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Monthly Archives: September 2016

“The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin

Second books in trilogies have a reputation for not being quite as good as the first and third books. They don’t have the advantage of presenting the reader with a new world, and usually they’re building up for the climax to come in the final book. While I obviously can’t compare The Obelisk Gate to the yet-to-be-released third book in N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy, I can say that it doesn’t represent a drop in quality from The Fifth Season.

In this novel, we learn more about the nature of the conflict that was (mostly) simmering beneath the surface in The Fifth Season. We’re also given more insight into the two most mysterious factions in that conflict, the stone-eaters and the Guardians. As part of this, Jemisin extensively develops characters who didn’t get much time in the spotlight in the first book. We also spend part of the book with Essun’s daughter Nassun, whom she spent much of The Fifth Season searching for.

In addition to all of this, The Fifth Season ratchets up the stakes for the main characters and sets the stage for the final conflict that is presumably to come. As with the previous book in the trilogy, The Obelisk Gate left me eager to read the next one.

“Slade House” by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is known for writing complex novels that span long periods of time and feature the interlocking stories of a large cast of characters. While much shorter than his better-known works Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, Slade House has a similar structure.

Slade House tells the stories of a number of people who visit the eponymous manor. The house can only be reached by a small black iron door. The door only opens once every nine years, and only for certain people. The visitors to Slade House are of varying ages, genders, and walks of life, and therein lies one of the great strengths of this book. The main characters are all radically different from each other, but Mitchell captures each one’s unique narrative voice perfectly.

Each chapter of the novel shows us a different character’s interaction with Slade House. As in Mitchell’s other novels, items or people from an earlier character’s story may show up in a later one. As I read through the book, it was fun making those connections and guessing about what was going on with the house.

The one complaint I had is that the chapters felt a bit repetitive. Each character’s interactions with the house followed a similar pattern (although obviously the plot progressed with each one), and since the chapters are so short, there isn’t much of a “buffer” between the analogous parts of the subsequent chapters.

Some reviewers have described Slade House as Mitchell’s most accessible work, and I definitely found it to be a good introduction to his writing. I’ve had The Bone Clocks on my to-read list for a while now, and Slade House makes me more eager to read it.

“Shadows and Tall Trees Vol. 6” by Michael Kelly (editor)

This volume, the last one published before Shadows and Tall Trees went on hiatus, features stories from some prominent writers of horror and weird fiction. While they’re very different from each other in style and subject matter, all of them feature some element of the macabre or unsettling.

V. H. Leslie’s “The Quiet Room” was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The main character is living with his daughter for the first time in years, shortly after the death of his ex-wife, who previously had custody. As he struggles with the challenges of raising a recently-bereaved teenager, he also has to deal with a succession of odd happenings connected to the piano that his daughter loves to play. The steadily-building weirdness of the story kept me entranced, and I loved the bit of folklore that Leslie incorporated.

“The Space Between,” by Ray Cluley and Ralph Robert Moore, is another standout. A man discovers that the apartment building he’s moved into (a converted house), has a network of secret passages within the walls that can be accessed by small doors in some of the apartments. Over time, he becomes more and more obsessed with watching what his neighbors are doing. The piece presents a vivid picture of obsession, and I liked that in some scenes, it wasn’t immediately obvious who the main character was watching.

“Death’s Door Café” features a café in which all the doors were taken from rooms or buildings in which someone died. Its owner is capable of providing a unique service for selected patrons…at a price, of course. It’s an intriguing story, and I was happy to discover that the author, Kaaron Warren, has published several novels and short story collections.

I have a copy of Christopher Harman’s The Heaven Tree and Other Stories, so I was excited to see a story by him in this volume. “Apple Pie and Sulphur” creates a hallucinatory atmosphere that truly belongs in an anthology of weird fiction.

“Vrangr” features a trope that I have a bit of a weakness for: the small town that doesn’t appear on any maps and may not be entirely within our world. This was C. M. Muller’s first published story, and he puts a new spin on this old concept. (Interestingly, “vrangr” is a Norse word meaning “unjust” or “perverse.”)

Robert Shearman is perhaps best known for writing “Dalek,” the episode of the new Doctor Who series in which the eponymous alien race reappears. I enjoyed that episode greatly, and until reading this volume was unaware that Shearman also writes prose. His story in this anthology, “It Flows from the Mouth,” is deeply creepy, and not just because of the possible supernatural goings-on.

As with any collection, there were a couple of stories that didn’t work for me. I had read Charles Wilkinson’s “Hidden in the Alphabet” in Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2, and while I liked it better on a second reading, it still wasn’t as strong as most of the other pieces collected here. And while Alison Moore’s “Summerside” was a wonderful beginning to a story, it felt incomplete.

Between this and Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol.2, I’m definitely appreciative of Michael Kelly’s editing skills. Hopefully we’ll see more anthologies put together by him in the future.