Wolfsbane and Mistletoe

Alan Gordon, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance and Toni L. P. Kelner
2008, Shapeshifter Fiction
Ace, $24.95, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0441016332

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Subtle

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe is an anthology of 15 short stories, some of them very short, all involving werewolves and Christmas in some way. Rather than write mini-reviews of the 15, I will mention the strongest – the ones that made me want to further explore these authors' work – and then summarize the book as a whole.

Shapeshifter Fiction

Fresh Meat by Alan Gordon is the story of a planned Christmas murder, the target being a dog trainer with strange gifts. Gordon doled out his plot and character information a little at a time which kept me interested throughout. And there were hero dogs – always a plus.

Grade: B

Shapeshifter Fiction

Il Est Né by Carrie Vaughn was a short peek into Christmas Day with Kitty, the heroine of Vaughn's werewolf series. In it Kitty meets a newly made werewolf who may or may not be behind a series of brutal local killings. This story was short but full of action and redemption, both pleasurable to read. I hadn't read Vaughn before, but have made a note to check out this series.

Grade: B+

Shapeshifter Fiction

The Star of David by Patricia Briggs was another redemption tale involving a werewolf father estranged from his daughter because of actions done when newly changed. This is a real underdog tale – both David and the boy his daughter asks him to protect are outsiders and full of strange gifts that may prove useful against a vampire stalker. I wished this one could have been longer just to get to know these characters a little more.

Grade: B+

Shapeshifter Fiction

Rogue Elements by Karen Chance was a solid reunited lovers tale involving a vulnerable war mage charged with finding out what has happened to some werewolf girls gone missing and her ex who has an in with weres but is also persona non grata in that community. The readability here is early Kelley Armstrong, and that's saying something. Chance is another author to watch.

Grade: B+

Shapeshifter Fiction

Finally, Keeping Watch Over His Flock by Toni L.P. Kelner ends the anthology with a softer, more sentimental Christmas story, linking the vulnerability of the primaries in the nativity story with equally vulnerable children now, one of which is a were outsider wanting desperately to make a place for himself in a family. Very touching.

Grade: B+

In terms of overall quality, this anthology is top notch. The writing is solid, the stories are varied and have unique mythologies for both werewolves and Christmas. The above five stories happen to be the ones I enjoyed the most, but the Keri Arthur story, Christmas Past was a pretty solid little mini-romance. Several stories, including the ones by Donna Andrews, Simon R. Green, Kat Richardson, and Rob Thurman, had a more horror feel to them, with varying degrees of gore. The J. A. Konrath and Nancy Pickard stories mixed some of these same horror elements with a humor I could appreciate objectively, but didn't always "get." It was interesting to see that many of the authors apparently link werewolves and vigilante justice together, and how many of these stories involved past or present foster care kids.

However, despite the quality of Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, this was not a book I read compulsively. I didn't have to force myself to read through any stories, but I did have to discipline myself to keep picking it up once set down again, primarily because each new story was an unknown quantity. Readers looking for a sentimental view of Christmas should also steer clear as in these pages Rudolph gets eaten, Santa can be a vampire, and Christmas can be hazardous to one's well-being. If you like short stories, though, this is a pretty solid collection.

-- Rachel Potter

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