BOOK OF SHADOWS VOLUME ONE
Edited by Angela Challis
Reviewed by Greg Schwartz
Book of Shadows Volume One is a superb collection of dark fantasy and horror culled from the archives of Shadowed Realms online magazine. Angela Challis, editor of Shadowed Realms, presents a mixed bag of short stories that would probably haunt your dreams, if you could manage to fall asleep after reading them.
Many genre notables make an appearance or two in this book, including Poppy Z. Brite, Robert Hood, Aurelio Rico Lopez III, Mikal Trimm, Justin Stanchfield and Stephen Dedman, among others. Kurt Newton and Greg Beatty each contribute three short stories, and Shane Jiraiya Cummings provides the darkly hypnotic cover art, in addition to one of the more unique tales, Stealing Fire.
Sprinkled in with the thirty-seven (yep -- thirty-seven!) flash fiction stories are six longer pieces, which complement the shorter works effectively. After racing through a few two- or three-page stories, a longer tale lurks just around the corner, ready to slow you down and let you catch your breath before plunging on.
Greg Beatty leads off the collection by showing just how disturbing a typo can be in How to Write Flesh Fiction, and Is It Wrong? will make you look at imaginary friends in a whole new light. His stories all have a comic undercurrent running through them. At the end of a story, you'll catch yourself laughing and immediately wonder if that means you have issues. It probably does.
Charles Richard Laing (a name familiar to Whispers readers) contributes Asking Questions, a romantic tale about a loving husband desperate to find his missing wife and children. Well, that might be putting a tiny bit of spin on it. It starts dark and quickly sinks into depravity. A must-read for any parent.
In Still Born, one of the best stories of the bunch, Mikal Trimm lifts the curtain and shows just how deep a mother's love runs. The story is tightly written with a gut-punch ending that will twist your sense of morality into a pretzel.
The Empty Child by Richard Harland and Seed and Soil by Josh Rountree were two well-written stories that failed to hold my interest. There were no flaws with plot or characterization; I just didn't find myself drawn in at all.
Ad Infinitum is a nightmare rollercoaster, one of the longer stories, impressively sustained by Gary Kemble from beginning to end with constant tension and a steadily increasing sense of impending doom.
Doubled, a one-page short by veteran Eric Marin, is a fun little tale with an interesting premise.
Anyone who considers themselves a horror writer should read the last story in the book, The Reading by Kurt Newton. On some level, whether consciously or not, you may find it to be about you.
Book of Shadows does not contain a single poorly-written story, which for a collection of forty-three yarns is no small feat. The stories range in subject matter from intelligent blimps and killer ducks to talking wolves and virgin sacrifices, with just about everything in between. And, of course, there's a zombie story.
Angela Challis presents an excellent variety of themes, plots, and atmospheres in Book of Shadows. This is the first time I've read anything she edited, and if I were to compare this book to food (which I tend to do) I would say it goes down smooth and fills you up, though it does have a strong kick to it.
As this book is labeled Volume One, you can expect more quality fiction anthologies in the future. Brimstone Press is currently working on Black Box, an e-book collection of 120-word-or-less shorts to benefit the Australian Horror Writers Association. Many Book of Shadows writers already have stories accepted for Black Box, so it will certainly be worth checking out.
Book of Shadows, Volume One, edited by Angela Challis. Brimstone Press tpb, 235 pages, $18.95 AUD plus postage. Available from the publisher, Shocklines and Apex Digest
Website: - www.brimstonepress.com.au
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