Hey everyone, hope you’re all well – to the review!
Once thing that needs to be made clear before I delve into my thoughts on the stories – the only authors represented in this collection which I’ve read are Mark Twain, Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, and those when I was still in grade school. So I won’t be looking at this collection as a comparison to the styles of the authors. 🙂 I can hear some of you reacting incredulously – put it this way: I went from Enid Blyton and Franklin W Dixon to Stephen King; that should explain it. 😉
The premise of this collection is simple and yet so damned cool – a long-forgotten trove of literary treasures is found, featuring tales of a supernatural nature from many of literature’s greatest lights.
First up, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wee Davie Makes a Friend:
The tale is sparsely told, almost as if it was written with a holding back of emotions -suitable to the time, I suppose; I haven’t read enough to be able to have a proper opinion- but this kind of telling makes the story have an even stronger emotional impact. It is melancholic and yet some events shine with exuberance and joy, while spiced with just enough strangeness to leave the reader wondering if the events related really occurred… It’s an excellent tale and a suitably engaging story to open the anthology with.
The High Bungalow by Rudyard Kipling is a chilly, creepy tale which would have sent me packing from the location it takes place in. It’s also an oddly captivating look at obsession, and the kinds of things we leave behind when ensnared. I loved how the story begins layering aspects of dread and fear with the descriptions of myriad sounds, and how that creepiness builds.
The Immortal Memory by Leo Tolstoy has an almost tragically comic edge to it (the kind of edge which cuts without pain, but is only noticed much later) as the main character struggles to do what has been asked of him, and becomes an endearing ghost story which also manages to paint a vivid picture of its location (guess) and supporting characters. The end is where the cut is felt – not really a twist, but a revelation of sorts which is further affected by the sadness connected to it.
In the House of the Dead by Bram Stoker was an excellent character- and grief-study, while also giving the reader a glimpse of a place (and choice) which many of us would choose to visit and make. We are all the main character, simply trying to help a friend and being drawn in despite our misgivings. It’s serves as both a lesson and an exploration of where grief can take someone.
Once a Jackass by Mark Twain reads like it would make an awesome movie if directed by Guy Richie. It has flavours of humour and brutality and pulls the reader along into an unavoidable spiral – really good stuff!
Farside by H.G. Wells was damned entertaining – I’ve never encountered the equipment one of the characters uses to reach out to places beyond the real, and the tale managed to balance the technical details of this equipment with what it could do as well as giving us characters to embody the reactions and fears we would probably have. Really interesting and captivating tale.
To the Manor Born by Margaret Oliphant is an achingly sad tale of exploration and loss, one which also shows that loss and grief can be soothed even if the circumstances are beyond what people would call normal. It maintains a captivating balance between exposition and plot, and the characters are wonderfully real.
The Angry Ghost by Oscar Wilde is the only tale of the lot I struggle to identify with – the building of the mystery was expertly handled but I found myself a bit let down by the resolution, and the characters didn’t ‘speak’ to me as much as I would have liked. Granted, I’ve never read Wilde, so that might be why the tale didn’t hit all my spots.
**I confused Oscar with Orwell; yes, I know. 😦
The Black Ziggurat by Henry Rider Haggard was a tale which echoed with weary determination and wonder; the journey into the mystery was atmospheric and intriguing, led by Henry, which gave the story a personal, emotional touch, and I really felt that I was witness to the passing of something wonderful and beautiful. Great tale!
Born of Ether by Helena B. Blavatsky is, for me, the most hard-hitting tale – it explores the pursuit of knowledge and self, and leads the main character down an unexpected path. This tale will stay with me for years.
The Scrimshaw Set by Henry James is a stand-out tale because it focuses on one of the coolest haunted objects I’ve ever read about – the description of the object, the effect is has on both places and people, and the origin of the haunting are utterly original and captivating. Seriously good tale!
At the Molenzki Junction by Anton Chekov was another tale that, while well-written and offering a glimpse at a beautiful, hidden world, didn’t connect with me as much as I’d hoped it would. The tale plays out in the depths of a Russian winter and shows what happens to a vodka-lover when he braves the snow; he meets with wolves, and the beautiful mystery hidden by the snow. As I said, well told, but I couldn’t connect.
To the Moon and Beyond by Jules Verne was absolutely kickass – the perfect melding of SF and Horror, with a cool touch of the metaphysical. Since I’ve read Verne, I can say that this felt as if it had been written by him; the tale also showcased a great exploration of the tech of the time and also explored a bit of the role the media would have in an event such as what takes place in the story. Really memorable and exciting tale. 🙂
The Curious Affair on the Embankment by Arthur Conan Doyle seems like the perfect tale which Hammer Films never got to make – it’s old-school, takes the reader on an interesting investigation (as one would expect from Doyle) led by a character who hardly ever gets the spotlight (and who turns out to be a really great lead), and shows a side of the world these characters inhabit which is entertaining as the world of strange, clever crimes they usually find themselves in.
William Meikle has outdone many authors who have tried their hand at doing something similar – the tales have the feel and texture of their time, including speech mannerisms, equipment, architecture, and much more. There’s a sense of immersion in these tales which makes it feel as if the stories occur in the same world, almost side by side, instead of being told by the writer while sitting at a table with his or her peers.
The cover art and design are perfectly suited to the stories, so kudos to Ben Baldwin once again. 🙂
All in all, a massively entertaining and memorable collection by William – and another winner from Crystal Lake Publishing!
9 / 10
Until next time,