Hidden Realms Short Stories
(2023) edited by Anon, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$40 / US$30, hrdbk, 430pp, ISBN 978-1-804-17271-1
Forward by Dr Lori Campbell-Tanner.
The book is promoted on the cover as ‘Gothic fantasy’, though few of the tales are Gothic and some count more as science fiction / horror too. The tales are presented alphabetically, by author, mixing established classics and freshly commissioned work.
Highlights among many other gems include:
Florence Adongo-Bull ‘The Girl Who Failed To Develop Breasts’ A doting Mother grows increasingly distressed that her daughter is late in going through adolescence and developing breasts as expected of her. The mother consults a local witch-doctor who sets a trap that seems to get the daughter killed by mysterious forces from a dark realm but is she dead or is the witchdoctor teaching the girl’s mother an important lesson about love? A clever little allegory.
Basil Hall-Chamberlain - ‘The Fisher Boy Urashima: A Japanese Fairy Tale’ - Though set in Japan, this could really be located anywhere and there are similar Irish fairy tales and legends. Urashima gets transported to a fairy realm, and finds a wife there, but when he desires a visit to his old home to see his parents, he is given a box with instructions to never open it with warnings that he’ll never see his fairy bride again, but guess what he does.
Carl Jacobi - ‘Moss Island’ The most outright scary and atmospheric tale in the collection. Though seen by many, the barren looking rocky outcrop called Moss Island has been left abandoned for many years and the narrator believes he is the first to strike up the nerve to visit the island.He finds a bleak, grim place, and on disturbing a patch of moss, he finds it starts growing, swirling out, swallowing all in its path, and seemingly silently chasing him. He flees back to the safety of the sea and a boat home, where he discovers an extra-ordinary truth about what the Moss might really be. The capture of the wretched landscape and the narrator’s inner dread is a compelling read and the closing twist is terrific.
E. E. King - ‘Saint Estevan of the Children’ A rather sweet Christian fable. Estavan is a cross between Saints Nicholas and Christopher, helping lonely, lost and frightened children and families. When he dies accidentally while trying to rescue a dog stuck in a well, his ghost continues the good work, offering consolation and guidance to children who have died, and putting them on the right path for getting to Heaven. It is contrasting children’s stories and straight-forward easy reading fantasies like this with the full on dark horrors of H P Lovecraft’s well known ‘The White Ship’, a non Mythos yarn (with echoes of Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner)’, where a lighthouse keeper is drawn from his duties to travel after a mysterious bird, sailing by many strange lands before he is dumped back on the beach, and sees a ship come to grief because he has not been able to keep the light showing the dangers our own world has to offer.
Chiamaka Muonoke - ‘The Valerium Cave’ - A group of explorers are drawn together by a man who believes in mermaids. They only play along with him because he is paying for their services, but on finding a cave of strange crystals leading to a pool full of such creatures the men fall out over whether to protect the fish-women by keeping their existence a secret or capturing one to reveal their presence to the World. The mermaids prove to have their own view on the matter. Starting as a romping adventure, this soon turns rather violent and gory. Edith Nesbitt - ‘The Island Of The Nine Whirlpools.’ A quite straight-forward but exciting fantasy short from the author of ‘Five Children And It’. A princess is imprisoned on an island surrounded by nine deadly whirlpools. If her romantic, heroic rescuer, Nigel, gets past those he has a dragon and a griffin to defeat too. How Nigel sets about achieving his mission impossible to win true love makes for a very engaging read.
Brian Trent - ‘The Dog And The Ferryman’ After humans stop turning up at the River Styx ready for transportation across into Hades, Charon finds that only a stray dog turns up, seemingly alive and seeking its absent master. Charon and the dog bond inseparably as they embark on an unlikely but heartfelt quest to find the dog’s owner and discover what has happened to the human race.
The realms in the anthology include heavens, hells, lost islands, mermaid kingdoms, fairy-lands and other usual suspects. An eclectic mix capturing the diversity of themes the broad title of the anthology covers so it may be that those liking some stories might be less impressed by others but for me the rich diversity gives this anthology its charm.
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