Written by Neil Gaiman, Michael Bishop, Christopher Fowler, Graham Masterton, Richard Christian Matheson, Jane Yolen, Ramsey Campbell, Jay Lake, Ian R. MacLeod, Arther Machen, Hugh B. Cave, Yvonne Navarro, Sarah Pinborough, Mark Samuels, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Lisa Tuttle, Robert Shearman, Brian Stableford, Steve Rasnic Tem, Michael Marshall Smith, Peter Crowther, Conrad Williams, Robert Silverberg, and Christopher Fowler
Edited by Stephen Jones
Published by Ulysses Press
Horror has been in sore need of a new path for a long time. Vampires are done to (un)death and have become a bit of a running lame joke. Werewolves have been reduced to shirtless brooding emo-boys. And now it seems everyone is in need of, or just had, an exorcism. In the quest for the next chill-inducing thing in horror, Ulysses Press offers up something most people think of as benevolent: angels. But, to quote one of my favorite Christopher Walken movies, would you ever really want to meet an angel?
Editor Stephen Jones brings together an all-star team of writers for this anthology with stories both modern and classic, some of which date back to 1914. In this collection there is at least one story for everyone, though readers will find it hard to chose just one as a favorite. And the subjects, while focusing on the fallen, deal with heavenly crime-solving, vengeance, murder, and even balls-out horror. And lest you think these are all the robe-wearing, sandal-shod, harp-playing good guys here, they’re not. Starting with the very first story, by Neil Gaiman, we learn the true origin of the war in Heaven and what really caused Lucifer to rebel. Author Jay Lake provides several stories to this collection, and though short, they are very powerful. One provides an account of the biblical story in which angels came to slay all the first-born in Egypt as told from the point of view of one of the slayers. Another, “Scent of the Green Cathedral,” provides in only two pages such a sense of loss that many authors could look to it to learn a thing or two. Perhaps Lake’s best entry is the darkly humorous “A Feast of Angels,” in which St. Peter makes Friedrich Nietzsche the coroner or Heaven.
Of course, to talk in-depth about every story in this collection would be to make this review about as long as the book itself. And though with a collection of this quality, choosing “favorites” or “best stories” is an impossible task, there are a few that stand out from the rest. Sarah Pinborough’s “Snow Angels” is a beautiful story that captures the innocence of youth torn away by terminal illness. Graham Masterton’s “Evidence of Angels” throws light onto the phenomenon of people seeing angels and what it means. “Molly and the Angel” by Brian Stableford hits hard with a single line: “I fell.” And Robert Shearman’s “Featherweight” takes us through the moment of passage for one unfortunate couple with both tenderness and tongue-in-cheek humor.
One of the remarkable things about this collection, apart from the amazing caliber of talent involved, is that it deals with the delicate subject of religion without being preachy. There are no (or few) missives to “get to church” or “this is what’ll happen to you.” What we get instead is pure emotional storytelling at its finest by some of the best names in the business. Are the angels scary? Sure, when they need to be. But at other times they are tragic, humorous, sardonic, and even (dare I say) human. This collection is not what you might expect, and that’s a good thing.
5 out of 5
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