Monday, April 29, 2013

TC Anthology Review: Horror Anthology 'Shadows Edge', Edited by Simon Strantzas for Gray Friar Press, Cuts Deep and Fields Strong

With Shadows Edge (Gray Friar Press), dark fiction writer Simon Strantzas has put together an evocative and beautiful anthology of subtle Horror that follows a texture championed and furthered by Strantzas throughout his acclaimed career as an author.  Indeed, the tales reflect the man at the selector switch, as each of the 16 assembled pieces (including a “short story as prologue” by Strantzas himself) represent works of patient, often quiet weirdness and terror that get under ones skin rather than braining you with a cudgel.  These stories fit into the category of what Strantzas himself personally creates as a writer, so it stands to reason he’d release an anthology of similarly styled works that resonate with him as editor.  He states in his Afterward that the theme of the aptly titled anthology is exploring those “thin places,” “soft spots,” and “cracks in reality” that separate our world from those vistas and realities that lie beyond what we know to exist.  The edge separating light from shadow.  In their own way, each of these stories successfully lives up to (and thoroughly explores) this nuanced theme, and do so in spades.

Thin places.
Where worlds crash against each other,
rippling soft spots through reality.
Ancient portals through which the darkest nightmares seep,
spreading uncertainty and doubt.
These places haunt us, and from them
shadows edge.

A figure from the past, lying in a field...
The unlikely three, bound by their quest...
A high-rise apartment, where creatures crawl...
The drive in the storm, through blurring edges...
The brother, hiding from his sins...

Most anthologies these days have their hits and their misses, with the best books of the bunch having more of the former than the latter.  But with Shadows Edge, no matter how hard I squinted, I had – and have – a very difficult time finding a broken crayon in the box.  These are 16 solid-to-great tales, and reflect well on the talents of their individual creators, as well as Strantzas ability to wrangle excellent stories from some of the top names in speculative fiction today.

The standout tales (in ToC order) among the uniformly strong field are many, and include Joel Lane’s “Echoland,” Richard Gavin’s “Tinder Row,” “The Falling Dark” by Daniel Mills, Gary McMahon’s “The Old Church,” “Morning Passages” by Lisa Hannett, “Stabilimentum” by Livia Llewellyn, Peter Bell’s “The True Edge of the World,” and “Bor Urus” by John Langan.

Among these, I found “Echoland” (a story about questing after a doorway to that glimpsed land just behind the veil), “Morning Passages” (a truly original natal piece that reads like something out of a more brutal version of the Twilight Zone),  “Stabilimentum” (a woman must deal with an infestation of spiders in her new dream apartment that becomes the very least of her startling discoveries about where she now lives), “The True Edge of the World” (for my cash, the highlight of the book, due as much to Bell’s writing style and description of the Scottish setting as the folklorish supernaturalism), and “Bor Urus” (a dissection of a man obsessed by violent storms, and what can happen during them, to the detriment of everything he holds dear) to be the crema fresca of a rather creamy crop, and some of the best contemporary short stories I’ve ever read.  Lane, Hannett, Llewellyn, Bell, and Langan are now on my “must ALWAYS read” list, joining several other contributors to Shadows Edge who made the list many moons ago.

Stranzas has acquitted himself impressively in this his first anthology.  As noted above, there isn’t a bad story in this folio.  I just singled out those that appealed to me the most, for a variety of stylistic and story reasons.  But all are worthy of praise, and especially worthy of a read.  More collections need to taste like this one.

An unquestionable and enthusiastic HIGH RECOMMEND, receiving four and a half (out of five) stars on The Cosmicomicon's glimmer scale.  Pick up this  if you want to peruse some of the top talent in the Weird fiction/Horror game doing what they do best by exploring the thin spots in the veil, the hidden pocket of quiet dread, that make life so interesting, and worth living, as the more we know about what lies beyond, the less we want to end up there.  Visiting via prose, however, is entirely another matter...


  1. Great review!

    I loved this anthology, and I would love to see Strantzas edit more in the future.

  2. Me too, Justin. He's brought together something pretty goddamn wonderful. A true folio of great Weird fic.

    TC readers: Check Mr. Steele's inspired, much more thorough review of 'Shadows Edge' at The Arkham Digest:

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  4. Spammy links are not welcome at The Cosmicomicon, especially those guised as lack of reading comprehension.