Into The Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond, Kim Harrison

Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond by Kim Harrison

As a matter of personal and very subjective taste, I’m not a fan of short stories even by authors I love. I read them anyway, but  I read too fast to fully engage with them. By the time I get into a story, it’s over. This being Kim Harrison, I made an exception. There are only a few authors for whom I will make this exception: Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Connie Willis, Jasper FForde, James Lee Burke … and a few others.

This is what I would call a  mostly very good collection. I would have been shocked had it been anything less. I don’t love everything this author has written, but even her less-than-best work is far better than most writers … and the older and more mature her work becomes, the better it gets. A few of these stories are exceptional (no I won’t tell you which … you should decide for yourself based on your own taste), but it’s a very mixed bag in terms of style, time and place, “world,” and thus offers a somewhat bumpy ride, as literary excursions go. The material ranges far and wide, making it difficult to judge it as a single book.

Some stories are not new; if you’re a fan, you probably have read them before. If this is your introduction to Kim Harrison, I’m not sure how it will present to you. I’ve been reading her books for a long time and loved them from the first, but I started with one of the early books of The Hollows … and was immediately sucked into that world. This is a different kind of experience, and the worlds in it vary quite a bit. Maybe they would be a good introduction to the world of the Hollows for some people (though not all the stories are from that world). Personally, I’d recommend reading “Dead Witch Walking” first.

It’s more than just a personal preference. I think the novel is a much stronger example of Kim Harrison’s writing. She creates characters that are three-dimensional and complex. In a genre not renowned for fully fleshed out characters, hers really are. In fact, that is one of outstanding literary qualities: her characters are so well-drawn you feel as if you’ve known them for years. They are more than stereotypical non-human urban fantasy “types.” They are people and carry a lot of personal history. I don’t think “Into the Woods” is necessarily representative of her finest work and thus not a fair way to judge the author. But …. to each his or her own.

Of the new material, some stories are clearly “test balloons” for possible new directions after “The Hollows” series is finished. Some of the stories were published previously in other places and forms so fans are likely to have already read them. But — kind of like the prize in the Cracker Jack box — there are a couple of long stories that fill holes in the back stories of earlier books, material that has been hinted at but never explained. If you’re curious, for example, about what Jenks and Trent did while on Trent’s quest to retrieve his daughter, you’ll get the whole story here.

I would have bought any book by Kim Harrison published anyway and this gave me my “fix” while waiting for the release of “Ever After.” “Into the Woods” prevented me from chewing the desk after finishing my third rereading of “Perfect Blood. Today I am at peace knowing I’ll have the book in hand in about two weeks. I was grateful this collection became available when it did. For reasons that I can’t explain, it was a period when all my favorite authors were between releases … and since I’m not a George Martin fan (sorry guys, I tried very hard to like the books but I don’t) and what has turned out to be a very long wait for the final book in Brian Sanderson’s conclusion to Richard Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” epic. Jim Butcher had not yet released “Cold Days,” though he too tossed me a bone via a set of short stories (thank you).

Since the end of November, the books I’ve been waiting for have begun to be released.

“Cold Days” came out (see my review and other Jim Butcher related material), “The Woman Who Died a Lot” was released (Jasper FForde) and between these two, I survived the holidays. Now, “Ever After” will be out on January 22 and in three more days, “A Memory of Light,” the final piece of The Wheel of Time will be here.

Meanwhile, these stories are worth reading, especially if you like short stories. It’s perfect reading for bedtime because you can finish a story before you drift off. I do recommend the book. It’s worth your time.

As so many series I’ve been following wind down, I wonder what will come next, what the authors I love best will serve up to feed my voracious appetite for books. Reading is my nourishment of choice. Believe it or not, I worry about this stuff. Okay, I am a bit odd. But you knew that, right?

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Categories: Books, Literature, Publishing, Reviews, Sci Fi - Fantasy - Time Travel, Supernatural

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