Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
Edited by Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner (Eds.)
Cover Artist: Lisa Desimini
Review by Gayle Surrette
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016334
Date: 07 October 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner have teamed up again to create another anthology. This time the authors were again given two words: wolfsbane and mistletoe. In other words, write something about werewolves and Christmas. Fifteen authors accepted the challenge. I didn't think they could top, Many Bloody Returns with vampires and birthdays but Wolfsbane and Mistletoe just might have raised the bar.
With the instructions that the story had to be about werewolves at Christmas, the authors took the idea and ran with it. This is an anthology rich in talent and ideas with authors from the mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and romance fields and all combinations thereof. It made for a diverse and entertaining reading experience.
Charlaine Harris leads off the collection with "Gift Wrap". Sookie plans to have a quiet Christmas alone. It's not so much planned as she didn't want to ask to join anyone in their holiday plans and didn't feel she could accept the offers that were made -- she didn't want to be a third wheel. She's feeling a bit melancholy when she decides to check out a noise she heard in the woods. An injured, naked, young man is hidden in a clump of bushes and, naturally, Sookie can't let him suffer. However, while helping the injured is always the right thing to do, it usually means you're stepping into trouble. It's a great Sookie story with some surprising twists and turns and a true holiday feel.
In "The Haire of the Beast", Donna Andrews gives us a hilarious tale of sibling love and woman scorned revenge. Tom wants to be a werewolf. He thinks it would be cool and asks his sister's help, after all she's an ancient language and culture expert and he's found a really old book. Busy, but interested in spite of herself, she agrees to at least read the book. Things are never quite what you expect and the journey is as much fun as the twisted end. Andrews seems to always manage to surprise, engage, and tickle your funny bone at the same time.
You never forget your first love and in the Nightside on Christmas at Strangefellows you just might be able to spend some time reminiscing. Simon R. Green takes us on a trip down memory lane in "Lucy, at Christmas". This one caught me by surprise. I can't say much more about it without spoiling it for you, but it's one that touch my heart.
Werewolf Gerry and his sister Claudia, a vampire, fight evil in "The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron. Harkening back to the trope that says werewolves help to cleanse the earth of evil, Gerry and Claudia are a crime fighting duo who actually hold down regular pay-check getting jobs. However, this Christmas, they learn that maybe the "givens" of their world are changing. While entertaining, this one deals with the nature of evil and our responses and responsibilities.
Kat Richardson's "The Werewolf Before Christmas" deals with a werewolf who is always out for number one. However, even the best laid plans can go wrong and planning was never Matt's strong suit. Being hungry just turned the thinking off completely and now it seems he actually is expected to deal with the consequences of his actions. Matt can be taught, but whether he'll actually learn anything is another question, and it's for the reader to decide how it will end. Parts of this story had me chuckling, and other part ... well just say it fit the seasonal theme.
"Fresh Meat" by Alan Gordon is one of those stories that just hit you and make you wonder why no one else ever thought of doing this. Sam Lehrmann trains guard dogs. His dogs are expensive and sought after, but Sam carefully selects the homes for his dogs. When you own your own business you don't get off for holidays. And Christmas is nothing special, when there is no one special. There was once, but Mona didn't understand his need to spend time alone. Sam learns that maybe his customers aren't the only people who need guard dogs. This story is tightly written, pulling you along dragging your feet because you think you know what's going to happen. After all, it's a mistletoe and wolfsbane anthology -- that's just the time Gordon ramps up the tension and hits you over the head.
Carrie Vaughn features her late-night talk show host Kitty Norville in "Il Est Né". Kitty is spending a lonely Christmas Eve at a Waffle House. No family for her on the holidays. Unexpectedly, another werewolf walks into the Waffle House, and suddenly there's more than enough to do. David needs to know what happened when he was out of it and Kitty needs to make sure that what he thinks happened didn't. Kitty and David have a common goal and they work to find the truth. They also manage to learn more about themselves. I haven't had a chance to read Vaughn's Kitty books though I do have two of them in my to-be-read pile -- think it's time I moved them up a notch.
Sometimes a necessity can be more than a duty; it can fulfill several obligations at once as well as making you look like the good guys. At least that's what the man behind the scenes believes in Dana Stabenow's "The Perfect Gift".
If anything is worse than being dumped on Christmas, it has got to be finding yourself a year later still hurting and having to work with the "rat" who dumped you. At least that's the situation that Hannah finds herself in, in "Christmas Past" by Keri Arthur. Not only does she have to work with Brodie James. but she has to listen to him try to get back in her good graces. Could Christmas get any worse? Well, this is a story so, yeah, it probably can. This one really had its moments -- I'll let you imagine what kind of moments but laughter and tears were involved.
In J.A. Konrath's "SA", that's SA for Shapeshifters Anonymous, I can't say more than that you'll never think of Santa, Christmas, or the Salvation Army the same way ever again. He also did a real number on weres of all types too. This is one of those stories you have to read to believe. Be ready to just have a great time being entertained.
Patricia Briggs gives us "The Star of David" an indescribable story of family and relationships and just how wrong they can go. Stells hasn't spoken to her father for forty years, but now she has a problem with one of the foster children that she's placed, and her father is the only person who may be able to help. The characters are spot on and believable in this story of family and loyalty. Briggs reveals the background slowly, playing on the readers expectations to build the mood and tension. It really works.
Two vampires decide to check out their theory of Santa's origins in Nancy Pickard's "You'd Better Not Pyout". From Miami Beach to the North Pole to South Africa, we're taken on a wild ride while kept off balance trying to figure out what's going on. This Santa theory is one I'm betting against.
Karen Chance placed her story "Rogue Elements" in the world of her Cassandra Palmer series. Lia's a war mage but her boss wants her to check on a problem in the werewolf community. The problem is Lia's got a bit of a problem with that segment of the supernatural community, and it could make things uncomfortable, if not down-right deadly. I enjoyed this story of an employee trying to do her best with a boss that doesn't have a clue -- or does he?
Nick Thurman's "Milk and Cookies" certainly put a new spin on family traditions and orthodoxy. Nick is pretending to believe in Santa for the sake of his little sister. But he's really worried that she'll be disappointed when she learns the truth. This one is a very twisted twist on the expectations of the reader.
The final story is "Keeping Watch Over His Flock" by Toni L.P. Kelner. Jake had been bouncing from foster home to foster home until he was found and taken in hand by Felecia and Brian and given a chance to join their pack. But now he's got rules and obligations and responsibilities -- not unusual for teen, Jake rebels. He wants the pack but not the rules. He learns some lessons in what's really important during this Christmas holiday.
This is an excellent volume. Not a bad story in the batch. Of course, I liked some better than others but not one put me off. I'm beginning to think with two excellent anthologies under their tiller that this is a team to watch for -- their themed anthologies are excellent.