Edition 22: Book Review: She Walks in Shadows (eds. Moreno-Garcia and Stiles)
Reviewed by Sophie Yorkston
There’s an outdated perception that women, either as characters or writers in the Lovecraftian realms, don’t belong. She Walks in Shadows comes off the back of a quite successful Indiegogo campaign, suggesting that the reading public are looking for this myth to be dispelled.
Editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles of Innsmouth Free Press looked at the disparity in this well-loved section of speculative fiction and put together a list of authors with ties to Lovecraftian mythos from all over the globe, and a significant inclusion of writers of colour.
The anthology begins with a short but on point introduction from the editors about the lack of representation in the mythos, due to some preconceptions. Twenty-five short pieces follow, with a largely diverse cast of characters and settings.
Interspersed between the stories are some quality graphics from a team of talented artists, representing a diversity of styles. While none of them are seemingly inspired by any of the shorts, each is additive to the overall atmosphere of the collection. While each was rendered well, perhaps my favourites were Lisa A. Grabenstetter’s Cthulhu and Diana Tang’s Sea.
What I love more than anything about this collection, and which I think blows out of the water that Lovecraftian fiction belongs to a certain niche, is the varied settings, characters and mythical interweaving into such a variety of cultures of this collection. There’s Egyptian mythology in downtown America, if you don’t find the gods between corn fields in the prairie lands; the pawns of Elder Gods in English backwaters; replicating in the laboratories of Europe; demon acolytes stickering stock in the bodega.
Some of my personal highlights were a stilted lack of communication between mother and daughter in Amelia Gorman’s Bring the Moon to Me; the unlooked-for consequences of bargains with the Old Ones for Angela Slatter’s Lavinia; a second story in the footnotes of E. Catherine Tobler’s Lockbox.
Cthulhu of the Dead Sea by Inkeri Kontro speaks to the scientist in me, in her depiction of the chaotic academic process, and the equally boisterously friendly or coolly distant colleagues of diverse backgrounds could be from any lab I’ve ever worked in. Pandora Hope’s Eight Seconds conjures the central Australian rodeo culture in less time than it takes a clown to vault a fence, and the depiction rang true for this North Queenslander.
However, I think my very favourite stories are Hairwork by Gemma Files and Magma Mater by Arinn Dembo. Hairwork conjures that amorphous colony aspect of the Lovecraftian style, infusing with the dark tendrils of subjugation, revenge and death. A point of view from a carcass beneath the soil could be dull, cliché, but was pulled off in this short. In Magma Mater, the woman from the plains returning to retrieve her ancestor, a subject of anthropological speculation, had a quite inventive voice that spoke of a different method of thinking.
Some of the stories are stronger than others, more imaginative in their protagonists and their avoidance of tropes. For example while I didn’t connect well with The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad as much as some of the others, Molly Tanzer’s genderqueer Asenath is lovingly and realistically characterised, becoming the highlight of the whole story for me. A line from Eugenie Mora’s The Eye of Juno, “the eyes aren’t mine”, has dug itself chillingly under my skin since reading it, but other parts of the prose were not as resonant.
Many of the stories relied heavily on characters previously depicted in the mythos, several featuring Shub-Niggurath cults or the entity, and off-hand mentions of shoggoths. Others counter this trend well; I thought Wendy N. Wagner’s use of Queen Nitocris a lovely subtlety, and the integration of Marchosias by Rodopi Siamis inspired. It also was a puzzle to me why the two Asenath stories were placed together in the anthology, as I don’t think I got as much enjoyment reading one directly after the other.
However, the strength of She Walks in Shadows is that it takes the reasonably expansive Lovecraftian mythos and puts it under a new lens. It’s a strong showing of the excellence of diverse voices and talents of both writers and discerning editors.
For fans of horror, particularly those Lovecraft afficianados, will respond to She Walks In Shadows’ deliciously existential darkness. I don’t even think you need to have a strong background knowledge of the mythos to appreciate the anthology. I’d definitely recommend this for young adults and above of all shapes and sizes.
She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles
Publisher: Innsmouth Free Pres, Release: October 2015
Sophie is a scientist, aspiring writer, sci-fi and fantasy nerd. She is an editor with IFWG Publishing and has been Editor In Chief of SQ Mag and SQ Magazine, the previous incarnation. She also contributes book and film reviews. She has returned once more to the wilds of suburban Australia.
You can find her in a few different places: @Smoph on Twitter, Sophie Yorkston – writer on Facebook, and at her blogs: Smoph’s Musings and Smoph Writes.