You may have noticed that I'm already behind on my Reading Around the World Challenge. This is because I've had less reading time than I anticipated. If I happen to be sitting still for any length of time without the baby in my arms then I fall asleep. It's taking longer for me to get through books than usual and I've been prioritising my review commitments. So far I have only read one book for the challenge but I started with a great one! In the interests of transparency, I received a free copy of Asian Monsters in exchange for an honest review and the review will also appear on the British Fantasy Society website.
Here's the blurb from Amazon:
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 reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.
This is the third book in the Monsters series, put together by Margret Helgadottir with Fox Spirit. The other two volumes are European Monsters and African Monsters. The blurb states that the book seeks to give monsters a renaissance, remind us of their terror. It certainly achieves that.
The first thing you will notice about this book is that it is beautiful. The cover, illustrated by Daniele Serra, is striking, it’s muted colours working to draw the eye. There is art work throughout the book which captures the essence of the monsters perfectly – some of the pictures managed to give me a shiver! Art is provided by Cindy Mochizuki, Daniela Serra, Dave Johnson, Imran Siddiq, Kieran Walsh and Vincent Holland-Keen.
The writing is just as beautiful as the artwork, with stories from award-winning authors Ken Liu, Aliette de Bodard and Usman Malik as well as Xia Jia, Eve Shi, Isabel Yap, Benjamin Chee, Eliza Chan, Eeleen Lee, Cy Yan, Fran Terminiello, Sunil Patel, Yukimi Ogawa and Vajra Chandrasekra. Any fan of short, speculative fiction will recognize many of these names from magazines such as Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s and Clarkesworld. It’s like reading a who’s who of speculative fiction and on that basis a lone the book is well worth reading.
The stories are wonderfully put together, with a clear feeling of flow from one to another. The theme of spirits and ghosts carries through the collection. It suggests a pre-occupation with family, with the past, with ancestors. From the ghosts who live on Ghost Street in Xia Jia’s A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, to the judgement of Eliza Chan’s Datsue-Ba and the revenge of a mistreated daughter in Eeleen Lee’s Let Her In.
All of the stories are captivating and well written and all give a glimpse of Asian folklore and culture. I suspect that I will return to this book many times in the future, finding something new with each visit. I tried to select my favourite story to write about and found it really difficult but eventually I narrowed it down to Golden Lillies by Aliette de Bodard and Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby by Isabel Yap.
Golden Lillies tells the story of a hungry spirit, woken with offerings in order to grant a wish. The offerings she is brought are never enough and the young woman who woke this spirit in desperation will get much more than she bargained for.
Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby uses an unusual narrative format which I think works well in short fiction. This is a tale of a baby, found unexplained by a woman who is willing to overlook all manner of things if it means she can be a mother. Things like her baby’s dislike for garlic.
I highly recommend this book, and will be acquiring the rest of the anthologies in the series.