This is one of those compendia you pick up to get a feel for what’s happening in a certain genre of late. Though it’s sad that horror is not by itself and paired with fantasy almost always for marketing reasons, there are some gems in this book. I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of fantasy and only ever read it when it’s packaged with something else, as in this case. Horror, now there’s a genre. Something to make your blood curdle, something to make you doubt every noise you hear when the lights go down, something to recall the looming spectre of brutal death that lurks just beyond the glow of the fire on the primeval veldt a million years ago.
The Cambist and Lord Iron is about a humble cambist who teaches his savage master what life is really about. Not debauchery, not orgiastic excesses, not enough gold to drown in, but simply working the 9-5 at the local money exchangers. Splitfoot is about an old-fashioned haunting in the classical Judeo-Christian style, where the devil appears on the Canadian prairie, complete with cloven hooves and all, leaving great marks on those who try to stop him. The Monsters of Heaven is a tale that evokes empathy for the main character, a man whose son is kidnapped and never found again. He withdraws into his shell, only to reawaken when killing one of the numerous aliens that have appeared on Earth.
The Fiddler of Bayou Teche is a quirky tale about a woman who lives in the swamps of Louisiana, surrounded by werewolves who keep her safe from the townspeople, who’d probably kill her for her albinism first, over the mangy loup-garous. The Tenth Muse tells us that there was a tenth muse, but one as different from the ennead as night from day. The tenth muse is vicious and her summoner is not given gentle gusts of inspiration but instead dies from being overworked by this virago of verbiage. The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is one of those stories in the grand Sindbadic style, where stories curve within stories, recursing until the reader knows not which story within a story within a story he’s really in. Scheherazade would be proud.
This one’s definitely a good buy if you’re looking to catch up on newer writers who’re writing some great stuff.