Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/20/book-review-of-predators-and-prey-the-hunters-hunted-ii-anthology-vampire-the-masquerade-20th-anniversary-edition/
The Hunters Hunted II has been my favorite release for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. Like a lot of the Classic World of Darkness releases, The Hunters Hunted II was a very successful Kickstarter project. With overfunding came stretch goals, one of which was the anthology we are reviewing today. At only 115 pages, Of Predators and Prey is far shorter than other recent OPP anthologies. Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II was another Kickstarter stretch goal (this time for Werewolf: The Apocalypse) was 240 pages, and The Strix Chronicle Anthology was 154 pages. So it was a bit of a disappointment to see this collection turn out as short as it is.
Of course, the quality of this anthology is another disappointment. As much as I loved The Hunters Hunted II, this anthology left me cold, both in terms of editing and writing. Very few of the stories actually involve hunters. Most of them just involve humans who just end up encountering vampires through sheer dumb luck. At least two stories use the “Ho ho ho, the person you thought was a vampire was a ghoul and the ghoul was really a vampire.” At times, this collection seemed to be more about ghouls than vampires or hunters. Two stories also have strange editing. One has a little girl show up on the second to last page of the story without any mention of them before, but the characters all treat her as if she has been there the entire time. Another has a character there one paragraph, and the next they are dead without any explanation. It really feels like the collection needed to be edited and vetted better. When you only have nine stories, and several of them repeat themes and plot twists, you have to wonder why someone didn’t go, “No. Too similar. Back to the drawing board.” So yes, Of Predators and Prey is easily the weakest fiction anthology put out by Onyx Path for their various lines, but as you will see, it’s not all bad.
Our first story is “Shut-In,” and it’s about an old woman who needs to sell her house and the person who wants to buy it. Of course, the old woman is a shut-in, per the title, and the reason why relates to events that happened over twenty years ago. The woman won’t come out after dark, nor will she let anyone in after the sun sets, and the end result is a cat and mouse game between two beings, both of which assume they are the predator and the other is the prey. It’s a wonderful way to start off the collection, and it also highlights that even sometimes the hunter is more of a monster than the Kindred they want to destroy. A great way to start off the collection. 1 for 1.
“HOA/DOA” is done in an epistolary style and is a fun story about two anal retentive, uptight people in a community and the vampire that both unites and divides them at the same time. The story is a comedic romp at times, but the ending is quite dark. This is another story where the vampire seems like the lesser of two evils when compared to the obviously insane hunter. I had a blast with this story, and although it is very different in tone and style than most V:TM pieces, I think that only helped to make it stand out. It’s nice to get a breath of fresh air once in a while. 2 for 2.
“Lest Monsters We Become.” A story of two hunters, both with very different motivations for why they do what they do. This story actually involves the Sabbat and shows how different they can be from Camarilla or independent vampires. It’s also the third story where one of the hunters is worse than the vampires. The fact that this is three in a row with that sub-theme had my eyes rolling, but that’s an editing/selection problem rather than a writing one. “Lest Monsters We Become” is well written and a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the two different hunters. 3 for 3.
“Psy-Fri Friday.” Oof. This was a stinker. From being the second in the “Vince Russo style vampire reveal” in this collection, to the fact the story just ends at what feels like the halfway point without any resolution whatsoever, this was pretty much an example of how NOT to write fiction. When a story just ends abruptly for no reason with every single plot line left dangling and no resolution, you have to wonder if there was a editing error and part of the story was cut off, or how the hell this was accepted by anyone for publication. This was just bad in every way a piece of vampire fiction can be. If you really want a story about club kid vampires and the people they prey on, I guess you can read this, but the writing is terrible. Don’t say you weren’t warned. 3 for 4.
“Blood Will Have Blood.” This was just terrible. Bad writing, bad characterization, bad flow, bad editing, bad everything. It’s a story of a group of hunters and the revenge a pack of vampires takes on them. Also, one character just ends up being pyrokinetic at the end in a badly drawn out affair. This is the story where a little girl just shows up at the end who was never mentioned until the second to last page and everyone just acts as if she was there the whole time. It features a terrible dues ex machina ending, one of the worst written uses of spontaneously occurring Numera powers I’ve seen in V:TM, and I just found myself wondering how this got by editorial. This was painful to get through. 3 for 5.
“The Ivy Twines.” Surprise! ANOTHER story where a ghoul is the main focus. This is the fifth out of six stories with that aspect. Oh man, the selections really needed to be vetted by someone else. It’s just too much of the same themes reoccurring. No anthology should be this repetitive. Anyway, it’s yet another story where the hunter deals with a vampire and a ghoul and gets tricked/outsmarted to some degree. It’s also a love story… kind of. It’s also a story written by someone that really doesn’t seem to get how homeless/transitional/permanent supportive shelters actually work, as it gets everything wrong about them. Five to thirty minutes talking to someone from an agency like HUD or DHS could have easily made this from an erroneous, implausible mess to a pretty solid tale. The writing style is good, but the suspension of disbelief was totally lost because of the lack of knowledge about the subject matter the author was writing about. 3 for 6.
“Feeding Habits.” This is another story where you kind of feel the vampire is the good guy and the hunter is far more of a monster. Yeesh. The good thing is that “Feeding Habits” is really well done. It’s told from the point of view of a vampire who has spent the last eighteen years refusing to kill and trying to maintain his humanity as best a Kindred can, when he ends up being the target of a group of hunters. The story has a pretty dark and depressing ending, but it’s also a very nice twist. I was happy with this story from beginning to end, and it was a nice change of pace to see a vampire as the focus of the story and what it is like to be hunted from their point of view. 4 for 7.
“Showbiz.” This is a weird one, and I still don’t know if I liked it for the surreality of it all, of if I think the concept was incredibly stupid but that the author was such a skilled writer that they made it work. A set of three friends put together a faux reality tv show about vampire hunting. Sure, they meet people who think they are vampires, like psi-vamps and blood fetishists, but what happens when they run afoul of actual Kindred? The answer will both surprise and amuse you. This story was a lot of fun. 5 for 8.
Our final story is “Patrol,” and it just didn’t work for me. You have a bunch of high schoolers talking like thirty year olds, yet another story where the ones who are supposed to be vampires are ghouls, a vampire that is completely implausible by V:TM terms, a group of “hunters” that get mad at their leader when she kills obvious murderous bad guys, and a totally anti-climatic ending. The writing just is a bit nonsensical at times and the motivation of characters, especially the abrupt change at the very end, just doesn’t add up. This story had interesting ideas, but they just weren’t written or implemented very well. 5 for 9.
So there you go. Five good stories and four bad ones. So the positive outweighs the negative, but only ever so slightly. As a freebie to Kickstarter backers, I can’t really complain, because hey, free anthology. I can’t really recommend this for purchase unless it had something like a $2.99 price tag attached to it (Author note: Which they ended up doing! Hurrah!), simply because the stories weren’t all that great and Onyx Path really should have solicited more potential authors and vetted the submissions for quality. Compared to other World of Darkness anthologies (both Classic and New), this was really lackluster, and I’m kind of disappointed that once again, V:TM is getting the short end of the stick.