In this collection of fourteen stories, author Jan Edwards leads us through a world where nothing is as it seems, from the arctic wastes of Norway to a fang-filled evening at the fair, to swashbuckling on the high seas across the centuries. Shape changers, ancient spirits and crafty cats all play their crucial parts in stories that unsettle and disturb the reader’s perception. Chosen from Edward’s back catalogue of dark fantasy, these tales of modern mythology are collected in a single volume for the first time, accompanied by a sprinkling of verse.
Many short stories suffer from being sketchy outlines of part-formed characters and superficial situations. Edwards does exactly the opposite in her compact chronicles, seemingly distilling the detail and energy from an entire novel into a condensed, compelling form. She doesn’t skimp on the background detail – Midnight Twilight is a perfect example of this. A distant figure drives his sled across the arctic snowscape in the midnight hour… and you can almost feel the bitter chill on any exposed skin. Edwards brings layers of convincing information to this modern myth, populating an ice-bound research station with howling sled-dogs and a gruff, no-nonsense handler. Her protagonist expertly takes to cross-country skiing – and it’s a delight that so many of the self-possessed characters in this collection are female.
Pet Therapy pre-dates Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, but it shares a similar scenario to King’s Doctor Sleep – a nursing home where animals should supply comfort to the terminally ill. In King’s book the feline influence is generally benign if somewhat supernatural. In Pet Therapy, the uncanny cat is altogether more sinister and threatening, definitely demonic in its actions and intentions. Yet there’s an underlying humour to the tale which keeps it firmly grounded – the parrot with its Tourette’s type vocabulary is completely priceless.
The Abused & Him is by far the most scary story in this anthology, and its impact has nothing whatsoever to do with anything supernatural. Edwards graphically creates the suffocating terror experienced by a trapped victim hiding from a familiar tormentor: ‘a naked fear of naked flesh’. It’s extraordinarily powerful.
And then several of the stories are much more light-hearted; Jack Jumped Out Of The Box is an entertaining pastiche of hard-boiled crime noir which bubbles with word play, snappy dialogue and sneaky pseudonyms. The final story, A Taste Of Culture is just flat-out fun. I wasn’t sure that the various haiku and poems added much to proceedings – but then I’m much more of a prose person.
Edwards expertly blends matter-of-fact everyday reality with far-fetched and fanciful notions that somehow seem entirely credible. These stories suggest that the preternatural is ever present, and can be briefly glimpsed out of the corner of an eye. Just don’t look too closely…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Fables & Fabrications by Jan Edwards is available as an ebook or paperback