Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Blood in Her Veins (Jane Yellowrock short stories) by Faith Hunter

This is a book of short stories from the Jane Yellowrock world - and it is huge. It may be a collection of all the short stories that there’s ever been in this series.

And it is excellent. It’s excellent because Faith Hunter is very very good at her short stories - the majority of them add something compelling to the main series. They add a little something to Jane’s past, to her relationships, flash out some elements of various characters’ back stories

I’m not saying they’re all perfect by any means - but the general tone of this whole book is to add a lot of richness and value to the whole series, filling in blanks, adding colour, expanding, adding realness - filling in all those things that would bog down a main book or get in the way or be unnecessary but still have value. That is a perfect use for short stories and compiling them all in one book removes the whole treasure hunt feel you can get trying to find a series’ supporting work.

We Sa and the Lumberking previously appeared in Have Stakes Will Travel developing Jane’s history before the series begins and continuing to keep her Native American ethnicity and experiences centreal

Similarly The Early Years also touches on another of Jane’s early moments, we’ve heard repeatedly that Jane was brought up in a children’s home but we’ve never really seen - Jane’s history in the children’s home and the people she met there and her first awareness of Beast and what Beast was beyond the ignorant attempts to explain that she got from the foster home. At the same time we get some excellent expositions of the flaws of the foster system and, really, how little it actually did to set up Jane for a successful life; not just because she didn’t fit - and Bobby due to his disabilities.

This is continued in Snafu her apprenticeship in security and private investigation, how she gained the skillset she had now, how she grew as a person, as a skinwalker, as a professional and as an adult. These three stories make an excellent arc for Jane’s early years and putting a great foundation of them.

This idea of using short stories to tell us how Jane got to where she is now continues with Kits which lays the foundation for one of the most important relationships in this book: Jane and her best friend and witch Molly. Their friendship, loyalty rough times and high times define so much of this series which means this, their first introduction so important. Especially as it really does explain how two people who are, by necessity, so private, managed to open up and really trust one another. Really, it sets the foundation for how Molly and Jane became not just friends, but family, which adds a realness to their relationship throughout the main series. Haints continues this with more looking at the supernatural world, more looking at how Molly fits into it (and, yes, using her witch skills to try and earn some money, even if dangerously. I like this because while Jane charges huge sums for her work, Molly doesn’t and as a mother of two, the extra cash isn’t just a throwaway resource to her). This also appeared in Have Stakes will Travel along with Signature of Death further cementing this awesome relationship and making them almost required reading for the series. But, I have to say like I did in Have Stakes Will Travel that the sheer amount Jane has reached out to Molly makes me even more disappointed when Molly turns on Jane for a couple of books in the same series. Yes there’s good reason - but these short stories show immense life-saving help Jane has given Molly in the past; I feel Jane deserved better than this. Which, of course, makes me even more happy to see them reconciled in later books

Again, this is why this arc is so important - it adds a wonderful texture to these character interactions

In theory, I suppose that it would be good to use short stories to do with Bruiser and Jane what was done with Molly and Jane. Sadly, I think this is a weaker element of this book, First Sight feels like a shallow bit of nothing, cheapening their relationship with insta-love and far far far too much sexual drooling. Which moves on to Dance Master which could be an analysis of Bruiser and Jane’s relationship or a nice snapshot of Jane’s daily life but is from Bruiser’s point of view and comes with more drool drool drool sexy drool, jealousy, sparring with Leo blah blah.

Which, I suppose, is kind of what Cat Tats does for Rick LeFleur which I’m sure would be all good and expansive for the character except I’ve always kind of hated him and that’s never really changed. It’s not so much him but as to what a complete mess Jane became around him. Still this story is essential - because so much of Rick’s story you can follow but not truly understand without this entry: explaining his mystical tattoos which would later cause him so much trouble in shapeshifting. Again we don’t just have one short story but a whole arc of Rick, from those tattoos, to then his initial problems and desperation in Blood, Fangs and Going Furry in trying to survive being turned into a wereleopard but unable to shift. Again, things we were vaguely aware of in the main series gain so much more texture following Rick’s arc and seeing the multiple places where Jane made a difference in his life

Though, along with Molly, there’s a definite pattern of Jane deserving way more from the people in her life than she actually gets.

Golden Delicious continues Rick’s story but, along with Beneath a Bloody Moon and Off the Grid also begins and links Soulwood Series, starting with establishing Rick with Psy-Led both as a new recruit, then working on an actual mission and introducing Jane Yellowrock to his new role and having him start working as a team before introducing and setting up Nell as an awesome character and the events before Blood of Earth that launched her spun off series

This makes me tolerate the importance of these short stories, because while I really don’t like Rick, this arc really sets up the Soulwood Series, adds essential history to Rick’s back story and makes the main books richer, stronger and more developed

I keep saying this, but this is what really matters in this series of short stories - because they really do build on the main plot line so well.

This makes me especially interested in the other short stories in this book. Some are clearly not branching into anything larger but are excellent insights into vampire society, witch society and Jane’s daily life negotiating with them - such as Cajun with Fangs and Black Water (which also tries to make werewolves more than ravening monsters) and Cat Fight What I also like about these is how Jane will have to return to the same location, because even in a short story not everything is so simply and neatly completed without unforeseen consequences.

But others are expanding on other characters separate from the main arc that both adds to the main series by showing their lives outside of Jane (an excellent point for side characters) but setting them up so well they could have their own spin off series.The Devil’s Left Boot shows us more of Molly’s witch sisters and the aftermath of Evangeline’s death on the whole family as well as their own active involvement in their own investigations, supplementing their income and, perhaps, building their own business (while also giving us more world building). Not All is As It Seems also seems to be setting up Molly for storylines in her own right. Bound No More brings Jane and Molly together for more adventures both directly related to the main plot, setting up all kinds of prophecies for the future but also drawing in Psy-Led. By doing this we basically have hints of a whole epic plot line that could be followed by Jane, Molly, Rick & Nell or all three or more, all coming with yet more world building around angels and Arenciel.

It also finally addresses Molly’s treatment of Jane which was long needed

This series has some underlying issues with gender: like female werewolves being always-in-heat-sex-crazed-monsters incapable of being sane or non-violent. Or while female witches are more common, apparently male witches tend to be more powerful (if less controlled). These are definite issues - but there has been a lot of challenge to them, an introduction of a lot of diverse and different women, from Jane to the Everheart sisters, to Nell all of whom are very different people but all immensely powerful in their own ways. We also have some excellent commentary on sex workers in Off the Grid as well as some great class commentary. Jane is Cherokee and at no point is that ever forgotten or dismissed, her history, ethnicity, race all permeate her story: her partners Eli and Alex are both Black men and likely the most prominent characters after Jane herself. Off The Grid also reminds of Ming, the Asian master of one of the vampire blood lines albeit not in a significant fashion. A number of the background characters are POC though. There are, despite the scale and size of the book, no LGBTQ characters that don’t require you to retcon on the whole dubious “all vampires are bisexual” trope.

In all, as a companion of short stories linked, building in the main plot, enhancing it, enriching it and open it up to be so much more - this is perfect. This is exactly what such an anthology should be.