I requested the opportunity to review New York Times Bestseller Kim Harrison’s recent collection of short stories and novellas. The advance information I received indicated that most of the stories were based in the same world — the magical Hallows — as that of Ever After, which I had recently read and reviewed. While Ever After disappointed in several ways, particularly on the level of fundamental writing skills, I hoped that the short stories might prove otherwise. After all, novels are by their nature diffuse, often harboring minor gaffes in grammar or syntax that, given the expansive canvas of the story telling, might not be noticed.
Short stories are tighter, tauter … in a word, shorter. They provide writers with the chance — and the challenge — to focus on each word and phrase. Rather like a poem, a story that falters too often in word choice or sentence structure doesn’t really have the scope to repair the damage.
Unfortunately, most of the difficulties noted in my review of Ever After recur repeatedly in the pages of Into the Woods. On the level of basic writing, within one story there were multiple examples of noun/pronoun agreement problems; general wordiness; missing or inappropriate punctuation (usually commas); repetition of key words and phrases, often within a line or two of each other; dangling modifiers; misplaced adverbs; run-together sentences; then instead of than; vaguely used pronouns; verb tense agreement; grammatical wobbles; statement errors, in which the sentence verbs cannot logically link the subject and the predicate (“Ceri hesitated her struggles); and sudden and jarring shifts in tone. All compressed into fourteen pages.
Dialogue — which includes most of the story — was stiff and hackneyed, in part perhaps because the speakers were a demon and an elf; descriptions frequently incorporated clichés. Throughout, far too many spoken lines were accompanied by extended stage directions that concentrate on minor — and probably unnecessary — actions. Action, when it finally occurs, is deflated by the wordiness describing it.
And that in just one story.
To her credit, Harrison demonstrates extraordinary creativity in her characters and her world. Some stories work better than others, capturing the allure of magic and the price it demands, but the difficulties in reading them too often outweigh the narrative force.
Readers interested only in gaining additional insight into the Hallows and their environs, or who are wholly committed to the continuing saga of Rachel Morgan, will find much new information here. But for me, the intellectual strain of getting through the stories spoiled them.