Edited by Amanda Pillar
Publisher: Ticonderoga Publications
Paperback: 295 pages
Inside these covers are 17 stories of unusual creatures, myths and legends, in dark, urban fantasy settings.
Bloodstones is being touted by Ticonderoga Publications as the first volume in an annual anthology of dark fantasy. We haven’t had one of those in Australia for a while, and I’d love for something like it to succeed. I know Ticonderoga have the chops to achieve such a feat, and Amanda Pillar is an accomplished editor.
The focus of Bloodstones is on non-traditional dark urban fantasy, which is to say: no vampires, no werewolves, no zombies. Authors were encouraged to submit tales of more unusual creatures from myth, to delve into cultures and legends that have not been repeated ad nauseum over the years.
Before I even get to the stories, and how they might (or might not) fit this brief, I was sort of held up by the cover. It seems unrelated to the anthology’s theme and that didn’t work to entice me into the book’s pages as a good cover should. Mainly, I would have liked to have seen a cover more immediately indicative of the anthology’s contents.
But, don’t judge a book by its cover! It’s the words inside that count. So read I did, and the stories are indeed an exploration into the unknown. Diverse are the monsters, and quite a few of them I’d never heard of before and hope I never have to meet in the future. There are also plenty of familiar but less utilised creatures from myth on display too. The trick is in how the stories use this grab-bag of monstrosities to tell an effective tale, and in that aspect Bloodstones is something of an uneven success.
The anthology kicks of strongly with ‘The Bull in Winter’ by Dirk Flinthart, a tale of old gods, myths and legends struggling to find relevance in a modern world where film, tv and viral YouTube videos are the vectors for the creation of new myths and monsters. Well written and full of great ideas, ‘The Bull in Winter’ really dragged me in, kept me reading and left me eager to delve deeper into Bloodstones.
Nicole Murphy’s ‘Eurydale’ continues the theme of monsters of legend adapting to the modernity of suburbia. Clash of the Titans meets Desperate Housewives is how I’d describe ‘Eurydale’, and I mean that in a good way because the story works on many more levels than that, even touching on the the issue of immigrants trying to maintain their cultures in a new world.
‘A Small Bad Thing’ by Penelope Love introduces us to the Malaysian Toyol, a malevolent child-like goblin created by black magicians to steal money and jewellery, the small things. Delving deep into how the ‘small things’ can also affect a relationship, Penelope Love leaves us no doubt by the end as to who the real monsters are.
Jenny Blackford’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ is delicious with description, combining the dark and fertile imagination of children with the myth of the Faerie Queen. Pete Kempshall tackles the issue of misusing government welfare (specifically the ‘Baby Bonus’) in dark and gruesome ways in ‘Dead Inside’, and ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ by MLD Curelas brings us a banshee battling the waning power of belief.
‘Sanaa’s Army’ by Joanne Anderton is a powerful tale of art and decay, and how things new and beautiful (and sometimes dangerous) can be created from death. Richard Harland’s ‘A Mother’s Love’ brings the dark-side of Santiera from Cuba to the Western Suburbs of Sydney, and Christine Morgan reawakens ancient Egypt into the modern day in ‘Ferreau’s Curse’.
Thoraiya Dyer’s prose in ‘Surviving Film’ is, as usual, both beautiful and unsettling. Her merging of cinematic history and ancient myth is short, but also possibly the most fully realised and complete of the stories in the anthology. Like Flinthart’s ‘The Bull in Winter’, it stands high above the other tales in the collection.
That’s not to say other stories mentioned, or those yet to come, aren’t good. Indeed, ‘And the Dead Shall Be Raised’ by Kat Otis is ripe with new and unnerving ideas, imagining tours of the world’s most famous cemetery as conducted by the dead themselves… but don’t stray off the path and don’t stay after dark. Karen Maric weaves a bittersweet tale of love and loss set amongst the clash of old in new in the fast moving world of modern China in ‘Embracing the Invisible’, and Dan Rabart’s ‘The Bone Plate’ is a dark, modern-take on the ancient myth of deriving power from those you slay.
In ‘Cephalopoda Obsessia’ Alan Baxter shows us — with about 1/50th the words it took China Mieville — why we should definitely still fear the awakening of the Kraken. Both Erin Underwood’s ‘The Foam Born’ and Vivian Cathe’s ‘Skin’ stay with Baxter’s nautical theme, but in very different and effective ways: ‘The Foam Born’ updates the myth of Aphrodite’s birth into something much more sinister, and ‘Skin’ re-examines the myth of the Selkie from a new and disturbing perspective.
Stephanie Gunn’s ‘The Skin of the World’ takes us deeper yet, away from the suburbs and those who’d ply their coastal fringes, peeling away the layers to reveal a darker world beneath. ‘The Skin of the World’ was, for me, a perfect end to Bloodstones. Like the places revealed, the story has a depth had that me wanting more, feeling there was more going on in this world than a single story could reveal. Very pleasing then to read in the author’s introduction, that ‘The Skin of the World’ is only a small part of a much larger series of stories and novels, of which I’m certainly keen to read more.
As I said, overall I found Bloodstones to be something of an uneven collection. There certainly aren’t any bad stories, just a few that I felt didn’t quite meet the brief, as outlined in the blurb and in Seanan McGuire’s Introduction. Some stories worked for me more than others, and a lot of that just comes down to personal preference. Others readers are sure to get different mileage, and on the strength of just a few stories alone (Dirk Flinthart’s, Thoraiya Dyer’s and Stephanie Gunn’s especially) I would certainly recommend Bloodstones for readers looking for more in their horror fiction than just sparkly vampires and overripe zombies.