'd managed to build over the years between himself and Clay was one-sided. Clay would have killed him then, but Jeremy doesn't allow it. Malcolm dies years later in a fight with some mutt.

"Kitsunegari," the final story, is from Jeremy's perspective. This story takes place after Jeremy and Jamie have become a couple: he's spending time with her in between interviews and shows. During one of Jamie's shows, Jeremy sees something strange. He follows a woman who looks like someone he recognizes, and his vision keeps playing tricks on him - he sees a forest instead of an alleyway, and he sees the person he thinks he knows turn into an unknown Japanese girl and also a fox. The young Japanese woman gets naked and offers herself to Jeremy, who refuses. Jamie steps in, and the woman leaves, pissed. Later, Jeremy discovers that Jamie has apparently been lured away by the woman and he goes after her. Jamie is fine, protected by the symbol she had tattooed on her ankle, a protective symbol that Jeremy has been unconsciously drawing for as long as he can remember. The woman from before is part of a whole group after Jeremy - they're kitsune, and Jeremy is the last of the Kogitsune. Female Kogitsune are expected to give kitsune a lifetime of service, while male Kogitsune are expected to be sex slaves and fathers of kitsune children. Jeremy manages to convince them that he has a son living somewhere else who would probably be happy to be their sex slave. Jamie knows better, and the two have a laugh after the kitsune women leave. Since Jamie's tattoo protected her, she figures it's time for Jeremy to get a tattoo of his own.

Commentary:

I loved this book. A lot. It gave me a powerful urge to reread Bitten, now that I can see Clay from a different perspective. I don't remember liking Clay very much when I read that book, and I think it's been a few years since I last read it. I never really noticed Jeremy much until he and Jamie got together, so I should actually probably reread all of the Women of the Otherworld books that feature the werewolves.

Malcolm's story didn't excite me all that much, beyond the intriguing mystery of Jeremy's mother. However, I loved Clay's part of the book. Reading about him and Jeremy together was lots of fun, even if, maybe especially because, Clay was such a wild child. I knew Jeremy was young when he found Clay, but Armstrong really managed to drive home how very young he was. Even though Jeremy always seemed to come across as a little older than he really was, his uncertainty did a perfect job of making him seem young. Under other circumstances, Clay would have seemed like a future serial killer, but his obvious love for Jeremy made up for that (well, depending upon your perspective, I guess). Everything he did, even the horrible things, was designed to make things better for Jeremy. The guinea pig thing was just...ugh. Oh, I also liked reading about Nick and Clay. I hadn't remembered that Clay and Nick were good friends, but I still liked reading about their friendship. Had everything just depended on Clay, I'm not sure their relationship would ever have gotten off the ground, but Nick was so unflaggingly nice that Clay couldn't help but be sucked in - so cute!

Jeremy's part of the book was the only part that felt like a traditional anthology story, rather than an excerpt from a book. I loved getting so see him and Jamie together, and getting to read about him being interested in, and slightly territorial over, Jamie. Nice.

I don't always include read-alike lists when I write about anthologies, but I decided to include a few read-alikes this time.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay; Dexter (live action TV series) - Dexter and his whole family are cops, although he works as a technician specializing in blood spatter. Dexter is also a serial killer. Dexter's foster father realized what he was becoming when he was younger, taught him how to keep from getting caught, and taught him how to choose worthy victims (the bad guys that the legal system can't catch or keep). Dexter now has two lives, his life as a serial killer, and his life as a guy trying to look as ordinary and normal as possible. Those who most enjoyed the parts in which Clay tried to fake being a normal human being might want to try either the Lindsay's book, the first in a series, or the show (the first season is based on the first book).
  • Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - Harry Dresden is the only wizard in the phone book, probably because most of the world doesn't believe magic really exists. When he's not handling cases for his detective agency, he's helping the police out with weird cases. Storm Front is the first book in the series, and in this book Harry is helping the police out with a case in which a couple has had their hearts blown out of their chests. Unfortunately, trying to solve the case gets Harry in a lot of trouble, since it brings him too close to black magic. Those who'd like more urban fantasy from a male perspective might want to try this.
  • Wolf's Rain (anime TV series) - In the future, it is common knowledge that wolves have been extinct for a long time - however, this appears to be false, as some wolves still live and can occasionally take human form. Kiba, a lone wolf, is obsessed with the smell of Lunar Flowers, a scent which he believes will lead whoever follows it to paradise. The source of the scent is a girl named Cheza, who is kept in suspended animation in a lab. In order to keep Cheza safe and find paradise, Kiba and several other wolves band together and form a rough, shaky kind of friendship. Those who'd like something else in which characters display an uneasy mix of human and wolf behavior might want to try this.
  • The Witching Hour (book) by Anne Rice - This book follows a family of witches through several generations, a family that is haunted by its beginning and by its terrible twistedness (which leads, at times, to murder, incest, and other ugly things). Those who'd like another multi-generational supernatural story might enjoy this, although Rice's writing style and tone otherwise have nothing in common with Armstrong's.

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