Out of This World
by J.D. Robb, Susan Krinard, Maggie Shayne & Laurell K. Hamilton
(Jove, $7.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-13109-1
Itís hard to objectively evaluate Out of This World because the readerís enjoyment hinges on whether or not she is familiar with the characters introduced in other novels by these authors (only Susan Krinard presents a self-contained story). Chances are, you are going to buy this anthology because youíre a fan of one of the three series and canít miss an installment, even if you have no interest in the other material. Itís like that annoying ďgreatest hitsĒ album that your favorite singer releases that has one or two new songs, so you have to buy it even though you already own all of their other albums.

Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband, Roarke are off-planet at Roarkeís fabulous Olympus resort for a law enforcement seminar, in J.D. Robb/Nora Robertsí Interlude in Death. The joke is that Eve, who faces off against murderers and rapists without batting an eyelash, is absolutely terrified at the prospect of public speaking. But stage fright isnít her worst problem. At a pre-conference reception, a legendary police commander takes Eve aside and asks her to help him catch a crook - none other than Roarke himself. Not even the prospect of a promotion can make Eve betray her husband, and she wastes no time in rejecting the bribe. The next day, one of the commanderís bodyguards is found dead, and fingers start pointing at Roarke as the individual with the greatest motive.

This short story emphasizes the many reasons why In Death is a memorable series that shows no signs of faltering, including the vitality of Nora Robertsí scenes, the depth of her characters, the originality of her plots and the dry humor she employs. While the ending is a bit rushed, it does nothing more than whet my appetite for the next full-length Eve Dallas book, due out in September. If youíre one of the ten Americans who havenít read one of these novels, I donít think you will be too lost by Interlude, and it just might pique your interest too. Roberts is smart to set this story off-planet so any novice readers wonít be bombarded with too many characters from previous installments.

In Susan Krinardís Kinsman we meet Jonas Kane VelArhan, member of a superior breed of telepathic humans who are the only people able to communicate with the alien Shaauri race. He is approached by a lowly human named Tea, who seeks his help in finding her brotherís missing spaceship. Jonas reluctantly agrees, fearing that disaster could result if the spaceship falls in Shaauri hands. But Tea is keeping a few secrets, as is Jonas, and unless they are honest with each other their journey is doomed. It is a little difficult to understand the intricacies of Krinardís world, but once you catch on itís a smooth, interesting read. I found myself wanting to learn more about the cat-like Shaauri, but alas, this is the one story in the anthology that is not related to any existing series. Maybe in the future, Krinard (and her publisher) will take a leave of absence from her well-received werewolf novels and write more about this brave new world. Sheís a strong author and one of the few who has kept the paranormal/fantasy romance genre alive through lean times.

The third story, Maggie Shayneís Immortality, presents the fate of Puabi, the evil Dark Witch from Shayneís last novel, Destiny. At the end of that story, Puabi was caught in a fire and presumed dead after trying to burn her former husband and his lover alive. In Immortality, we find out that she has escaped the conflagration, crawled to a cliff, fallen into the ocean and drifted all the way down to a small Caribbean island. There she is rescued by a rich businessman named Matthew, who has come to the island to recover from his wifeís suicide. Matthew is shocked to see that Puabi is a dead (sorry) ringer for the deceased Gabriella. Puabi, weakened by her ordeal, realizes that she might have a few positive emotions in her after all. But she wonders if there is anything she can do to make up for all of the pain she has caused over the centuries.

I love redemption stories, but this one is weak. The Puabi in this novella is a different character from Destinyís heartless bitch who killed hordes of Light Witches during the past 4,000 years to keep her body, and her quest for revenge, alive. Compared to that, the Puabi we meet here just has a bad case of PMS. This short story actually works better if you havenít read the related novel. Having done so, it was hard to accept her as the heroine because she was so unrepentantly immoral in Destiny. Also, her past is alluded to, but never fully explored, so the fact that she is really a 4,000 year old Sumerian queen is wasted. However, Shayne packs a neat plot and quite a bit of action into her allotted space.

The final story, Magic Like Heat Across My Skin, is actually an excerpt from Laurell K. Hamiltonís upcoming hardcover, Narcissus in Chains. Having never read any of the Anita Blake vampire hunter books, I was fairly clueless throughout, as Anita and the two men in her life, Jean-Claude the vampire and Richard the werewolf make an emergency visit to an S&M club to rescue Anitaís pack of wereleopards. Anita has kept her two lovers at bay for some time while she sorts out their tangled relationships, but there are definitely signs that her celibacy is about to end. From these brief pages, I got a taste of the dark, violent, sensual yet occasionally humorous series that has fascinated so many readers who ordinarily wouldnít be caught dead reading a horror novel. Iím not sure I understand exactly what happened to the characters over the course of the evening in which the story takes place, but it was an interesting glimpse, enough to make me consider checking out the earlier novels.

On principle, I think that the stories in an anthology should stand on their own, and therefore Iím reluctant to recommend Out of This World to anyone who isnít familiar with at least two of these authors. Only the reader can judge the wisdom of paying $7.50 to read 100 pages that fill in that ďgreatest hitsĒ gap.

--Susan Scribner

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