Shadow Magic is about as traditional a fantasy as you can get. Dark beings, thought vanquished long ago, reawaken and the kingdoms of men, Shee (ahem…), Wyrds, and more must find ancient artifacts and the chosen one to wield them before all is lost.
It’s not all that original but there is something comforting in that. The characters are clearly drawn and pleasant, and the writing is smooth as glass. There is not a lot of surprise here, but quite a lot of warmth and fun.
I liked it. It isn’t going to change the world, but it doesn’t need to.
This self-described Cthulhu Western is a very traditional western hammered into a very traditional Cthulhu mythos mold to make something uniquely fun. The writer wears his tastes on his sleeve, writing a western based deeply in the Hollywood 1950s movie tradition: famous gunslingers, nefarious train companies running honest farmers off their land, and deadly natives. Add to that Deep Ones, Cthulhu magic, and seemingly deathless villains, and you get quite an adventure.
This does mean, of course, that many of the more nuanced views that have started to shape the American view of the west, particularly recognition of the terrible treatment of Native Americans and Black people, are absent. The Native Americans in this story are enemies, if ones on perhaps more equal terms with the protagonists than was common in the old western tradition, and the only black characters are nameless servants.
One rather interesting element is the addition of the Japanese character Shinobi, and the recurring equation of his Japanese-ness with the Native Americans by malevolent white characters–it adds a wrinkle to the treatment of race in this one that is worth thinking about.
Overall, there is little original ground tread here, but the author makes no bones about it: This is a product of his love of old western movies, and his interest in Lovecraft’s malevolent world building. If you go into it looking for that, you won’t be disappointed.
Guy Gavriel Kay might write the must fundamentally human fantasy there is. His stories are steeped in all the love, loss, ambition, and confusion that fills even the most mundane life, yet writ large on lives that echo through the history of this faux-Europe he draws with such deft strokes.
Lord of Emperors finishes the Sarantine Mosaic duology with all the inevitability of history, with triumph and defeat and pain and joy. It is not an easy end, nor one without tears, but it is a grand ending and one I could not stop reading.
One of the most compelling parts of any Kay book, and this one is no different, is how he cuts to the heart of those who do extraordinary things to find why and how they can accomplish such. The genius racer, the great artist, the emperor: all are still simply human, mortal and fallible, but some part of them transcends those limits, and this is what Kay so deftly examines.
In Lord of Emperors, we are shown the kind of will and drive that allows a man, a racer, to ignore near mortal injury and even his own chance at winning to create a perfect race for his team. The artist, Crispin, faced with a loss nearly as great as when plague took his family from him, can do nothing but what he has done, and creates. The emperor… Well, I will not spoil that.
Every book of Kay’s I reads becomes another favorite. This is no exception.
I went into this book blind. I did not know who the author was, or when the book was written, only that the cover looked interesting and it was in one of my favorite genres (the horror anthology). I am very glad that I did, because it was like some kind of mirror into my own reading history.
In the afterword, there is a quote from Stephen King that calls Brennan “one of the most effective writers in the horror genre” and I have to agree. Not because of the actual chills in the stories (honestly, I didn’t find that many) but because of the obvious influence he had on the genre, particularly Stephen King himself.
Reading the book, unaware of the history behind it, I felt myself thinking “This would have been perfect for Weird Tales.” more than once. I was, of course, 100% right. Brennan wrote hundreds of stories for that classic magazine. I also found myself thinking, “This guy loved him some Stephen King.” It turns out I had it backwards!
These stories are nothing all that unique to the experienced reader of horror, and the “twists” in them are not twists at all, today. But this is because Brennan literally created many of them.
Of the stories in this collection, I found I liked The Pavillion best. A story of murder, guilt, and revenge(?) from beyond the grave, I found myself imagining it shot for shot in some early 80s horror anthology movie (Creepshow, of course).
Disappearance is another proto-King story. Indeed, I can see direct influences of several King stories here–the taciturn farmer with a secret, the missing family member, the grisly discovery. They all seem buried deep in our horror conscience now, thanks to stories like this.
As horror, honestly, there probably isn’t much here for the modern fan, but as a glimpse into the roots of the genre this is a very interesting (and still quite fun!) read.
I’d like to thank the publisher for the review copy!
Machen is a titan of the weird fiction genre, and this is one of his less famous works. It’s an episodic story, the result of serialization, with the framing work of two friends in London with differing views on mystery and spirituality getting wrapped up in a strange web of lies and stories involving magic, lurkers in the wild, and other staples of the old weird.
This is a perfectly diverting book, full of creepiness and period frumpery that was perfectly worth the time reading it. And since it’s free on Project Gutenberg, anyone with the slightest urge can give it a try.