European Monsters edited by Margret Helgattir and Jo Thomas
Publisher - Fox Spirit
Price - £10.00 paperback (out now)
Here be Monsters! They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to re-establish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.
I recently reviewed Asian Monsters and this time I’ve played catch-up and found the first of the planned seven book cycle from Fox Spirit. Once again, the anthology has a clear aim to use the legends of each continents to refresh our memories on what a monster is and what it wants. In this selection a range of Europeans authors are supplying the tales and I’m pleased to report it’s another good selection where we meet some very familiar myths and some less so.
Here are a few of my favourites from the series (as with all story collections your views may differ!)
Herne by J C Grimwood
An unusual tale that seems to take place in the future with a London covered by strange vines. A young woman decides to support a man in a deal he needs to perform but all is not surprisingly what it seems. It’s all in the narration for me in this one from the way our unseen lead describes a Waterloo station now turned into a residence for the homeless to an eerie trip into the long grass with wolves. The pay-off you may be able to guess from the title but it’s worth the journey.
Vijka by Anne Michaud
This tale goes into the past and some returning Viking raiders arrive to their village to discover the dreaded Black Robes have taken over with their mysterious One God. This tale really burns with a sense of an older wilder magic underneath the world and when it is invoked to save the village the cure may be worse than the disease. It’s bloody and visceral but that helps it stick in the memory.
Broken Bridges by James Bennett
This story reminds us that European legends themselves have spread around the world with migration. It focuses on Gard a rather taciturn man working in the scrapyard; a mystery to his co-workers he is viewed as solid but completely ill mannered. The story weaves legends of old Scandinavia with his views on the New World. The reader has to slowly work out Gard’s secret and it asks the question can you really change all that you were when you leave your homeland?
Nimby by Hannah Kate
This tale really has a lot of bite in what would normally be a genteel Park Association meeting. We see a clash of old and new world with the Member Secretary raving against plans to build on his beloved park and what he sees as dangerous political correctness gone mad. The way these really suburban issues suddenly gets eaten up by something much wilder and nastier is well played and the surprises continue all the way to the end.
A Very Modern Monster by Aliya Whiteley
We all have our dodgy relatives that our parents try to not discuss with us. Our narrator has just lost her mother and decided to meet her Uncle George. There is a steadily sense of something unsettling going on in her Uncle’s life and the remoteness of Exmoor where she and he are camping out in the night mean the sense of something nasty lurking out there is gets ever stronger. One of my favourites for that reason.
Serpent Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky and Eugene Smith
This is a graphic short-story where mysterious govt agents accidentally release into the wild a monster of legend (to tell you would be plain rude!). Two women with a strong track record of tracking such monsters venture into the basement of a London pub to track it down. Really strong artwork and best use of a weasel in short fiction I’ve seen (ahem)!
Fly, My Dear, Fly by Nerine Dorman
This is the darkest story for me in the collection. A woman and her young son leave South Africa to stay with their only remaining relative in an attempt to rebuild their life. However, she finds family secrets mean that tragedy is calling. There is a sense of something just off in this remote village where she must return by nightfall to a house covered inside with mirrors. The end is pure horror and it’s the one I had the most visceral reaction to. Certainly not one to read with the lights on low!
Melanie by Aliette De Bodard
This is a tale of Erwan who is falling for a young woman at school. It balances that horrible feeling of falling for someone already involved with someone with a sense of a secret in Melanie’s life. It’s probably the most optimistic tale in the story as it reminds us not all monsters are inhuman and it’s a sense of romantic hope which really is needed at this point in the wider book!
Moments by Krista Walsh
On Lake Seljord in Norway a young woman finds her life ruined. Her love mysteriously vanishes before he told her something very important. The horror of the encounter with what lives under the water is also balanced with the sense that our narrator may be lying to herself over her perfect love. It’s a cold haunting tale of loss.
The Cursed One by Icy Sedgwick
Ahh Venice is my favourite city so it’s nice to read a tale among those narrow streets and canals. An atmospheric tale of a secret society tracking down a monster that steals appearances from visitors (who then die) in the time of Vivaldi. It packs a lot into the story from psychics to masked adventures while learning more of the seven Old Ones who the group is sworn to track down…but not all monsters can be easily stopped. Really sumptuous tale and I enjoyed watching it play out.
So once again a fine anthology well worth your time!